This eight-week retreat will focus on three of the six transitional processes, namely:
- the Transitional Process of Living, with teachings on śamatha and vipaśyanā,
- the Transitional Process of Dreaming, with teachings on dream yoga, and
- the Transitional Process of Meditation with teachings on Dzogchen meditation.
All these teachings will be based on the text The Profound Dharma of The Natural Emergence of the Peaceful and Wrathful from Enlightened Awareness Stage of Completion Instructions on the Six Transitional Processes, an “earth terma” of teachings by Padmasambhava, revealed by Karma Lingpa in the fourteen century.
The English translation of this text has been published under the title Natural Liberation: Padmasambhava’s Teachings on the Six Bardos, with commentary by Gyatrul Rinpoche and translated by B. Alan Wallace.
94 On The Journey to SukhavatiAs a bonus, at the end of our retreat Alan presented to us the teachings on Sukhavati from Karma Chagme. If you missed your chance for the three modes of achieving enlightenment, then it is definitely not Alan’s fault, with all the podcasts up to now you guys had your opportunities. If not, don’t start crying yet, there is still the light of hope on the Western horizon, and that’s Amitabha’s pure land. There are different levels of pure lands that can be reached by beings, depending on their abilities. If you have already achieved a high level of realization you have full choice. Would you like to be in Akanishta or is it not challenging enough for you to go there? Well, most of us might want to start trying with Sukhavati first, that is more within reach of ordinary beings who are still prone to mental afflictions. What could prevent you from going there are the five deeds of immediate retribution. But other than that, the entrance examination is comparatively easy. Once you have achieved rebirth in Sukhavati you are all set. You can achieve enlightenment either there or in any other pure realm of your choice, Alan’s favorite will be Shambala. I am sure that he will establish the tradition of the 8-week retreats there, so make sure you will be able to join!
93 Becoming A Child Of The BuddhasWhat better way to end a retreat than with Shantideva’s beautiful verses about embracing bodhicitta! The verses cited today are often used for the liturgy when taking the bodhisattva precepts. Shantideva’s verses are not meant as a teaching to an audience, they are more like an invitation for us in the sense of the “Ehipassiko”, the “Come and see” of the Pali canon, and Shantideva invites us into his own mind with them. When you take the Pratimoksha or the Tantric precepts, you need to receive them through a certain lineage. The guru is the channel through which you receive the blessings and the guidance of the Dharmakaya when taking these vows. The Bodhisattva precepts are an exception, you can take them even without a guru being present. The Dharmakaya and therefore the Buddha is present everywhere, and he himself will be your witness. You can then also imagine all sentient beings being present as your witnesses, too, because they are the ones you are going to serve. When we deeply resonate with this extraordinary resolve, we can just take the vows in such a way. Regarding the meditation, as we did for the teachings of Padmasambhava before, we can look through the transparent veil of Alan as the person reading it and it will be Shantideva himself speaking the verses. Guided meditation starts at 17:34 min
92 Achieving Buddhahood By Doing Nothing…ha haIn the silent meditation we are once again asked to balance earth and sky and to proceed at our own pace. After the meditation we finish the transitional process of meditation. The text shows how to get to the point from which you no longer affirm virtue nor do you reject non-virtue; you do not visualize anything; nothing is outside of it. Whereas objects are illuminated on the coarse level by substrate consciousness, on the deepest level they are illuminated by rigpa in the space of all phenomena. However, in rigpa there is no duality between the space and the light illuminating it. The process of developing stable samadhi to realizing rigpa is, simply put, an ever-deepening release of grasping: it might start with a five year-old with a monkey on its belly to feel the breath and release all control over it, and then years later you release all grasping (once again, it sounds pretty simple :)). And once you dwell in rigpa you see how all appearances arise to assist you in your path to full awakening: All mental afflictions are suddenly as great as all virtues. However, it is once again vital not to cling to appearances - just as in a dream. Once you start clinging to dream appearances you are more or less begging to stay non-lucid. However, once you don’t cling to those appearances and realize that nothing can harm you, there’s no reason for you to have any preference. Finally, Alan explains the three ways of becoming a Buddha: 1) you realize the 4 great types of liberation and achieve rainbow-body. That way your body disappears into the energy of primordial consciousness. 2) you become a Buddha while dying or during the transitional process of dharmata 3) you become a Buddha by being released in the nirmanakaya pure realm in the transitional process of becoming, that is you either shift your environment to pure land (the way you practiced during lucid dreaming) or you choose a nice birthplace that gives you access to dharma and then you achieve buddhahood there. Silent meditation cut out at 05:37
91 Four Rivers Flowing Into One ResolveOn the penultimate stage to the cultivation of bodhicitta we return to the great resolve: I shall free all sentient beings. Alan points how that the deeper this promise sinks into you, the clearer it becomes that it only makes sense from the perspective of rigpa. Also, after having cultivated great compassion you are bound to go on to the other 3 greats - you no longer have a choice. Then the four are like four rivers coming together to a massive stream that will take you directly to bodhicitta. And once again it is important to realize that our perspective is that of rigpa, which is said to be one (in the sense that it’s the one truth) but at the same time infinite (because it manifests in every sentient being) - it’s neither singular nor plural. Alan then quotes Shantideva to inspire us for the meditation. After the meditation Alan mentions how there are two doors leading to the same path: either you cultivate relative bodhicitta and it will lead you to ultimate bodhicitta, or you can go the other way. Towards the end Alan wishes us a good day but then quickly comes back to correct himself. In the sound file the very beginning of his addition is missing, that is why it starts abruptly. Meditation starts at 17:47
90 An Approximation of Pure Land in Sight?At the beginning Alan shares extremely uplifting news as what concerns “Project Contemplative Observatory”. After having failed to build one in India and in Santa Barbara it finally looks as if a promising piece of land in Tuscany is available. The land is cheap and big enough to support not only a contemplative observatory but also a mind center. With retreatants maybe even planting organic food there, it would truly be as close as we get in samsara to a pure land! After a silent meditation we return to the text. Alan explains that the four great types of liberation can only manifest once you completely stop all conceptualization. These four types are then described as: 1) primordial liberation, which means that you don’t need to remedy anything and take no external refuge 2) liberation by itself, because after you have investigated enough (practiced vipashyana) you find clear insight and you then simply release into that insight 3) instantaneous liberation 4) complete liberation, which means that it takes no effort at all Alan then points out that whereas a while ago he quoted Geshe Rabten who argued that all of Dharma either lays the foundation for bodhicitta, is bodhicitta or leads to bodhicitta, this is different from a Dzogchen perspective. From that view all of dharma is a preparation for discovering who you are, and that is rigpa. Not only does Alan contrast the Madhyamaka and the Dzogchen approach in this way, but also by explaining in what ways things arise. Nagarjuna shows that it is not reasonable to say that things exist, nor that they don’t exist, nor both, nor neither. However, from the Dzogchen perspective everything self-arises - but, of course, only from the perspective of rigpa! Silent meditation cut out at 27:18
89 Great Equanimity, and the Importance of ViewsAlan starts by talking about his last dharma talk and once more making clear that his anger was not directed towards any person, but simply towards a certain view. This is important to stress because in the West often a view is conflated with a person. Alan emphasizes how important views are and they are clearly the most horrible non-virtue of all because they justify any kind of behavior. That is why also Dharma talks can be very intense and unpleasant. If a certain view is being burned and you identify with that view (e. g. that the mind is the brain and your awareness is a cartoon, thus, you are not a sentient being but a mindless robot), the dharma talk will not be comfortable for you and the lama might manifest as wrathful. As what concerns great equanimity we are asked to release all attachment to the near, which means our views. But not only that; we should also release the extreme of peace and the aversion to the world of becoming, that is, as much as we like to be in a peaceful retreat we have to let go of that preference over the uncertain world “out there”. That then finally to the ultimate equanimity which means letting go of the attachment to nirvana. On that note, Alan tells two stories that illustrate these points, one being about a Geshe, who saved a calf from drowning in filth, and the other about Franklin Merrell-Wolf, who experienced such a “complete transcendence of all opposites”. Meditation starts at 47:02
88 Turning Up the Heat on Learned IgnoranceThe session begins with a guided meditation on variations of taking the mind as the path, beginning with maintaining peripheral awareness of fluctuations of the breath before single-pointedly focusing awareness on the space of the mind and whatever arises there. Alan then returns to page 182 of Natural Liberation for further commentary on the lines we concluded with yesterday, “Due to being obscured by the three kinds of ignorance, they do not know the manner of their liberation.” Viewed from the perspective of rigpa, even hatred will self-release without any additional antidote. Before we reach that sage, however, it is important to maintain conscientiousness along with mindfulness and introspection in our practice. Conscientiousness is established in non-attachment, non-hostility, and non-delusion, and coupled with enthusiasm, it expresses itself as intelligent, ethical concern. Shantideva discusses conscientiousness in the fourth chapter of A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and Alan cites a number of passages highlighting the theme that when it comes to mental afflictions, Buddhism is neither pacifistic nor “non-judgementally aware” of whatever comes up in the mind. The Great Bodhisattva declares he is obsessed and with vengeance will wage battle against the enemy, the perpetual causes of all miseries. Returning then to the three types of ignorance, Alan describes the first, “ignorance regarding a single identity”, as the most deeply ingrained. This is the ignorance of our “one nature” as Samantabhadra, primordial wisdom. The second form of ignorance, “connate ignorance” is the delusional identification with a self that is permanent, unitary, independent, autonomous, substantial, and existing prior to and independent of conceptual designation. The third form of ignorance, Alan translates as “speculative ignorance.” It is fabricated, conjured up, and acquired with learning. The most pernicious acquired ignorance of our time, Alan says, is materialism, and perhaps we have not been honoring the fierce attitude of Shantideva in our accommodation with it. Alan reads from an article printed in the current New York Times with the headline “Are We Really Conscious?” The author, a Princeton neuroscientist and psychologist, presents what he claims is a scientific resolution of the mind/body philosophical issue with the assertion that we don’t actually have inner feelings in the way it seems. The brain is not subjectively aware of the information it processes, the author states, but rather is accessing internal models that provide wrong information. It is all an elaborate story about a seemingly magical property, awareness, and there is no way the brain can know it is being fooled by the illusion. There is no subjective experience of the color green or the sensation of pain, there is only information in a data processing device, he concludes. “This is the most grotesque false view I think that I have seen in the history of humanity,” Alan responds. “He says we are mindless computers!” This speculative, learned ignorance, Alan states, is the most superficial of the three types, but it can destroy civilization. “This is my hot kitchen,” Alan says. “And I will torch, I will incinerate, and I will not stop until that is looked on with contempt by everybody.” Meditation starts at 0:20
87 Great Mudita“Why couldn’t all beings never be parted from sublime happiness free from suffering?” This question beginning the meditation on Great Mudita, Alan says, is a synthesis of great loving kindness and great compassion. After contemplating the ingredients necessary to make ordinary happiness sublime happiness and the causes that lead to it, recall next the kindness of others whose actions helped bring you to this point on the path. In the Dzogchen view, when traced to its deepest source,the true agent of all their actions as well as all your own is Samantabhadra. Recognizing this, the wish to repay the kindness of all beings naturally arises and what better way is there to express your gratitude than with the aspiration that they all actually will realize sublime happiness free of suffering. The aspiration leads to the authentic and realistic resolve to personally insure that it happens and and the meditation concludes with the supplication of blessings from your guru and the awakened ones to enable you to do so. Meditation starts at 37:05
86 Ripened and LiberatedBefore the meditation, Alan elaborates on the importance of preliminary practices and the accumulation of merit in order to prepare the mind. However, that is not enough since merit can be lost, especially when generating anger towards a bodhisattva. Therefore, what are the signs that purification is happening? When one ventures into deeper practices, one can get some sense that obscurations are attenuating. Then, the practitioner gains serenity, inner calmness, contentment, composure, etc. This happens not only when everything goes well but even during bad times. Mental afflictions also arise but they have lost power. In brief, a clear sign of having accrued virtue is having an enduring and robust inspiration. When one takes seriously the preliminary practices and they bring about a transformation, then the practitioner is ripened and liberated. The ripening part comes from the preliminary practices, and the fruition of that is liberation. After comes a guided mediation on taking the mind as the path, which is directly correlated to the next passage of the text. After meditation Alan continues with the oral transmission and explanation of the text Natural Liberation on page 180. The main topic is the four great ways of liberation. Thoughts are primordially liberated, self-liberated, instantly liberated, and completely liberated. In this passage we come to see that all mental afflictions are unborn and self-liberating. Moreover, knowing that an instance of thought is unborn and self-liberating, we know that every thought is unborn and self-liberating. Then, by implication one understands the nature of consciousness as being unborn, empty of inherent nature, and self-liberating. Self-liberating means liberating oneself right down to rigpa. And one can do that on the basis of a single instant. This is an irreversible revolution! When you see it and fathom the four great ways of liberation, nothing remains as before. The text says: “Whatever appears, let it go as self-liberating. Do not meditate; let awareness roam freely.” Viewing reality from the perspective of rigpa, all sentient beings are actually free but they don’t know it. They are striving so hard when being already primordially free, self-liberated, instantly liberated and completely liberated. Alan finishes the session talking about the hell realms and concludes that one can’t by any means stay in hell when having great compassion. Meditation starts at 25:16
85 Bringing wisdom to the cultivation of great loving-kindnessAlan highlights the practice of balancing earth and sky. The core of the practice is to develop a deepening sense of ease, relaxation and groundedness, while at the same time maintaining and accentuating clarity. Alan explains how he started to practice earth with the Theravada tradition and how everything unfolds until getting to dzogchen. In this session, we return to great loving-kindness. Alan quotes a sutra from the Pali canon in which Buddha addresses for lay people the types of happiness they might cultivate and realize: ownership, wealth, freedom from debt, and blamelessness. The last one directly relates to genuine happiness. Buddha encourages his disciples to find out what really constitutes true happiness and based on this understanding, to pursue it. Once again, it is about wisdom. Alan also quotes another sutra in which Buddha describes three types of happiness: blamelessness and contentment; the one gained from samadhi; and the supreme happiness of complete freedom through realization, which is the joy of knowing reality as it is. Therefore, in this meditation session we will bring wisdom to the cultivation of great loving-kindness. Meditation starts at 32:22