中文
Calm Abiding 1
Kagyu Samye Ling, UK, 8 October 2016, afternoon teaching.

Summary: Heart advice given to students of Akong Rinpoche on the third anniversary of his passing, and a basic introduction to calm abiding meditation.


Introduction

And so, having first given rise to the motivation of supreme awakening, or supreme bodhichitta, then please enter into these teachings for this year’s retreat.

Some of you have come from afar and some have put aside many important activities and work to be here. Others among you are maybe sick and have been able to disregard that. This is because you all see listening to the Dharma and doing retreat to be important. So to start I wish to thank you and wish you a ‘Tashi delek!’

I thought I would start the teachings by sharing a few thoughts with you. All of you here, at least I am guessing nearly all of you, are students of Akong Rinpoche, and today is the anniversary of his passing so you may be feeling a few different things. You may feel your Lama is no longer directly here with us – having passed into nirvana – and be a bit sad and unhappy. On the other hand, as all of us Dharma friends are now here, having come to listen to the Dharma as well as to practise and meditate together, we could be feeling quite joyful.

The importance of our root Lama

Something we need to recognize is that Akong Rinpoche is our root Lama, and that Samye Ling is his main Dharma seat, and it has many branch centres and organisations. We should keep them in mind and hold them close to our heart. What do I mean by that? I am asking that you visit Samye Ling and its branch centres in order to listen to, teach, or practise the Dharma. And we all need to do our best to make sure this is continued. We all came to Buddhism feeling that it would benefit us, not that it would be harmful. So if we maintain a good, strong connection with the main seat as well as the branch centres that will benefit us.

Then I’m not sure whether you are aware of this, but when we talk of ‘Lamas’ we talk of ‘root’, and ‘lineage’ Lamas. And while the lineage Lamas are important, they are not as important as our root Lama. For example, if you go against the lineage Lamas of course that’s negative – but it will not cause you to lose your root samayas. However, if you go against your root Lama you will lose them – thus our root Lama is far more important. This is how it is taught, and we can look at it very immediately for ourselves. When it comes to learning how to practise the Dharma, to learning what is to be abandoned and adopted, and the correct attitude to take on, then we receive all of that through the advice of our root Lama. And only on that basis are we able to practise. So this is the direct benefit we receive through our root Lama, and because they are so important, their seat is also seen to be very important.

Caring for our Root Lama’s seats in his absence

If we look at the different residences and practice sites of the lineage Lamas in India, such as Nalanda, or look at the sites of the Buddha himself, like Pullahari, then we visit them and see them to be holy. Thinking about the sites that we see to be important in Tibet – such as the seat of Marpa the translator, the many different practice places and caves of Milarepa, the seat of Dakpo (which is the main Dharma seat of Gampopa), and the Dharma seats of the Karmapas – again we see them to be blessed, and with hopes of making a Dharma connection we visit them to make offerings and do retreat. But for us personally the seat of our root Lama, whom we hold in such high regard, is far more important and blessed and we should make efforts to visit it. If we are busy then just visit, but when we have opportunity and more time, if for instance we are a good worker, we should work to maintain and look after the seat. We all know how hard Rinpoche worked building this place and we can’t let that count for nothing. So those who are capable of working should work, practitioners should come here to practise, teachers to teach, and students to learn. This is very important. Of course, if one doesn't value one’s root Lama then one wouldn’t feel like that. It is taught that whether or not we receive blessings is mainly dependent on our level of faith.

Who is now caring for the Dharma seat doesn’t really matter. Again we can look at the pilgrimage sites in India. The people maintaining them these days are not Buddhists in a lot of cases. Nevertheless we visit them to pray and make aspirations. We don't think, ‘Who is looking after that place now? Oh, they are nothing to do with me, I don't like them.’ And what is more, many of the sites of our Kagyu lineage are now empty, especially those of Milarepa. Nobody is caring for them, but still we go there to pray and make offerings. We may even stay there for a day and do retreat as the occasion affords. To think about who is now looking after the place is mistaken because for us the very site itself is blessed, ‘This is the site of my root Lama!’, and that doesn’t change. Perhaps the pilgrimage sites in India did have many statues, texts, and other representations of the Three Jewels and so on, but for the most part they aren’t like that anymore. But even so the earth is still there and the very site itself is blessed, and because of that we feel them to be special places.

So it’s my hope, or you could say I am sharing my opinion with you, that because Samye Ling is the main seat of Akong Rinpoche, you’ll come here and help maintain the place, practise and listen to the Dharma teachings, and do the same at the various branch centres. In this way we’ll be ensuring that things don't deteriorate, but are maintained and continue to grow stronger. This is the correct way of seeing things. And what’s more it’s something through which benefit will come to sentient beings. That’s one point I wanted to share at the beginning, and I ask you really take it to heart.

Continuing the work of Rokpa and Tara Rokpa

Then the second thing I wanted to talk about is Rokpa. This was probably Akong Rinpoche’s principal activity, but it wasn’t the work of only one person. I know many of the people who work for Rokpa are here, and the work of Rokpa is the shared responsibility of all Rinpoche’s students. So I ask that you work hard, pull together and work in harmony, so that even if you aren’t able to help more people than when Rinpoche was here, then at least you don’t help fewer. We all need to keep in mind whatever Rinpoche advised us to do and see it to be important to fulfil that.

Next I’d like to say something about Tara Rokpa specifically. Obviously when I first came to Samye Ling I was new to the West – I didn’t know you, you didn’t know me, and we had no particular plans to work together. But in those first couple of years we had a meeting. The group was mainly made up of the therapists of Tara Rokpa, those who advise and help people with regard to their mental health. There were about ninety people present. I was amazed, I couldn’t believe how many people there were connected with Rokpa, working as therapists and helping people in this way. It’s a vast part of Akong Rinpoche’s activity. When the very first retreat (of which this is the latest version) took place, it came about chiefly due to requests from the people of Tara Rokpa, and around that time Rinpoche talked about how large the organisation of Rokpa was. How things have been kept going and what the present situation is regarding Tara Rokpa, I don’t know, but it is essential that it not wane. Many of you were trained by Rinpoche, so it’s especially important that you remember that training, help to pass it on, and use it for the benefit of others. When we think about the current situation in the world, then mental health issues are becoming ever more prevalent. So to have doctors and people able to help those with mental difficulties is especially important now. It’s essential that Tara Rokpa is continued and help is brought to those in need. So, people should work hard, remembering the advice of their root Lama and doing their very best to implement it. This really is essential.

Fulfilling the Lama's wishes

Then the fourth thought I would like to share with you is that since we are all students of Akong Rinpoche, there is no doubt that when his reincarnation (tulku) returns here, we will accept and have faith in him. Generally, as Buddhists, we have belief in past and future lives, especially as Tibetan Buddhists and as Kagyupas. When we consider our history and tradition – how for centuries we have searched for the reincarnations of our holy Lamas and enthroned them with trust and faith in their reincarnation – then I am sure we will have faith in the next incarnation of Akong Rinpoche. With that we should aspire to be able to meet his tulku before we pass on from this life, praying, ‘In this life time may I be able to witness and meet the reincarnation of my Lama.’ We should pray and make aspirations that the authentic tulku is found and that the whole situation is free of obstacles. Whenever we are engaged in any important task then obstacles are always possible, and looking through the history books we see that many difficulties have occurred around the subject of reincarnate lamas. Therefore we have to aspire and pray that we are able to meet the new incarnation of our Lama before we ourselves pass away, and that everything comes about auspiciously and excellently without obstacles.

When we do have the opportunity to meet our root Lama again we need to have something to show for ourselves. We have to think about the advice and work Rinpoche gave us personally, and even if we haven’t been able to do more than he asked, we at least shouldn’t show up before his reincarnation empty handed. To turn up with only a katta [silk scarf] to offer and when he asks, ‘Well, what have you done?’ to show this mudra [shrugs] and say, ‘Nothing I’m afraid,’ isn’t enough. To arrive before them with tears in one’s eyes is nothing in and of itself – it’s just a façade. Instead we have to be able to present our Lama with how we have fulfilled their wishes. We need to be able to go into their presence and say, ‘This is what you told me to do and this is what I have done. I haven't left your command unaddressed.’ And with that, one has a beautiful mandala to offer one’s Lama. To think when the Lama has passed away, ’Well, it’s up to Lama Yeshe now, it’s up to the Dharma centre lamas, I’ve no idea what Rokpa has done since,’ is also not acceptable. So from the time that our Lama ‘dissolved into the expanse of the dharmakaya’ (that’s how we talk about it when the Lama passes away), from that time until they arise as the nirmanakaya – ‘tulku’ in Tibetan – what have we done? If we have got something of real worth to share with the tulku, that is truly mandala offering. We really can’t let Akong Rinpoche’s advice and instructions go unheeded. It’s important that we act upon them, and it’s also important for the Lama, and it will please them.

I wanted to share these thoughts with you, but if you feel in any way, that they are pointless and I’m interfering in what’s no business of mine, then I apologise. On the other hand, if you feel there’s something of worth to take away from them, then I ask that you take that on board and act on it. I’m saying this now because this first session can be attended by anyone, whereas from tomorrow on, only those participating in the entire course can attend.  

[Squinting at his watch] When I first started coming to Samye Ling my eyes were very sharp, I had no trouble reading the time on a watch, which shows how long I’ve been coming and how much I’ve aged! In the future I’ll continue to try and be of benefit to the students of Samye Ling, teaching as I am able. For myself, what I have just been saying is not only words, being big mouthed or anything like that. As you know, even though I wasn’t a student of Akong Rinpoche, there was a strong connection between us. He had a lot of trust in me and there was genuine love and affection between us. So from my side, I feel I have to do whatever I can to help. In Nepal there are many Samye Ling students who I’m working hard to teach also. Regarding how many Samye Ling students I teach, if it hasn’t increased, it certainly hasn’t decreased. As for those in Nepal, who knows, maybe they’ll end up forgetting all about you here in Samye Ling, so maybe you should send them a card as a reminder: ‘Don’t forget us!’ People who lack decency, who are fickle, do forget. I am not saying those in Nepal are no good, but if they were to forget then maybe they would be. I’m saying this now because they can hear, as the teachings are being transmitted over the internet to them.

There are many Western retreatants in Nepal, but the internet and this web-conferencing set up was installed mainly for the sake of the Samye Ling retreatants on Holy Isle and Arran. I am not able to be with them for long periods of time, and thought that if they could receive all of the teachings that are given in Nepal it would benefit them.

How to listen to the teachings

Now we will turn to the teachings. During this one week retreat there will be two main topics taught. The first is shinay or ‘calm abiding’. I know you love that so I thought that it would be good to teach it. The second topic is: when practicing the Dharma or receiving Dharma teachings, what motivation we should have? What conduct should we maintain? From what type of teacher should we receive the Dharma? And, when we have found the right teacher, how should we rely on them? These, I feel, are important.

In general, when we listen to the Dharma again and again, we see that it is very profound and can be thought about from many different angles. For good and enthusiastic Dharma students, even if the same topic is taught again they will receive it as fresh and new. Whereas for those who are not so keen on the Dharma, even when they are receiving teachings on something for the first time, they won't see it to be all that beneficial or special, and may even regard it as possibly a little boring and a bit of a struggle to listen to. And in struggling along they might become even more fed up and worse off.

Calm abiding instructions

Firstly I am going to teach your favourite, calm abiding, and although it may be your favourite it’s the most difficult. But, you like meditation don't you? So I will teach you. Why is it so difficult? Well, when we come to the practice of calm abiding, the correct physical posture that we need is very difficult to keep, isn't it? We end up with sore knees. Well, to be honest, we end up sore all over. That’s the first reason why it is difficult. The second is that our mind needs to settle, but having too many thoughts we find our mind shooting all over, or we end up asleep. So although the methods of placement of both the body and the mind are taught, they are extremely difficult to put into practice.

I’m sure that most of you here have received teachings on calm abiding before, so maybe what I am going to say now will be a repeat. But, as I have just said, it’s up to each of you whether you receive these instructions as fresh and new or as something you’ve heard loads of times. Whatever the case, I will briefly explain exactly what we need to be doing with our body and our mind and we will continue with this over the course of the week.

Approach your practice with a smile

How we start out is very important. When it comes to the placement methods of the body, or of the mind, then we should engage in them with enthusiasm. We need to feel them to be very beneficial, something wonderful and excellent; not start out with fear and anxiety, feeling, ‘I can’t do that, I’m physically sick you know,’ or ‘I’m mentally unwell you know, I’m just not able to do this.’ Our mental approach, or the way that we first set our attitude, is essential. We should be fearless, because there is nothing to fear or worry about. No one is going to force us to do anything. No one could force us into anything even if they wished to. It’s a matter of doing only as much as one decides one can do. So we need to start out with an easy and relaxed mindset, without fear, thinking, ‘I am going to do as much as I can in regard to both the physical posture, and the methods for placing the mind.’ We do as much as our diligence allows, and after that there is nothing to worry about or fear, because if we start out with the attitude of doing what we can then at least we will be able to do something, which is far better than doing nothing.


Among the different aspects of the practice we may not be able to do all of them for a full hour, but if we don’t worry about that and think, ‘I am going to do what I can,’ then if we can do just one minute, that will bring us a minute’s-worth of benefit. If we don't do that one minute, because we started out with this worrying mindset, then we lose the possibility of that benefit. So we start with enthusiasm and an easy going mindset, and if it starts to get painful we let it go for a while, and maybe read for a few minutes. But what we have done will be of benefit, and in that way we will gradually build ourselves up and get used to the techniques. Then on the second day we may be able to do a little more than the first, and so on. In this way our body and mind start becoming accustomed to the techniques and our enthusiasm grows because we are progressing. That in turn helps us do that little bit more. And like that, both the mental and physical aspects of the practice will gain strength and our practice will go well.


To take an example: if we approach someone with a smile then they are very likely to smile back, it just naturally it puts them at ease. If you add a ‘hello’ to your smile then they are likely to reply. (Previously I didn’t understand the function of hello, I used to think it meant excuse me. So if I said hello to somebody and they just walked passed me, I would think that was rather rude). Whereas, if on encountering someone you shy away from them, then that will put them on edge or make them feel anxious about talking to you. And it’s exactly the same when it comes to meditation and the body and mind. If we approach the practice with a degree of anxiety, holding back a little or being a bit fearful, then we won’t engage with the practice fully. It’s not that the body and mind are actually two separate things, but with the right approach there can be this friendly coming together of the two – a smile returned with a smile. And just like two people meeting, when they smile at one another and say ‘hello’ to one another, they can end up having quite a nice time together! Like this, with the correct approach to the meditation, the body and mind can come together in a harmonious way and the practice can develop. But, if we start out with the thought, ‘This is going to be difficult, I may get sick, I may damage myself, or things may go wrong,’ then that affects the way we engage with the practice and we won’t truly connect with it.

It’s important to keep in mind that nobody is forcing us to do this. So when it comes to the physical aspects of the practice, if it starts to become painful we can let the posture go. No one is saying you have to hold the posture the whole time. And it’s the same with the aspects of the mind – if the mind becomes tired or tight and stressed, then we can also let that go for the time being. So there is nothing to fear, and we should approach the practice with a smile and the thought, ‘I am at least able to do something of this.’ With that we have the right attitude and approach. Actually people are very capable. When someone sets their mind to something it is amazing what they can achieve. You can do almost anything when you set your mind to it. So we should come to the practice with the right attitude, being joyful and positive – because that’ll be conducive to gaining good practice – and not be scared and anxious. If we think about what we want from practice and what it offers, it is something by which we will experience peace and joy, both physically and mentally. So we should approach and enter into the practice in that way.

Adopting the correct posture – doing what one can

Placing the legs

First then we will look at the placement of the body. When this is taught it’s usually taught starting with the lower part of the body and working one’s way upwards. So we start with the legs, which should be crossed in ‘vajra posture’. Some people are able to sit like that and some aren’t, but it’s not the case that if we can’t sit in vajra posture then we can’t meditate. We can, but again we should approach it with the right attitude. If from the outset we think, ‘Oh, I can’t sit like that, that’ll damage my legs and my knees,’ our approach is mistaken. Say we are able to sit in the vajra posture, then I can’t imagine that sitting like that for two or three minutes is going to harm us physically in any way. So we should try to sit in vajra posture, if we can, for some amount of time each session. It’s important not to push it until we hurt ourselves or to get stuck thinking, ‘I can’t do it full stop!’ No one is going to tie our legs in place in such a way that they might get really damaged. If we can do two minutes, we do two minutes, and when we feel we can’t sit like that any longer, we relax our legs and sit in another posture. And it’s your own decision for how long you choose to sit like that. That would be the correct approach: ‘I will do what I can,’ keeping in mind that sitting like that is beneficial, and there is a reason why it is taught. If we can sit like that for a few minutes we get that much benefit. But, if right from the start we think, ‘I’m not able to do it full stop,’ then we’ll never gain those benefits.

It’s really important not to let the other aspects go just because we can’t manage one. If we can’t sit in vajra posture at all we shouldn’t give up on the other aspects. ‘Okay, I really can’t sit in vajra posture, but I can still apply myself to the other areas of the physical and mental posture.’ By doing what we can, even if we can only do a few minutes of any part of the posture, doing those few minutes each day will enable us to gradually get used to it and improve. Having this correct approach means that our mind will be very open and easy going. This way of thinking is very free and will lead to a very healthy state of mind. It is a way of thinking that’s conducive to having self-control and for developing good mental habits, because a relaxed mind has freedom. Whereas if we are very tight minded thinking, ‘I can’t do that,’ we lose our freedom and fall under the sway of fear and anxiety, which hold us back and breed poor mental habits. So what we need is a mind that is free – free in the sense that we are in control of it, we are calling the shots. That’s very, very helpful.

If one is not able to sit in the vajra posture, one can sit in what’s called the ‘sattva posture’, or the bodhisattva posture, which is the normal cross-legged posture. Sitting like that we can move our legs as and when we need. And if we can’t sit like that, then we can sit on a chair. I am not saying that sitting in the vajra posture isn’t necessary, or can be disregarded, but if one can’t do it one can’t do it. So one still does one’s best to meditate, doing as much of the posture as one can manage.

Placing the hands

The next aspect is to have one’s hands in the posture of equipoise placed just below the navel, the right hand resting on the left with the thumbs just touching. The elbows should be away from the sides of the body, not tight to the body. You don’t usually hear people say that sitting with the hands like this is harmful or very painful. But at the same time, very rarely do you see people sitting with their hands in the posture of equipoise. I guess it’s a matter of laziness, or not seeing the posture to be very important. These are the only possibilities really. I guess there may be some difficulty involved in having ones hands like that, but physically it isn’t a big deal and we really should be able to do it. So we should pay attention to this point because it’s taught that there are specific benefits related to each aspect of the posture. If it does become uncomfortable, then again we can leave it and shake out our arms or whatever. If we were to grit our teeth thinking only about the pain in our arms, it’s unlikely the meditation will go very well. It would most likely be rather pointless. Instead, we simply let go of the posture and shake out our arms for a minute or so and then resume the posture. That way we won’t waste much time not keeping the posture.


Generally speaking, we tend to have the habit of being anxious or fearful, and think in such a way that takes away our inner freedom, which isn’t helpful for meditation. So we should take a relaxed approach in which we are in control. This kind of gentle approach is conducive to our meditation practice and means we don’t let the physical aspects of posture overwhelm our mind before it even starts to settle. Instead our body should be quite naturally placed, at ease and controlled. Our mind is filled with enthusiasm and joy for the posture and the benefits it brings.

Upper body, chin and mouth


The next point is to have the spine very straight. It’s very important to have a straight body. If we are slouching or leaning to the side it can have many negative consequences. Thought and agitation could be stirred up, or the mind can slip towards sleep and dullness. The chin should be tucked in slightly. This is helpful for straightening the body. The lips should neither be open nor tightly shut but just naturally brought together, and the same for the teeth. The tip of our tongue is placed behind our teeth on the upper palate. The reason for this is that if our lips are slightly parted and we were to sit for any length of time, our mouth might become dry. Whereas if we have the tongue towards the roof of the mouth, that stops the air coming directly into the mouth and so helps to retain the moisture of the mouth. This is particularly helpful for those who are meditating for long periods.


Placing gaze and mind – dullness, agitation and awareness


As far as our gaze is concerned, it should be set at a distance of four finger widths in front of our nose. This is just to set the direction of our gaze. We are not looking upwards but slightly downwards. It’s not as though we are staring into that particular area but rather that we let our gaze rest at that level. Of course we have to take into account the different lengths of people’s noses. Tibetans tend to have quite short, stumpy noses, so they do need to set their gaze at four finger widths. But you Westerners have quite long noses, so you don’t need the full four finger widths – maybe just one or two will suffice!  Measure it for yourself, see what you need. I’m only joking. The main thing is to set the gaze so that the eyes are not looking upwards, but also not directly downwards. In the practice of dzogchen the gaze is very important and at different times the gaze is set at different levels. This is said to have a marked effect on our thoughts. What’s very important though is that our eyes are open. Many people end up meditating with their eyes closed, which is fine if you have amazing meditation because then you can do what you like. But for beginners who aren’t so skilled, whose minds aren’t so stable, it’s very important that the eyes are open and we should pay particular attention to this. Some people say, ‘If I close my eyes my mind settles more easily, whereas if I keep my eyes open I have more thoughts, so I don’t like to have my eyes open when I meditate.’ This way of thinking is mistaken because although it’s possible that by closing our eyes we will have fewer thoughts, our awareness will not be so clear or sharp. Our thoughts and our meditation will lack clarity and together with the decrease of thoughts there will be dullness. This is connected with the state of mind when we are getting sleepy. The mind begins to withdraw inwards and there are fewer thoughts but the mind has no strength or power. And lacking strength and power it’s unable to work or function effectively. When meditating, we’re actually trying to strengthen and empower the mind, because when the mind is strong it can’t be led astray by negative influences. When someone is thinking, ‘I have to meditate well,’ they never let themselves fall asleep, they fight it. When we are sleeping there are no thoughts. We know that don’t we? But being without thoughts by itself is not of any benefit to our practice if the mind is lacking power. So when meditating our mind needs to be very awake. It needs to have power. And when our eyes are open the mind is much clearer and has more strength.


If all sorts of thoughts manifest that isn’t a problem because as long as they are being held by awareness those thoughts become meditation. It’s not the case that when we are meditating we’re not thinking or that nothing is happening mentally. This we have to understand: being in a state where there is nothing coming to mind is not meditation. It is being asleep. When we are meditating, if many thoughts occur and we are aware of them, then that in turn brings great clarity to the mind and the thoughts give us opportunity to train in meditation. They actually increase our awareness and give strength to the mind and the mind no longer gets swept away by them. When we feel that no thoughts are occurring and our mind can remain stably with the focus, there still needs to be a sense of freshness. Whatever the object of our meditation is, it needs to be very alive and fresh.

If it happens that the mind is very clear, but also very wild and not held with awareness, then we are getting distracted. At that time we could wear warmer, thicker clothes. But, if you are feeling dull and sleepy, then it is helpful to wear lighter clothes and for the body to be colder. Generally we shouldn’t wear too many clothes when meditating because those who meditate for longer periods are far more prone to sleepiness. Those who are meditating for shorter periods are more prone to agitation and wildness in the mind. Our work also plays a part in this. For instance, if we are very busy then sometimes when we meditate we’ll fall asleep or if at our work there are lots of problems, we may not be able to meditate at all as the mind is stirred up.

Conclusion – the importance of being consistent

We’ve gone over time now, so we’ll leave it there for today. Those of you staying on for the rest of the week – please register with reception. To have this list of participants is helpful in two ways. Firstly, if things become careless or loose, that won’t be very good for Samye Ling or its Dharma activities, whereas if things are kept stable and consistent that will help them. The second point relates to each of us personally: if one is reliable, stable and consistent in the way one works then that becomes a habit that is extremely beneficial for oneself. So for these reasons we’ll be looking at who’s attending and who’s not. This year I was asked if it would be possible for some people to attend the teachings, but not the meditation sessions and I said it was. But those who are doing that must attend all of the teaching sessions. Then the same was asked regarding attending the meditation sessions but not the teachings, and again I said yes, but the same applies. If you are attending both then you shouldn’t miss any sessions. We have to think about what’s going to be most beneficial to the group as a whole. Of course, if someone gets sick or there is an emergency then permission will be given for them to be absent. But people do need to ask for permission so that we don’t become careless. So first you ask for permission and then you do what you need to do, not the other way round. And people don’t need to worry about having their name on this list or think, ‘Oh, I have to put my name on a list. Maybe they are going to get me!’ So, if someone has something really important to do or there is an emergency then definitely permission will be given for them to be absent.