中文
Calm Abiding 2
Kagyu Samye Ling, UK, 9 October 2016, morning teaching session.

Summary: The importance of having a relaxed and positive attitude to both our posture and practice; how to place the mind with mere awareness; rely on your own experience and read the signs of teachings; develop the muscles of meditation when things are going well and you’re happy.


The way of prostrating and chanting

Good morning. At the start of the sessions, when we come into the shrine room, we will all prostrate together. There is a particular way of doing this. For example, if it is before the beginning of a teaching, then firstly the lama will come and prostrate to the throne three times imagining Buddha Shakyamuni is seated upon the throne. Then the lama will sit on the throne as the representative of the Buddha, and proceed to teach the dharma. Then those who are going to receive the teachings will respectfully make prostrations. That’s the traditional way, but now, while we are all doing practice sessions together, there are two possible ways to approach this. The first would be that we prostrate to the lama once they are seated, and then enter into the practice of guru yoga, and in that way prostrating to the lama is correct. The second would be when there is no particular teaching being given, the lama and students all prostrate together, with the students thinking they are prostrating to the particular object of their faith, so it becomes personal. Then, having prostrated together the lama and students enter into the practice session.

Also, at the beginning and end of the teaching sessions, there are prayers that we recite. Previously we’ve been reciting them in Tibetan, but in the Sekhar retreat in Nepal, in the class for English speakers we do the prayers in English, in the class for Chinese speakers the prayers are done in Chinese, and if the class is principally given to Tibetan speakers then the prayers are done in Tibetan. So I thought that here, in the mornings we would do the prayers in English and in the evenings in Tibetan. And as the teachings have been sent from Nepal to the two Samye Ling retreats over the past few months, the retreatants are used to reciting the prayers in English, so they will be the umzi’s(chant leaders). When the chants are in English, the tunes used have been established by the western students in Sekhar: the tune used for the Dorje Chang Tungma was composed by His Holiness the Karmapa, but the other chants they composed amongst themselves, and after trying them out over a few months they decided what worked best in English. I also listened to them, and feeling that they sounded okay, said they could be used. But, if any of you has a particular tune you think will work really well, then please record it and give it to me, and we’ll see about using it in the future. It’s important that the tunes that we use are related to the practice and stir up feelings of faith, renunciation, and bodhicitta. We know don’t we, that certain tunes may make us feel particularly desirous or angry. So tunes do evoke certain feeling in us, and those we use should inspire faith, compassion and renunciation, because these are what we need to develop. If, however, you all send me one, I could end up with a bit of a headache, so please only send those you really feel, ‘Yes, this is really worth using.’


Having a good mental attitude to the posture


The topic for today’s teaching is shinay, calm abiding. Yesterday we looked at the physical aspects of the practice. So to summarise, we have ‘the seven point posture of Vairocana’, and you should sit like that if you are able to, and maintain it for as long as you can. If you can sit like that for a few minutes then do so. So do your best with the posture. When you find that you can’t any more, and have reached your limit, you can sit in the ‘sattva’ posture. Otherwise, those who aren’t able to sit like that at all can sit in a chair. Maybe when you’re at home or by yourself, if you find you can’t sit any   longer, you can stand up and, whilst maintaining awareness of whatever meditation you are doing, walk slowly up and down the room. Then, when you feel recovered, you can resume a sitting posture again. But if regarding the posture we feel, ‘This is bad for me, and is going to harm me physically,’ but still push at it, that’s not going to be very helpful because of our mental approach and fear. When we are fearful about it, thinking, ‘This is bad for me,’ we are not really going to be able to practice well. Instead we’ll end up feeling aversion toward the meditation and the posture. Like that the practice is definitely not going to be successful.

We need to start with the correct mental attitude, with a relaxed mind that is peaceful and naturally at ease. If we are stressing about the physical aspects of the practice, that itself builds aversion towards them and they become a bigger issue. The way it works is that when we feel something is bad for us it tends to harm us, but if we feel something is good for us we tend to benefit from it. This is the strength and power of the mind. In Buddhism it is taught that all appearances, all manifestations are the mind, or another way of putting it is that everything is a mental creation. So if we fear something, seeing it to be harmful or bad for us, our experience is coloured by that, and the same goes for when we feel something to be beneficial.

Regarding the posture then, do your best to have a relaxed, easy approach, and when you aren’t able to maintain it any more you simply adopt another posture and return to it again when you feel ready.


If you have problems with your legs, or are not able to sit on the floor cross-legged for long periods, then we are blessed with excellent conditions here in the temple as there are chairs at the back. So when you feel you can no longer sit cross-legged on the floor, then move to a chair and return to sitting on the floor when you’re ready. Alternatively you could have a cushion next to you, on one of the sides, and move to the cushion. This is a good way to go about it, because it’ll be convenient for you, and won’t cause obstacles for others. Say for example, someone can’t sit for very long because of problems with their legs or something, and they were to sit in the front, then every time they needed to sit in a chair they’d head all the way to the back of the shrine room. Not only wouldn’t they be very comfortable, but it will affect the people around them, and may become a bit of an obstacle. So if that is your situation, you should sit at the back and move between the chair and the floor as you feel the need. This will be both more comfortable and convenient for you, and also less of a distraction for everyone else. For my part, I’ll act like a bodhisattva and won’t scold you for moving about so much. The other advantage of sitting at the back is that I’m not much of a looker, my face is getting wrinklier and wrinklier, so if you were sitting up close you’d have to look at it for long periods, and the more you look the uglier I’ll become. Whereas, if you sit further away you won’t be able to see me clearly, and that may help you retain your faith. It is very important to be skilful in regard to everything we engage in (laughing).

Remembering our meditation in daily life

That point was related to the sitting, and it applies always, whether you are at home or here, you need to apply yourselves to all areas of the practice and conduct. If we are on the go and busy, then always try to bring the practice to mind, trying to keep the feeling of meditation in mind. This is very helpful as it stops us wasting time and is something very beneficial for our minds. Our days are broken up amongst the four activities of sleeping, sitting, eating and moving, and we tend to spend a lot of time each day on the move. If, during that time we’re able to build up the habit for practicing and meditating alongside our activity, it’ll be very helpful for improving our general practice. Not only that, it will also support whatever activity it is we’re engaging in, because when we do something with mindfulness and awareness, we are less likely to encounter problems and difficulties. Some people, when they are on the go, or walking along the street talk to themselves. They can do that because they are able to think, and things are coming to mind. Others may cry as they walk along because they are thinking about things that make them sad. Some may be smiling to themselves, or laughing even, thinking about something amusing. So when walking or moving about, we can think about all manner of things and bring them to mind. This shows that there is no reason why we can’t bring meditation to mind as we walk along the street. We are able to cultivate positive mind states like kindness and avoid negative mind states. To cultivate mindfulness and awareness in our daily life is extremely beneficial.


Placing the mind with mere awareness


Now we turn to the mind and the placement methods for the mind. The first thing to look at is our motivation. If we enter into the practice thinking, ‘I have to hold my mind, I have to meditate, I am going to meditate,’ too strongly, then the meditation will become like a job or an area of work. That brings with it two problems. The first is that we’ll get tired, because we find work tiring, don’t we? So if we are thinking, ‘I am meditating, I am really going for it,’ then it’s become like a job, and we’ll tire ourselves out physically and mentally, and start to feel uncomfortable. As a result we’ll generate a dislike for meditation, and that will become an obstacle. So we shouldn’t start off with the idea, ‘Now I am going to meditate and work really hard.’ If we see it as a job our mind will only get tighter, which is what makes it tiring, and the tighter our mind is, the more contrived it becomes.


What does it mean that the mind becomes more contrived? Becoming more contrived means the mind is less able to remain as it naturally is, it becomes something other. When we are meditating we need to be resting naturally, or we need to be using the methods that will enable the mind to rest naturally. Phrases such as, ‘to rest naturally’ and ‘to rest without contrivance’ are often used in meditation terminology, and initially we won’t know how to do that. So we need to use the methods that will enable us to do these things. And if we are thinking, ‘I am going to meditate, I am really going to go for it,’ that will be a counterproductive mindset, because our contrivance will only increase and it won’t help the meditation.

When meditating we shouldn’t be too tight or striving, and at the same time we shouldn’t be too loose; loose in the sense of letting everything go, and not holding our awareness. Because if we don’t hold our awareness, our mind will not come to settle and we’ll forget about the object of our meditation. So we don’t hold our mind too tightly, nor leave it too loose, we don’t fill it with striving, and finally we don’t allow it to fall into a state of non-meditation. We just hold our awareness, or merely remain with the focus for the practice. It’s this ‘mere awareness’ that we’re looking for, where we just place the mind, with awareness, on the object.

When holding our awareness, there is obviously something that we are aware of. And when it comes to what we are aware of, there are many different forms the practice can take. There is that which a beginner will be bringing to mind, that which an average practitioner will be aware of, and that which the excellent advanced practitioners will be aware of. But, while what’s being brought to mind will vary, the need for awareness is always there. Unless one is extremely advanced, in which case one doesn’t particularly need to maintain awareness. But for beginners, and those who know a little of the mind, awareness needs to be maintained. That aspect is shared, while what’s being held with awareness will vary according to the level of our practice.


Rely on your own experience


When it comes to what exactly it is that we’ll maintain awareness of, we need to rely on our own experience. If we just take what somebody else says, take another person’s experience or meditation, memorise what they say and attempt to replicate that, or read a meditation text that tells us to meditate like this and like that, memorise that and try to meditate on that basis, then that’s not going to really serve us very well. Like that we’ll never come to know what meditation really is. To give an example; let’s say that I am a meditation teacher, a skilled meditator, and I explain my meditation to you saying you should meditate like this and you should meditate like that. If you go away and try to follow that, then your meditation won’t really progress. Likewise, if you just read a meditation text and try and follow the instructions in it, again the meditation won’t go very well. We can’t say it’ll be of no benefit at all, but it will be of very little benefit.

This is because the teachings and the words of the texts are just signs, or symbols.
How well a lama is able to transmit those symbols depends on their experience and practice, on how clear they themselves are about the meditation, and on how skilful they are at communicating that in a way that a student will be able to determine and pick up on the meaning of those signs and symbols, come to their own understanding and gain experience. And the student’s ability to do that, to understand and get the message, depends on their intelligence, and the experience they’ve gained so far. So just trying to meditate on what we’ve heard, or on what we read in the texts, is the same as just sticking to the signs and not thinking about what they actually mean, making the whole process a bit stupid.

For example, somebody may make a hand gesture, it’s a sign isn’t it, but if someone else watching doesn’t concentrate on the meaning of what’s being demonstrated, but instead just thinks about the hand, then they’re rather dumb and won’t get the message from that gesture. It’s the same in regard to meditation. One has to use one’s own experience and intelligence to get the point being signed by the words of the lama, or the text, to know what they’re trying to show us.

If, for instance, there is a skilled lama and they give the same teaching ten times. A student receives the teaching the first time, goes away and meditates coming back a month later, then the lama gives the same teaching again, and the student goes away again, meditates say for a year, comes back and hears the same teaching again, they will not hear the teaching in the same way each time. The words of the teaching may be the same each time, but the student will take something else away from each teaching, gaining new understanding, or new insight into their practice, and into the way of things.

Therefore regarding meditation, we shouldn’t see it to be something simple; it’s not easy. But we also shouldn’t feel that it is something that’s beyond us, because it’s not as though we need to obtain anything from outside of us, rather it’s something to do with our own mind, and so as we have a mind, it’s doable. We’re able to think about it because we’re dealing with what we already have, our own mind. The right approach to it is; ‘It is not easy, but neither is it beyond me.’
What are we practising for?

On the one hand we, as humans, don’t really know what we’re doing now, and we don’t know what we’ll be doing in the future, we can’t see how things will turn out for us. And in the past it was the same, it isn’t like we had clear plans and ideas for exactly how things were going to turn out. Everything is a little bit random from one side. And that’s pretty much how things are at the moment; we don’t know what we’re doing, what’s going to happen, or where we’re going. From that side we are rather poor, unstable and haphazard, and objects of compassion. This is how it is for sentient beings, the residents of cyclic existence. We saw this in a teaching the other day with the retreatants. In the mind training text it states; “Sentient beings only suffer.”

This lack of clarity regarding our existence also applies to our practice and meditation. When we look at the mind we find we’re not really clear about it; what it’s like, what it’s doing, where it come from, what was it doing? what’s it going to do? and where is it going? We are doing something, but aren’t very clear about exactly what that is, if we look closely.

I’ll give an example using my own life. When I was very small, I learnt the alphabet and repeated it out loud a lot. Why I was doing that, what I had planned, I didn’t know; there was no plan I was just doing it. After that I came to know the prayers, the pujas, and recited those. Taking things off the shrine, throwing them outside, bashing cymbals together, but I didn’t really know what I was doing then either. If others were watching, I tried to make it look good, sit up straight and put on a bit of a show. Really, I mean what’s impressive about sitting there bashing and chanting away? Then, as I got a little bit older, I studied and received teachings, and still later started teaching myself. And all the time, as I look at my body through the ages, I see it was constantly changing. That’s how it was, with no particular plan in mind, whatever happened, happened. It was like being pushed along by an invisible wind; it’s just luck almost, what becomes of one’s life.

So our minds are very strange, and our way of seeing things very weird. If I feel that someone is smiling at me and being nice, that’s enough for me to love them. And if I feel they are not being very nice to me or they don’t like me,  that’s enough for me to be sad, and curl up into a ball and cry. And with that we make all of our own problems, and troubles. The slightest little difference in what we perceive is enough to make us happy, or sad. But it’s all our own creation. We just make it up in relation to the slightest changes in external objects. Whereas if we take a check of ourselves, look how we’re working, how we’re conducting ourselves, and remain a bit blasé regarding what is appearing to us, controlling ourselves a bit, then these emotional swings will become less violent.

It’s for the sake of this that we are training our minds, so that we don’t easily fall under the sway of external objects, so that we gain some self-control and freedom. We start to call the shots. And this shouldn’t be regarded as a religion, a tradition, or a custom. Buddhism should neither be regarded as a custom, nor as a religion. It is something that’s just fundamentally helpful, helpful for gaining control, helpful for gaining some independence and freedom, and for finding out exactly what we’re doing.

Keeping an open and relaxed attitude

When it comes to the meditation we shouldn’t think, ‘Well, he told me to meditate like this, so I have to do that now, it would be wrong not to.’ That’s not the approach. Because for example, nobody told you to come here, nobody gave it to you as a job. You came here of your own accord thinking, ‘I need to meditate, I need to practice.’ So whatever brought you here, you came of your own accord. So to think, ‘If I don’t do it as he says ...,’ is not quite right, because one has come here for one’s own sake, for the sake of one’s own practice. Keeping that in mind that will help our mind stay relaxed. Rather than as if we have been given a task to do. So with that in mind, if someone comes to me and says; “I can’t meditate, I can’t sit here cross legged,” then their way of thinking is not quite right, because they came here of their own accord to meditate, thinking to just do their best. If one is simply doing one’s best and has come with that attitude, then everything remains sort of open and free. One feels free and independent. And for a beginner that’s very helpful, because beginners are more able to practice when they are feeling happy and at ease. If we are getting stressed thinking, ‘The lama said I have to do this, but I can’t,’ we’ll start to worry and feel unhappy, and that will be an obstacle to our practice. So regarding the practice, it’s important to keep in mind that we came here of our own accord, not because the lama said we had to, or somebody imposed it upon us as a job or a task. So whether you are here mainly to receive the teachings, or you’re here mainly for the practice sessions, or for both, nobody forced you to come here. So keeping in mind that you’re here of your own free will and having the attitude of, ‘I’ll just do what I can, do my best,’ will help your mind not to become tight, and when the mind isn’t tight it is more able to practice.
Build up the muscles of practice

What is more, our practice has to be constant and regular, not just for this week. For example, why have we come here for this week of practice and teaching? We need to be aware of what our objective and aim was in coming here. We came here because we think meditation and practice is good for us. That’s what brought us here, and we need to constantly be doing what’s good for us. Some people say, “I haven’t got time to practice, I’m very busy.” But what are they busy with? Are they busy with something they feel is good for them, or harmful for them? And we need to think like that regarding our meditation and practice. Do we do it because we feel it’s good for us, or harmful for us? What’s our aim, what is our objective? When we say; “I haven’t the time to practice, I’m busy,” it begs the question; busy with what? Are we busy with something detrimental to us, or something that will improve us? If it’s something detrimental to us, we’re better off getting rid of it, whereas if it’s something that improves us, then we should do more of it. So which side do meditation and practice fall to? If we feel they’re good for us and will improve us, then we need to do them consistently, regularly.

This is especially the case when we’re physically strong and mentally able to do it, because at that time the practice will have strength, efficacy and power. When our body and mind are weak, or failing, the practice isn’t going to have any strength and won’t go well; we could say it’ll be difficult for it to be of any benefit at all. So it’s when we’re well and healthy that we need to be meditating, because at that point it will serve its purpose, and be of benefit. It will definitely help us in the future to deal with any difficulties and suffering. Whereas, if we aren’t regularly practising and meditating, but just save doing it for when we’re having a hard time and encountering difficulties, it’s simply not going to happen, or work, because no strength has been built up. It may well be that when we are in the midst of difficulties and hardships we’re already physically and mentally weakened. So if we haven’t built up the muscle of practice already, there’s going to be nothing there to help us.

So our attitude cannot be that we’re just here to just practice for one week. The right attitude is that meditation and practice are a regular activity of ours, something we do constantly. It’s when we’re busy that we particularly need meditation and practice, because the busier we are the more difficulties we’re going to face physically and mentally. And the meditation and practice will be able to sustain us through that period. To be applying ourselves to it regularly when we are physically and mentally well is key, because it’s then that the meditation will have strength and power to ease discomfort and pain, and to help us deal with suffering. Waiting until we feel we need it, when we’ve hit difficult times to think, ‘Now I will meditate,’ and when we feel okay again to put the meditation aside ‘till we need it again, is never going to work. Our practice and meditation won’t make any headway.


Gaining your own experience

It’s always said that you have to meditate; meditation is important; but it is tricky, like so many aspects of life. What is it that meditates? It’s the mind that meditates. But maybe occasionally we doubt whether the mind actually exists. Sometimes we may accept the existence of mind, sometimes not. To meditate while not accepting the existence of mind is rather strange. But even if we do believe in the existence of mind, it is difficult to know exactly how the mind is, and what it is like. Not knowing how the mind is means that it’s always going to be difficult to keep track of it, or sort of keep hold of it. This goes back to what I was saying about samsaric beings, the residents of cyclic existence, who don’t really know what they are doing, and the same applies to meditation, how we meditate but don’t really know what we’re doing. In truth it’s the same for all of our activities. Those who are beyond samsara, cyclic existence, the noble beings, the Aryas as they are called in Sanskrit, they truly know what they are doing. Samsaric beings don’t know what they are doing in general and therefore meditation is difficult.

As I said earlier on, whether we know meditation or not is dependent upon our experience. What is meant by experience? It’s when we engage in an activity and gain a result from it. The result we call experience. So our mind is maintaining awareness, and we cultivate that (‘cultivate’ is another translation of the Tibetan word usually translated as ‘meditation’). So we could say our mind keeps awareness and we ‘meditate’ that; it’s a non-standard use of the word meditation, but that is the sense of it in the Tibetan. You generate awareness and then you meditate it, cultivate it, develop it, or become used to it; these are all uses of the word ‘gom’ in Tibetan. So there is that which is ‘meditated’, and the feeling, or knowing that comes about through that is called experience. There are two ways of meditating, or of bringing about this feeling. The first is to not think too much, so we take a particular object as the support for our awareness and we ‘meditate’ that.

And that brings us to the end of our time. So I’ll leave you in suspense, so you’ll want to come back for the rest. (Rinpoche laughing) Haha, that’s one day longer I get to keep you!