The Tibetan Seven-Point Mind-Training
All of us have attitudes. Some of them accord with reality and serve us well throughout the course of our lives. Others are out of alignment with reality, and they cause us unnec-essary problems. Tibetan Buddhist practice isn't just sitting in silent meditation; it's developing fresh attitudes that align our minds with reality. Attitudes need adjusting, just like a spinal column that has been knocked out of alignment. Among the many types of practices in Tibetan Buddhism, in this book I will explain a type of mental training Tibet-ans call lojong, which is designed to shift our attitudes so that our minds become pure wellsprings of joy instead of murky pools of problems, anxieties, fleeting pleasures, frus-trations, hopes, and fears. The Tibetan word lojong is made up of two parts: lo means attitude, mind, intelligence, and perspective; and jong means to train, purify, remedy, and clear away. So the word lojong could literally be translated as attitudinal training, but I'll stick with the more common translation of mind-training.
Over the past millennium, Tibetan lamas have devised many lojongs, but the most widely taught and practiced of all lojongs in the Tibetan language was one based on the teachings of an Indian Buddhist sage named Atisha (982-1054), whose life spanned the end of the first millennium of the common era and the beginning of the second. Atisha brought to Tibet an oral tradition of lojong teachings that was based on instructions that had been passed down to him through the lineage of the Indian Buddhist teachers Maitriyogin, Dharmarakshita, and Serlingpa.
This oral tradition may represent the earliest such practice that was explicitly called a lojong, and it is probably the most widely practiced in the whole of Tibetan Buddhism. This training was initially given only as an oral instruction for those stu-dents who were deemed sufficiently intelligent and highly enough motivated to make good use of it. Only about a century after Atisha's death was this secret training writ-ten down and made more widely available in monasteries and hermitages, Tibet's unique kinds of attitudinal correc-tion facility. This delay probably accounts for the minor variations in the different versions of the text we have today. For centuries we in the West have wondered whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.
If there are highly advanced, intelligent beings out there, what might they have to teach us? What have they learned that we have not? Along similar lines we can ask: is there intelligent life on our planet outside of our Euro-American civilization? Of course that sounds like a dumb question, but it's still worth asking, since there still persists an attitude in our society that we know more about everything than any pre-vious generation and more than any other, "less developed" society today. It takes quite an ethnocentric leap of faith to swallow that, but many people seem to manage it. Indian civilization a thousand years ago, during the time of Atisha, had evolved with very little influence from European civi-lization; and Tibetan civilization, tracing back more than two millennia, was hardly influenced by the West until the mid-twentieth century. Ironically, Tibetans' first major en-counter with Western thought occurred due to the invasion of their homeland by the Chinese Communists in 1949, who forced upon them the economic doctrine of Marxism and scientific materialism.
Have Indian and Tibetan civilizations made any great discoveries of their own that we have not, and might they have anything to teach us? I will be tackling these questions throughout this book, drawing on a thousand-year-old set of aphorisms that embody much of the wisdom of ancient India and Tibet. If these aphorisms strike a chord of wis-dom for us living today, whose lives span the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third, that wis-dom will be something that is not uniquely Eastern or Western, and not ancient or modern. It will be a type of wisdom that cuts across such cultural divides and eras, something universal that speaks deeply to and from the hearts and minds of humanity.
Over the past millennium, Tibetan Buddhism has main-tained its vitality from generation to generation by teachers passing on oral commentaries to traditional "root texts" such as the Seven-Point Mind-Training. Root texts preserve the depth and wisdom of the teachings, and the oral com-mentaries link these texts with the experiences and views of practitioners of each generation. In the explanation of the text I offer here, I draw upon the earliest Tibetan com-mentary I have been able to find, composed by Sechil Buwa, who was a direct disciple of Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101-1175), who first wrote down this mind-training. Chekawa Yeshe Dorje had received the transmission of this teaching from Sharawa, and the lineage before him goes back to Langri Thangpa, Potowa, Dromtonpa, and Atisha. I also draw on a very recent commentary entitled Enlightened Courage: An Explanation ofAtisha's Seven Point Mind Train-ing by the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the greatest Tibetan meditation masters of the twentieth century. The teacher from whom I received the oral commentary on this training was a learned, humble, and compassionate Tibetan named Kungo Barshi. I was living in Dharamsala,
India, at the time, in 1973, and there were many erudite lamas from whom I could have sought this instruction. But I was particularly drawn to Kungo Barshi for various rea-sons. At that time, he was the chief instructor in Tibetan medicine at the Tibetan Astro-Medical Institute, and he was renowned for his mastery of many of the fields of traditional Tibetan knowledge. But he was not only an outstanding scholar. As a member of the nobility in Tibet, he had owned several estates and devoted himself to the life of a gentle-man scholar, while his wife largely took over the practical affairs of running their estates. But when the Chinese Communists invaded Tibet and especially targeted the aristocracy for imprisonment and torture, he, his wife, and one of his sons fled to India. Others of his children remained behind, only to be killed by the Chinese, and the son who fled with him into exile also met a tragic end. Adversity mounted upon adversity in Kungo Barshi's life, and yet when he was passing on this teaching to me, he told me, "Personally, I have found the Chinese invasion of Tibet to be a blessing. In Tibet before this cataclysm, I took much for granted, and my spiritual practice was casual. Now that I have been forced into exile and have lost so much, my dedication to practice has grown enormously, and I have found greater contentment than ever before." Rarely have I met anyone whose presence exuded such serenity, quiet good cheer, and wisdom as he did. He was for me a living embodiment of the efficacy of this mind-training, and his inspiration has been with me ever since.
As I pass on my own commentary to this text, I address many practical and theoretical issues that uniquely face us in the modern world. This book is based on a series of pub-lic lectures I gave in Santa Barbara, California, during the years 1997-1998. Tapes of those lectures were transcribed and edited by my old and dear friend Lynn Quirolo, to whom I owe a deep debt of gratitude; then I made final revisions to the edited transcripts. I have tried at all times to be faithful to the original teachings I received, while making them thoroughly contemporary to people living in a world so different from that of traditional Tibet. If even a fraction of the wisdom and inspiration of Atisha, Sechil Buwa, Kungo Barshi, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche is con-veyed to the readers of this book, our efforts will have born good fruit.
The First Point:
First, train in the preliminaries.
The goal of Dharma practice is to realize a state of genuine well-being that flows from a wellspring of awareness that is pure and unobscured. The ancient Greeks called such a state eudaimonia, a truth-given joy. The ancient Indians called it mahasukha, great bliss that arises not from pleasurable stimuli, but from the nature of one's own pure awareness itself. This is not simply a happy feeling; it is a state of be-ing that underlies and suffuses all emotional states, that embraces all the joys and sorrows that come our way. It is a way of engaging with life without confusion. The ancient Greeks knew about it. The Indians and Tibetans know about it. Funny that we don't have a word for it in modern En-glish. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we know a lot more about mental disease than we do about mental health.
Years ago I asked the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health how the medical profession defined mental health. He replied that they didn't have any widely agreed upon definition, for they didn't have enough data! They have plenty of data on mental disorders, though, and according to conservative estimates, one in five persons, at least in
the United States, will have a serious, diagnosable, and treatable mental disorder some time during their lifetime.1 Even for those of us who are not presently suffering from a diagnosable mental disease, it's high time to ask: what's so great about being normal? When we're normal, we're still subject to a wide range of mental problems, with their resultant distress. Let's now ask the provocative question: how mentally healthy could we possibly we be? Is there a limit? How in touch with reality would we have to be to achieve supreme mental health? A path that has stood the test of centuries is the practice of Dharma. And what is Dharma? One meaning of "Dharma" is simply truth, spe-cifically those truths that, when realized, lead to a state of genuine, lasting happiness that is not contingent upon plea-surable stimuli. In terms of our overall well-being, Dharma includes important truths concerning diet, exercise, and medication, as well as spiritual practice. Indeed, the theories and practices of traditional Tibetan medicine are commonly viewed by its practitioners as integral elements of Dharma.
In the Tibetan Buddhist context, there are several criteria for discriminating between what is and is not Dharma. One criterion for Dharma is whether or not a theory or practice leads to spiritual awakening. From a traditional viewpoint, another criterion for Dharma is anything that aids spiritual awakening in this life or beyond this life. Using this crite-rion, there are ways of conduct and ways of viewing reality that are beneficial beyond the context of this present life. There is a third very pragmatic criterion for determining what can be considered Dharma that doesn't depend on belief in enlightenment or reincarnation. This criterion of practicing Dharma is engaging with all events in ways that are realistic and conducive to one's own and others' well-being. When things go well, are there ways to experience deeper joy and satisfaction? When things go wrong, is there anything we can do that would still enhance our overall well-being? Ways of bringing forth a sense of fulfillment and meaning during the inevitable ups and downs of life are also considered Dharma.
These three criteria define Dharma but are not exclusive to Buddhism. Dharma can be found in non-Buddhist paths and even outside of religious practice altogether. The test of whether a practice or theory is Dharma is whether it re-sults in benefit throughout the inevitable vicissitudes of life.
On the one hand, we may feel Dharma practice seems difficult, time-consuming, and filled with problems. From another perspective, if what we really want is to practice Dharma, we get immediate gratification. Dharma can be practiced anytime: on happy occasions or when we are sick. Just as soon as we want to practice, we can. But if Dharma is practiced only as a means to an end, such as to get more money or have people like us, then we are in a situation of delayed gratification.
What does it mean to "practice Dharma"? It is not one technique, not just meditation. You can develop a reper-toire of Dharma practices for every occasion. When you start to understand the richness and diversity of Dharma practice, you will see that even if you are stressed out, tired, or depressed, you can still practice. Even when you are dying, you can practice Dharma. You can become a skillful chef of Dharma using its rich and varied recipes to make any situation into a source of fulfillment and happiness. When what you really want is to practice Dharma, you find more and more ability to do so in a wider variety of situa-tions. Dharma is like medicine; it is designed to help stop the habitual behaviors and attitudes that impede the ca-pacity of the mind to heal itself. The more you practice Dharma, the more Dharma unveils your natural inborn happiness.
The Seven-Point Mind-Training is the essence of Dharma, a concise array of methods to achieve genuine happiness no matter what our circumstances. In its fullest dimension, the Mind-Training is also a complete path to enlightenment. The seven points begin, "First, train in the preliminaries," and lay the foundation for effective Dharma. You don't have to be spiritual or intellectual to practice Dharma effectively. What's needed is to saturate the mind with two challenges: a thorough evaluation of ordinary life and a thorough evaluation of human potential.
This First Point, a single line of a text of only about four pages, represents a vast Tibetan Buddhist teaching. In the metaphor of spiritual practice as a journey, the practitioner must find a qualified guide, a reliable vehicle, an accurate map, and the best methods. The "preliminaries" serve as a compass, keeping efforts directed toward the ultimate goal. The preliminaries address unexamined assumptions not easily identified and even more difficult to root out. There-fore, at the beginning of Dharma practice and periodically afterward, returning to the preliminaries keeps spiritual practice well-tuned and prevents wasting time in detours.
"Preliminary" isn't a code word for "skip this and get to the important stuff." The important stuff starts here. This is it, no warm-up. When I went to Dharamsala, India, in 1971 to study meditation, I received teachings from the Tibetan lama Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. He spent weeks discuss-ing the preliminaries and I kept wondering when he was going to get around to meditation. Slowly it dawned on me that he was teaching discursive meditation. Meditation is not only settling your mind and finding stillness, it is also bringing shape and meaning to conceptual thought by refining the way we view the world. It is the quality of practice of the preliminaries that determines over the long run whether what we are practicing is genuine Dharma or a dharma look-alike. The preliminaries are discursive meditations, situated at the very beginning of the Mind-Training to save time. All of my Tibetan teachers have emphasized the prelimi-naries, but none more so than Gyatrul Rinpoche. He was raised and trained in Tibet and has taught Dharma in the West for twenty-five years. He sees his long-term students struggling with the same old stuff and asks us, "Why do I teach you all the advanced practices of Dzogchen and Mahamudra when you are still in kindergarten? Go back and learn your ABC's." He is referring to the preliminaries, especially relevant for Westerners who tend to put a lot of muscle into spiritual practice and later, sometimes years later, wonder why there is so little result. The preliminaries are Dharma insurance to prevent spiritual practice from just being new packaging for old habits.
The preliminaries are four traditional discursive medi-tations called "the four thoughts that turn the mind." These meditations turn our minds toward our highest aspirations and progressively reorder priorities. Discursive meditation is thinking deeply about a chosen subject and can be done in spare moments during the day. No special posture is required. Discursive meditation is a very practical way of integrating Dharma practice into everyday life. The Rare and Precious Human Life of Leisure and Opportunity
The first of the four thoughts that turn the mind is: "the precious and rare human life of leisure and opportunity." Each of the terms in this phrase—precious, rare, leisure, and opportunity—is a mnemonic to bring to mind instan-taneously and deeply specific teachings and experience.
In the line "precious human life of leisure and opportu-nity," leisure means time. Some people live in situations in which there is no leisure, in which every breath is commit-ted to finding food, keeping warm, or dodging bomb shells. If you live in an area of pestilence, famine or war, you have no leisure. Leisure means having time to breathe the present, and it makes it possible to drench the heart and mind in Dharma. Leisure is an empty vessel that can be filled with the nectar of Dharma. Leisure is one of the greatest benefits of civilization. Without civilization, life is absorbed with growing, killing or protecting the next meal. With civilization, we can ar-range time off, vacations, weekends, a lunch break. We can decide how to use leisure. This first discursive meditation increases appreciation for free time. Unfortunately, in our culture leisure time is often devoted to catching up, getting ahead or battery recharging for a return to work. We have this weird phrase that leisure time is "time to kill." We need to work and we need to sleep, but the critical point here is that leisure should not just be a way to revitalize after a hard day at work. Using leisure time beneficially within a workaholic ethic requires shifting our priorities. This means gradually having work support spiritual practice and en-suring that spiritual practice does not just become a tool for improving work performance.
Opportunity is the second quality of this precious human life. Tibetans have a list of ten kinds of opportunities that focus on the ability, desire, open-mindedness, and faith to engage in spiritual practice. Opportunity also includes find-ing the appropriate circumstances for practice, including a spiritual tradition that is compatible with your own aspi-ration and temperament. The benefits of Dharma arise from leisure and opportunity, the fortuitous combination of abil-ity and circumstances. The coming together of these factors, at any time in any human life, is "rare." These factors are "precious" because they are what is necessary to obtain the
jewel of life, genuine happiness, and spiritual awakening, the results of successful spiritual practice. Spiritual practice is not a shortcut to the American Dream nor is it an embellishment to a comfortable life. Dharma addresses the root causes of suffering and requires that we take a hard look at the preconceptions that maintain our worldview and perpetuate our problems. As much as suc-cess seems to be the source of the good things in life, happiness included, success isn't the goal of spiritual prac-tice. Our ideas about success are themselves based on preconceptions and are also part of a self-perpetuating cycle preventing us from achieving the genuine success and happiness that we seek. The Buddhist tradition addresses preconceptions about success head-on with an eight-term differential diagnosis called "the eight mundane concerns," eight orientations toward the pursuit of happiness based on unexamined as-sumptions. Fixation on these concerns subverts our best efforts, leading either to counterfeit success or true frustration.
The eight mundane concerns consist of four pairs of priorities: the pursuit of material acquisitions and the avoid-ance of their loss; the pursuit of stimulus-driven pleasure and the avoidance of discomfort; the pursuit of praise and the avoidance of blame; and the pursuit of good reputation and the avoidance of bad reputation. These eight concerns commonly sum up our motivation for the pursuit of hap-piness, and this is exactly the problem. The eight mundane concerns, not wrong in themselves, underlie our motivation, and it is motivation more than any other single factor that determines the outcome of spiritual practice.
There is nothing bad about having material acquisitions— a car, a house; and, conversely, poverty is not necessarily a virtue. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a sunset, a good book, pleasant conversation, or beautiful music. It is not a bad thing to be praised. Being loved and respected by others is not bad either. On the other hand, it is not bad to be rejected by others if you are leading a wholesome and meaningful life. Many accomplished Dharma practitioners are content and happy living in total poverty. Reputation may go up and down, but it is possible for contentment to remain constant. The true source of happiness does not lie in mastery of the eight mundane concerns. Rich, poor, praised, blamed, stimulated, bored, respected, reviled— none of these mundane concerns are in themselves sources of happiness. Nor do they prevent happiness.
The problem is that when we focus on mundane con-cerns as a means to happiness, life becomes a crap shoot. There are no guarantees. If you aspire to material wealth, you may not get it, but if you do, there is no guarantee you will be happy. If you aspire to pleasure, once a stimulus is over, so is satisfaction. There is no lasting happiness in scur-rying after praise. People who are respected and famous tend to have the same personal problems as everyone else. The fatal shortcoming of the eight mundane concerns is that they are counterfeit Dharma, misguided ways of seeking happiness, and by habitually mistaking mundane concerns for genuine Dharma, our efforts to achieve genuine happiness are continually undermined.
The First Point of the Mind-Training is to train in the preliminaries in order to be able to differentiate between genuine and counterfeit Dharma. If you bank on achieving genuine happiness and fulfillment by finding the perfect mate, getting a great car, having a big house, the best insurance, a fine reputation, the top job—if these are your focus, wish also for luck in life's lottery. The objective of the First Point is to save time. Don't wait until you are eighty years old to realize the shortcomings of the eight mundane concerns; examine your priorities now. There is no need to reject these mundane concerns altogether. What is necessary is to shift your primary investment elsewhere, to genuine Dharma. Once priorities shift, the mundane concerns serve as supports for Dharma practice. Learning to distinguish between the many types of pseudo-success, the many fac-similes of happiness, and genuine happiness saves time and grief in the long run. The goal of genuine Dharma is to achieve genuine happiness.
We have covered two words, leisure and opportunity, in the first of four preliminary discursive meditations, "pre-cious human life of leisure and opportunity." Leisure and opportunity mean having the time, motivation, and circum-stances to engage in spiritual practice. "Preciousness" refers to our human potential to eliminate the sources of suffering within our own being, to transform the mind so that, no matter what the circumstances, we need never suffer from mental afflictions again. How? By identifying and progres-sively eradicating the full spectrum of the afflictions that are the source of suffering. Buddhism takes a radical view on suffering, presenting the hypothesis that it can be elimi-nated altogether. Suffering is eradicated not by finding psychological anesthetics or disengaging from the world, but by working from within to transform the mind itself. The way to eliminate suffering is to transform the mind. The Seven-Point Mind-Training is a flash card owner's manual on how to transform the mind using the raw material of life.
The word "precious" in the first of the four thoughts that turn the mind serves to point out that this human life is not as it first appears; it is a precious and unique opportunity. A human life of leisure and opportunity is "precious" be-cause it is an opportunity to eradicate suffering and achieve genuine happiness. As we witness other people's suffering
and experience our own, freedom from personal suffering and having compassion for others appear to be mutually exclusive. Compassion for others' suffering seems to in-crease our own suffering, making detachment seem like the only reasonable route to one's own individual happiness. But is this really so?
In 1992, I went with a group of neuroscientists to the Himalayas to study the effects of meditation. One of our topics of investigation was compassion. We asked an old Tibetan monk, a teacher of many of the other yogis who lived in the mountains, about the relationship between suffering and compassion. It is said in the Buddhist tradition that a bodhisattva, a person who is continuously motivated to help sentient beings achieve spiritual awakening, looks upon all sentient beings as a mother looks upon her child. When a child is hurt, the mother feels compassion and suf-fers. Since the goal of Dharma is to alleviate suffering, the neuroscientists and I asked the yogi about the relationship between suffering and compassion.
The old monk explained the relation of compassion and suffering: "Empathetic suffering comes before compassion." The first stage of compassion is empathy. With empathy, there is suffering. But the suffering you feel by empathiz-ing then becomes fuel for the fire of compassion. Empathy combined with what Tibetans call sem-shuk, or "power of the heart," kindles compassion. The power of compassion is beyond personal suffering and focuses on solutions, what can be done. The old yogi explained to the neuroscientists that when compassion arises, suffering is transcended and one attends to how to be of service. Suffering is the fuel of compassion, not its result. The cumulative wisdom of centuries of Dharma practitio-ners states that with this precious human life of leisure and opportunity we have a fathomless capacity for compassion. This same wisdom tradition tells us we have a fathomless capacity for wisdom and power. The human potential for contemplative wisdom, compassion, and power, known to Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim contemplatives, remains virtually unexplored in the mod-ern West. We have a dismissive term for the potential of the mind— "placebo." Western culture associates the power of the mind with the power of a sugar pill. During the past four hundred years, while delighting in its growing scien-tific prowess, the West has neglected the exploration and development of the innate human potential for wisdom and compassion.
In the early 1970s, a friend of mine complained to the Dalai Lama about how difficult it is to become enlightened in such a "degenerate time" as ours. This has been a famil-iar refrain throughout the history of Buddhism, with just about every generation referring to its own era as a degen-erate time. But the Dalai Lama's response cut him short. He told him that the only reason so few people attain en-lightenment these days is that they are not practicing with the same diligence as the great adepts of the past. If people were to practice today with the same dedication as such great contemplatives as the Tibetan yogi Milarepa, they would achieve the same results, regardless of how degenerate their times are.
A key element in realizing the potential of our precious human life of leisure and opportunity is faith. Faith is also a prerequisite for a successful career. If you don't have faith in your chosen field, physics for example, it will be diffi-cult to complete a Ph.D. As in many endeavors, in science it is necessary to take many things, such as research out-side your specialty, on well-grounded faith. Well-grounded faith in our potential for wisdom, compassion, and power is an important part of what Buddhists mean by "opportunity."
Another type of faith, blind faith that has no basis in reality, is useless at best. The preciousness of life is having time and circumstances to fulfill what Tsongkhapa, a great fifteenth-century Tibetan Buddhist contemplative, called our "eternal longing." This is a very significant statement because the Buddhist mean-ing of "eternal" includes all previous lifetimes, a very long time. The Seven-Point Mind-Training advises us to recog-nize right at the beginning our opportunity and potential. Also, be effective; don't get sidetracked. In this life, you have a precious opportunity to fulfill your eternal longing to find genuine happiness.
Leisure and opportunity are precious and rare. The Bud-dhist meaning of "rare" is based on Buddhist cosmology, which in some respects is similar to modern astronomy concerning the size and age of the cosmos. Western astrono-mers speak of solar systems, galaxies, galaxy clusters, and galaxy super-clusters. Western astronomers attempt to pin-point the date of the Big Bang, one estimate being thirteen billion years ago. Buddhist cosmology agrees in principle with the theory of the universe oscillating between cycles of Big Bang/development/Big Crunch, another Big Bang/ development /Big Crunch, but it places the history of our present universe at considerably longer than thirteen billion years.
The Buddhist meaning of "rare" is embedded in the Bud-dhist cosmological worldview. Within the vast, oscillating billion-fold world systems inhabited by sentient beings, Buddhists speak of six different modes of sentient life, each with a different range of experience. Some beings have in-credible misery, some incredible bliss. Human beings have the widest spectrum of experience extending from misery to bliss. Hell and heaven, it is all here, giving "rare" a special meaning.
Within this cycle of existence, rebirth after rebirth, ex-tending back through immeasurable time in an infinite cycle of universes, there are rare occasions when we rise to a hu-man rebirth of leisure and opportunity. The Buddha used a metaphor to exemplify the rarity of a precious human life of leisure and opportunity: Imagine a tortoise swimming submerged in a vast ocean and resurfacing only once every one hundred years. The times of human rebirth are similar to the infrequent times the tortoise comes up for air. Now imagine an ox's yoke floating on the same ocean. Consider the tortoise's chances of poking his head through the yoke when he comes up for air every hundred years. This is the meaning of "rarity" in "rare and precious human life of leisure and opportunity." The object of discursive medita-tion on the rare opportunity of a precious human life of leisure and opportunity is to motivate us to use our rare opportunity wisely.
There is another layer of meaning here which addresses basic assumptions about our life. Just as Buddhist cosmol-ogy describes the outer world as infinite in space and time, Buddhists also describe human potential, the inner world, as infinite. Lama Yeshe, a fine Tibetan Buddhist teacher who passed away some years ago, used to tell this parable to his Western students: "You are like beggars living in a shack, ignoring your poverty. Meanwhile, just under the dirt floor, there is a treasure of immeasurable value. You just need to scrape off the dust and you will find it." The treasure is really within your own mind and heart. Teachers, traditions, techniques, all have the single purpose of helping unveil that which is already within you. If you think otherwise, if you believe happiness is "out there" in a religious tradition or "with your teacher" or "in the spiri-tual community," you are missing the point. Dharma consists of methods to unveil what is already within you.
The preliminaries require us to examine our basic as-sumptions about the nature of life and its potential. This examination shifts the focus of attention and shakes loose preconceptions. Buddhists aren't alone in realizing the crucial importance of focus and attention in the quest for well-being and psychological balance. William James, the eminent American psychologist, said at the end of the sci-entifically over-confident nineteenth century, "our belief and attention are the same fact. For the moment, what we attend to is reality..."3 When you begin to attend to facets of reality un-covered by discursive meditation, when you notice, for example, that your opportunity for realizing your innate human potential is very rare and precious, the practice of Dharma begins to flow naturally from your heart. Tibetan lamas emphasize the importance of this life by advising their students, "If you have a precious human life of lei-sure and opportunity, use it well. If you don't have one, get one."
The second of the four thoughts that turn the mind is dis-cursive meditation on death and impermanence. The first thought is about the preciousness of having a human body, and the second thought is about that body being on loan. The purpose of pondering death and impermanence is to invert the pernicious tendency of the human mind to view things as being more stable than they are. Young people don't take getting old seriously; healthy people don't take illness seriously. The mind has a deep-rooted tendency to interpret whatever is happening in the moment as "this is it." We even grasp onto emotions as enduring even though all experience indicates otherwise. We tend to hold a per-sonal worldview in which death and illness are for other people. You will die, but not me, at least not for a long,
long time. Our unexamined sense of immortality teams up with the eight mundane concerns to shape a working hypoth-esis that death is so far in the future that it is functionally irrelevant. The intention of the second of the four dis-cursive meditations, impermanence, is to counteract this unexamined assumption about our personal immortality. The Buddha taught that everything that is conditioned is impermanent. Even on a subtle level, everything is in flux all the time. All that ascends to a high position will fall to a lower position, all that comes together comes apart, all that is gained will be lost, and all that is created will be destroyed. These are universal truths. Any situation dependent upon conditions will pass. This includes relationships, possessions, and our own bodies.
When we overlook our own impermanence, there is a natural tendency to grasp onto the good things that come along. We grasp onto nice people, family, nice material stuff as we try to create a comfortable environment. Then we hold on for dear life. This is called attachment, and once we are set in this pattern of holding on, only one of two things can happen—either the object of attachment will disappear or we will disappear. There is no third possibility. No matter how skilled we are at attachment, a life domi-nated by grasping is still ruled by the law of impermanence. What is the nature of these phenomena that we care so much about? What are these feelings and mental states that propel us through life? The pursuit of happiness and avoid-ance of suffering is the central axis of our lives, and the feelings and behaviors these pursuits generate have a huge impact on our lives. Yet the source of the problem remains elusive. Why? Because we identify with our feelings. We know how we feel by identifying with feelings. The alter-native to identification is observation, attending to mental phenomena rather than grasping onto them.
Mindfulness of feelings is a key to understanding subtle impermanence. The practice of observing feelings starts with very sharp attention. What is the nature of feelings? What is involved in the arising of a pleasurable feeling? When the stimulus is withdrawn, what happens to the feeling? Closely observing the feelings that you take so se-riously, that guide your decisions, will radically alter the course of your life, because feelings are ephemeral, or, as the Buddhists say, "subtly impermanent."
Experiment with observing joy or sorrow, feelings that arise every day. When one or the other of these feelings arises, attend to it and see if you can observe whether the mind that experiences the feeling has the same feeling as what it is observing. Is there a correspondence between the feeling tone of the observing awareness and the feeling that is being inspected? Can a mind in a state of equanimity observe misery or joy? This exercise leads to insight into the nature of subtle impermanence. Meditation on the nature of gross and subtle imperma-nence is also strongly emphasized in the Buddhist tradition. Going even deeper into the nature of impermanence, Ti-betans meditate on death. There is a reasonable objection to meditation on death. Since we are alive now, why not attend to being alive and save meditating on death for when we are dying? After all, when your time comes to die, you don't want to be nostalgic about life.
The reason for meditating on death is not to spoil happi-ness, but to find it. Human beings tend to get into a lot mischief, and the religions of the world have taken on the responsibility of reforming humans for the better (with mixed results!). Since much of our habitual behavior is not good, we have to be persuaded to improve our behavior. Fear is a very effective method of persuasion. Religious authorities have traditionally attempted to persuade people to be good not only by fear of death but also by fear of the unknown and fear of the very unknown, the afterlife. Religious doctrines on death are purposefully scary.
The Buddha taught that the purpose of his teaching on death was not just to scare people into being good but to prepare for death in this lifetime. The teachings were not designed specifically to be frightening, but if there is already fear of death, better to acknowledge that fear, engage with it and move through it so that when death actually arrives, there is no fear. By attending to the preciousness and rarity of our lives, we recognize that life is passing right now. We will never have this day again. This enormous opportunity passes quickly and then comes to a complete stop. When your body is finished, your precious human life is finished. Attend-ing to the preciousness and impermanence of life provides incentive. If there is something worthwhile doing here, do it. There is still more in these first two of the preliminary meditations. Consider again the eight mundane concerns— the acquisition of material belongings and the prevention of material loss, the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of discomfort, praise and blame, and the deeper concerns for good and bad reputation. The mind becomes disgruntled. Buddhists get compound interest on disgruntlement. Bud-dhists get irritated about being irritated and this gets out of hand. It is helpful to have a generally relaxed attitude and be passionate about one thing—spiritual practice.
Meditation on death helps extricate you from small preoc-cupations, the little stuff that gnaws away at your limitless potential. Meditation on death is a wake-up call. Its pur-pose is not to frighten you with what the boogie man will do to you after you are dead, but to get you to look at the opportunities you have right now, realize they are for a limited time only, and take advantage of them. Additionally, make sure what you are practicing is really Dharma and not one of the mundane concerns, which, in the face of death, lose their allure altogether.
Buddhist meditation on death has three parts. The first is meditating on the inevitability of our own death. We can say we already know that. Easy. But are we attending to it? If we are not attending to it, we are not factoring it into our decisions. If we are not taking the inevitability of death seriously, then we don't really believe it. However carefully we live, there will come a time when death arrives. Death will step forward. It will happen. It happened to Buddha and Jesus and it happens to presi-dents and kings. Rich or poor, sooner or later you will die and your death will be yours alone. Inevitability is the first of the three parts of the meditation on death.
When I was twenty-three, I was living in India and be-came very ill with hepatitis. In addition to hepatitis, I was suffering from malnutrition, intestinal parasites, and a cat crawled into my sleeping bag and gave me lice. Each day of this illness was like tumbling down the stairs of life, and I was dying. There were a couple of nights when I figured I had a 50% chance of living through to morning. I was so close to death that the monks in my monastery began do-ing a death ritual for me. Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, the Dalai Lama's personal physician at that time, saved my life. My health turned around. I began climbing back up the stairs and knew I was not going to die. What really struck me as I lay on my bed dying was that everything else was just going on more or less normally. If I died, my fellow monks would feel sorry for me and perhaps miss me for a little while, but classes in the monastery would be held the next day. My parents would grieve for a long time. But it would all go on. I came out of that experience with a very clear sense that my life was not so much saved as my death was postponed. Death had just been shoved back. This is true for all of us. The first part of the meditation on death is to become more and more aware of its inevitability. Whatever we iden-tify with, all of it will come to a total halt. In death you lose everything. Your relationships are over, somebody gets all your stuff, and somebody else has to deal with your body.
The second part of the meditation on death is that it can arrive any time. Death is unpredictable. It doesn't make an appointment. Tibetans have a list of times when death can arrive—in the womb, at birth, in infancy, childhood, youth, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, old age—any time is perfect for dying. You can die in good health or bad, rich or poor, educated or not. A big one for Westerners is that you can die whether or not your projects are finished. Death can happen any time. What is the basis for confidence that death can come at any time but not for me? Wishful thinking, nothing else. The second part of the meditation on impermanence is realizing death's unpredictability.
The third part of the meditation on death is attending to what is of value in the face of death. Death is part of life, not life's antithesis. With an awareness of death, what is the value of life? This question is the basis upon which Dharma is defined. With an awareness of your own mor-tality, Dharma is that which is of highest value. What is of value—a mind of clarity, a heart of compassion, a sense of wisdom, equanimity, patience and forbearance, serving other people? Meditation on death is the most direct way to check and refine values. The great Tibetan yogi and poet Milarepa is an inspiration as an example of the power of the Dharma to transform our lives. As a young man, Milarepa killed thirty-five people in an act of revenge. Afterward, deep remorse and the desire to die without regret motivated him to immerse himself in Dharma for the rest of his life. Tibetans regard Milarepa as an example of the power of Dharma to trans-form anyone, no matter what his past behavior, into an enlightened being in a single lifetime.
The central question about death, raised in all religious traditions, is, Who is it that dies? Jesus speaks of having to "die" to gain everlasting life. Similarly, the Buddha said he had attained the "deathless state," also called the "unborn state." Who is it that is "deathless"? References to a "death-less state" and "everlasting life" in the world's religious traditions bring into question materialistic assumptions taken for granted in the West. Are we inevitably death's victims? Spiritual traditions point to a deeper reality in which the afterlife is malleable. Who is it that dies? Insofar as I identify with this body, then I am going to die. If I identify with my intelligence, my education, talents and accomplishments, desires, imagination, projects, achieve-ments, thoughts, memories, I am going to die. All mental events contingent upon the human nervous system will cease when the nervous system dies. The mind and its intel-ligence, contingent upon the brain, will die when the brain dies.
What is not contingent upon the body may not die. What Buddha referred to as "deathless" is pure awareness—spa-cious, vivid, attentive without grasping or identification— awareness free from identification with the body, and which observes sensations arise and pass, observes mental events and feelings, observes all phenomena arising and passing into space like clouds dissolving into the sky. If I am not identified with body, memories, desires or feelings, who dies? I will give you a brief account of the Tibetan description of the dying process and then some evidence to support it.
I was able to confirm the first stage of dying from my own experience when I had hepatitis at age twenty-three. Before this, I thought the perfect death would be to die peacefully during sleep. When I started dying in my sleep, I woke up. It wasn't peaceful. I was awake and entered the first stage of dying as described by Tibetans. The Tibetan Buddhist description of the death process is experiential. Senses gradually shut down and feeling of the body shifts. The first thing that happens is a tremendous sense of heavi-ness. There is a leaden quality to the body as you lose control and can't move. This first stage is called "the collapse of the earth element," the element of solidity. As the death sequence continues, the moisture of the body seems to dry up. This is the collapse of the water element. Heat dissi-pates from the body and you feel cold. This is the collapse of the fire element. Your senses shut down one by one— sight, taste, smell, hearing—and in the deeper stages the tactile sense also stops—you lose the sense of having a body at all. The air element has collapsed when the breath stops. But this is not death yet. In the Tibetan description of death, the power of the elements is lost one by one, first earth, then water, fire, and lastly, air. Death comes after the breath has stopped.
Death continues in the progressive withdrawal of life from the physical down into the mental. Gradually, the various mental operations shut down and dissolve into a state of simplicity. Memory, the power of recognition, imagi-nation, and emotions all dissolve. The Tibetan Buddhist account of the death process reports that first you will see a red sheen, then a whitish appearance, then a total black-out. Many people believe the final phase of death is a total obliteration. The Tibetan account is that after a brief phase of obliteration, you emerge into the "clear light of death." The clear light of death is a state in which consciousness has dissolved into its primordial state, a state that is no longer human and is independent of a functioning brain. We don't know whether there is any kind of measurable brain activity during the clear light of death, but this is something that might be researched within the next few years.
When I went to Dharamsala with the neuroscientists in 1992, we were presented with some stunning evidence supporting the Tibetan account of the dying process. His Holiness the Dalai Lama encouraged us to visit a Tibetan contemplative who had died six days before we arrived. The yogi's name was Rato Rinpoche, and he had been born in Tibet, only in the later part of his life escaping to India as a refugee from the Chinese Communist invasion. All of his bodily functions stopped six days before we arrived. In the Tibetan view, Rato Rinpoche had entered into the non-conceptual state of the clear light of death; that is, his aware-ness had withdrawn into its primordial state. For six days his body did not deteriorate.
The clear light of death is described as "boundless space," "luminosity," "utter limpidity," and "innate bliss." This pri-mordial state is totally transpersonal and yet it is the very essence of our being. During death, everyone enters into the clear light of death, but only a few recognize it. Failing this recognition, after death most people feel disoriented and seek to be incarnated again from force of habit. For most people, the clear light of death is a brief, unrecog-nized state. Rato Rinpoche recognized the clear light of death and sustained it. In the October heat of 65-70 degrees, six days after clinical death, without breath, his cheeks were rosy and there was warmth around his heart. His Holiness was aware we had high-tech equipment with us and wanted to find out what could be measured in the brain of Rato Rinpoche during the clear light of death. According to everything the neuroscientists knew, a dead body should be decomposing six days after death, and they were a bit intimidated by this phenomenon completely outside their experience. When we saw Rinpoche on the seventh day, his body remained untouched on the bed where he had died, his face still had a bit of pink to it but the warmth at his heart had vanished. We missed the yogi's sustained clear light of death by just a few hours.
In the Buddhist contemplative tradition, if one experi-ences the ground state of all other forms of awareness prior to death, then there is a good chance of being able to ascer-tain this "deathless state" during the dying process. This is the final opportunity presented to us in this life for trans-formation. Experiencing while in good health the nature of primordial awareness, which later manifests as the clear light of death, is one of the main goals of Tibetan Buddhist meditation.
There are a lot of obstacles in meditation—knees ache, the back hurts, somebody makes a noise, duties and projects beckon, always something. The one meditation session in which all obstacles vanish is the dying process. There is no pain because your body has shut down and you won't hear noises because the senses have stopped. The great problem of meditation, distraction, is solved when you die because your brain won't support a scattered mind any more. The Tibetan Buddhist tradition claims that it is possible to sus-tain the clear light of death and emerge from it with the clarity and freedom to choose conditions of rebirth. While death is inevitable and unpredictable, it is also mal-leable. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, death is considered the most marvelous opportunity life presents for meditation. You have a choice whether to be prepared for the opportu-nity presented at death or to freak out at death, clinging desperately to all the people and things we have to leave behind.
It is ever so easy to fall into uncritical complacency with regard to death, based on the belief that death is just the cessation of life and therefore nothing to worry about. I have often heard the claim that religious people cling to beliefs in the immortality of the soul or the continuity of individual consciousness after death because they simply cannot cope with the reality of personal annihilation at death. I find this hypothesis dubious at best. Which is more daunting: to consider the Buddhist hypothesis that each of us will experience the ethical consequences of our behav-ior in future lifetimes, or to believe that death will simply terminate our experience forever, with no more problems and no more worries? I think in many cases people cling to the speculative notion of personal extinction at death as an absolute fact because they are intimidated by the thought that they might depart this life and consciously enter a vast unknown. Now that's scary!
While many people are committed to the belief that death brings the total cessation of personal existence, many oth-ers claim to be agnostic, quite honestly admitting that they don't know what happens at death and therefore have no views on the matter at all. At first glance, this seems quite a reasonable and intelligent position to take, for, after all, who among us really does know what happens at death? On the other hand, if we examine our working hypotheses regard-ing the significance of death, I think we will all find that we do indeed hold onto beliefs in this regard, whether or not we regard ourselves as agnostic. In our day-to-day lives, do we yearn for any kind of favorable experience or hope to avoid any misfortune after death? If so, do these con-cerns actually influence the way we lead our lives and the kinds of choices we make from day to day? Do we have any plans, hopes, or fears that are not confined to this life alone? If the answer to all these questions is no, then we are basing our lives upon the assumption that we will ex-perience nothing after death. Even if we say we do believe in the continuity of consciousness after death, if all our
desires and concerns are confined within this lifetime, we are still using the working hypothesis that we will experience nothing after death. This assumption is as much a belief as the assertion of the continuity of individual consciousness after death. Adherents of both positions are "believers."
The basis of the Buddhist assertion of the conservation of consciousness is the experience of the Buddha himself, corroborated by countless Buddhist contemplatives after him. The insights from such direct experience were then formalized within the context of a coherent, rational account of the nature and causes of consciousness. Many Buddhist and other contemplatives have claimed to know that con-sciousness continues on after death, and many have given clear instructions on how to discover this truth for oneself.4 Many cognitive scientists, on the other hand, also claim to know that consciousness ceases at death. What is the basis of their assertion? Modern science has no means of objec-tively detecting the presence or absence of consciousness in anything—human, animal, plant, or mineral. It has no widely accepted definition of consciousness, nor have cog-nitive scientists discovered either the necessary or sufficient causes that lead to the emergence of consciousness. They are discovering more and more brain correlates to specific states of consciousness, but they have yet to discover what it is about the brain that enables it to produce or even have an influence on conscious states. In short, as the materialist philosopher of mind Daniel Dennett acknowledges, "With consciousness...we are still in a terrible muddle. Conscious-ness stands alone today as a topic that often leaves even the most sophisticated thinkers tongue-tied and confused."5 In the absence of clear scientific evidence, it seems that the basis of the materialist view of consciousness is simply a metaphysical predilection, or an article of faith in the primacy of matter.
With science providing so little actual knowledge about the nature and origins of consciousness, what grounds do we have for the belief in eternal, mindless death? As sooth-ing as this notion may be, it seems to be little more than sheer conjecture at this point. Moreover, it simply ignores the experiences of countless contemplatives throughout the world who have achieved deep states of meditative con-centration and claim to have seen for themselves the exist-ence of their own past lives. Buddhist contemplatives do not regard themselves in "terrible muddle" with regard to consciousness. Perhaps that's because they are part of a rig-orous heritage that has taken the experiential investigation of consciousness very seriously for over two millennia, whereas modern science largely overlooked consciousness until the last decade of the twentieth century. And it still has no rigorous means of investigating consciousness firsthand, which is the only way we even know that conscious-ness exists. No wonder science is still so much in the dark in this regard! When we accept the theory of the continuity of conscious-ness beyond death as a working hypothesis, meditation on death becomes a great remedy for mental afflictions. It is difficult to be arrogant if you are aware you are going to die. Attachments lose their luster in the face of death. The Buddha said awareness of death and impermanence is the most powerful of all discernments to radically reorient one's life on the path of Dharma.
The Unsatisfactory Nature of the Cycle of Existence The First Point of the Seven-Point Mind-Training, training in the preliminaries, continues with the third of the "four thoughts that turn the mind"—meditation on the perva-siveness of suffering and discontent in samsara, the Buddhist term for the entire cycle of existence in which we are subject to mental afflictions and their results.
When Buddha attained enlightenment, he doubted any-one would believe what he had discovered about the nature of reality and the human capacity for freedom and spiri-tual awakening. The Buddha left Bodh Gaya, the place of his enlightenment, and headed for Sarnath to seek his five previous companions with whom he had meditated and practiced austerities for six years. The Buddha considered them good candidates to be able to fathom what he would reveal. The Buddha's first teaching was not about bliss. The first thing he taught his previous companions was the reality of suffering. First, recognize the reality of suffering. There are so many happy things to talk about, why talk about suffering? We all believe we know a lot about suffer-ing. In the Buddha's first teaching on suffering and the nature of existence, he lifted the surface layer of our strong habitual tendency to deny suffering. "Recognize suffering," the Buddha said and he proceeded to delineate the subtle levels of suffering. There are different types of suffering. The first suffering, "the suffering of suffering," is blatant suffering, physical or mental. Illness and physical pain are blatant suffering. There are also the mental sufferings of anxiety, fear, and unhappiness.
As obvious and omnipresent as blatant suffering is, we tend to deny it. Young people look at middle-aged people and their afflictions and think, "That's their problem." Middle-aged people look at people in nursing homes and think, "This is for old people." We habitually think the bla-tant suffering of sickness and aging is something that happens only to other people. Other people get diseases, lose jobs, and have car accidents. Denial is the soothing and false reassurance that the suffering that afflicts other people won't happen to us. There is a story about an Australian aborigine who was caught for stealing, tried, and convicted. When he heard that the punishment for stealing was hanging, he cried,
"You can't hang me! Hanging is for white people. They're used to it!" Likewise, we tend to think sickness and old age are for people who are used to it. Also included in the "suffering of suffering" is the bla-tant suffering of disappointment. Suffering occurs when we want something very much and don't get it. Suffering also occurs when we have something we really want but lose it. For example, you may be totally in love with your significant other, so happy. Then he or she says, "I don't like you any more. Good-bye," and the result is blatant suf-fering. Blatant suffering includes not wanting something and getting it and also not being able to get rid of something you don't want. The Buddha's first teaching at Sarnath con-cerned the blatant sufferings of sickness, old age, death, and the many varieties of disappointment we tend to think we are magically immune from. But blatant suffering is only the tip of the iceberg of suffering.
Recently, members of the Mind and Life Institute had a discussion with the Dalai Lama about potential topics for its next conference with Western scientists. One of the top-ics suggested to His Holiness was to compare Western views and Buddhist views of suffering. Sounds interest-ing, right? But His Holiness's response was that Western cognitive scientists and psychologists generally focus only on blatant suffering, whereas the Buddhist view is that the real problem with suffering is something Westerners don't regard as a problem at all. So he discarded that topic. There are two deeper levels in the Buddhist taxonomy of suffering. The next level after the "suffering of suffer-ing" is the "suffering of change." Our stimulus-driven states of pleasure, happiness, and gratification depend on events working out one way and not another and are considered states of suffering. Things go the way you want or they don't and, either way, you suffer. This is one of the views that have earned Buddhists the "sourpuss" label. How can having things go your way be suffering? Because there is something deeper going on. What the Buddhists are point-ing out is that whether you get something you want and hold onto it; or you get rid of something you don't want; or something you don't want to happen doesn't—all these events are conditioned and subject to change. Buddhists are very interested in sources and not merely effects, and stimulus-driven pleasures are not considered sources of genuine happiness. Does driving a Porsche, getting rid of a nuisance, or enjoying the fact that your home is not burning down, tap into a source of genuine happiness? If something is a genuine source of happiness, then increased dura-tion and frequency of that stimulus should result in more happiness. But how often does that happen, and for how long? The Buddha's teaching was to look deeper, far be-yond the law of diminishing returns, for the genuine source of happiness.
The Buddhist analysis of pleasure appears bleak. The Buddha said that although stimulus-driven pleasures may produce relative well-being, they don't pass the test as genu-ine sources of happiness. For example, the Tibetan monk Palden Gyatso spent thirty-three years in a concentration camp operated by the Chinese Communists. He was starved and tortured for years on end. Imagine that every Tuesday you got tortured but on one Tuesday, the person who tor-tures you doesn't come to work because he is sick. A message arrives in your cell, "I cannot torture you today because I don't feel well." What would you experience? Happiness! In a concentration camp when somebody brings you rotten food that fell in the dirt, what is your response? Happi-ness. Relative to having no food, you are happy. But from a perspective outside the concentration camp, it seems that everything inside is suffering, every moment, including the Tuesday when the torturer was ill because, even on a day when he wasn't tortured, Palden Gyatso still starved. But inside the concentration camp there were good days and bad days. Getting a little bit of garbage for a meal makes it a good day. From outside the concentration camp, we could say that the perspective of the prisoner is limited.
The Buddhist teaching is that from the viewpoint of an individual who has gained realization of Ultimate Truth, all of what we experience is suffering. But this is not dis-mal! If a prisoner in a concentration camp thought that everybody in the world was also imprisoned in a concen-tration camp that would be dismal. If the prisoner believes there are people outside who have enough to eat and are not tortured at all, that is an optimistic and inspiring thought. The Buddha taught that we are suffering in a type of concentration camp fenced in by our limited views and mental afflictions. The Buddha taught that from the view-point of one who has experientially realized Ultimate Truth, we are in the ocean of samsara and everything we experience is unsatisfactory.
The Buddhist position is that what we experience as plea-sure is merely a relative attenuation of our dissatisfaction. There is nothing wrong with the happiness derived from stimulus-dependent joys, but from the Buddhist perspective, these states of happiness are merely a fleeting attenuation of suffering. When a pleasant stimulus is removed, the mind falls back into its habitual state, a state that is afflicted, and a state that is suffering. The true source of suffering lies deeper in our experience and underneath temporary attenuations.
There are some simple tests for the Buddhist hypothesis. In situations of sensory deprivation, when stimuli are re-moved, boredom, a subtle form of mental suffering, sets in. Without anything to stimulate the mind in a pleasurable fashion, we move beyond boredom to loneliness, uneasi-ness, and unhappiness. Pascal said the primary affliction of modern man is the "inability to sit quietly in one's cham-bers." Being alone for a sustained period is a type of torture called solitary confinement. In a sensory deprivation tank where stimulation comes only from your mind, over time the mind becomes chaotic and breaks down.
From the Buddhist perspective, situations of solitary con-finement or sensory deprivation do not create difficulties. Instead, these situations uncover problems that were al-ready there. What happens when we are alone or sensorily deprived is the same as what is happening all the time but is buried under stimulation. Circumstances are not the cause of suffering. The Buddhist view is that suffering is due to underlying afflictions of the mind. We fall into bore-dom, malaise, sadness, anxiety, and depression when stimuli aren't coming in not because we are social animals, not because we have bodies, but because the mind is af-flicted, though not intrinsically or immutably. What appears as suffering when stimulation is removed is the afflicted nature of the mind, what Buddhists call the "suffering of change." With respect to the afflicted nature of the mind, the suffering of change, everything else is a symptom. The Buddha's teaching that stimulus-driven pleasure is simply an attenuation of suffering directs us to look even deeper for the root cause of suffering.
Blatant suffering, the "suffering of suffering," is obvious as long as you are not in denial. Understanding the "suf-fering of change" takes some thoughtful investigation. The next level of suffering is the "the pervasive suffering of conditioned existence," or the fundamental suffering of vulnerability, and is deeper still. We are profoundly vulnerable due to the nature of the way we exist. At present there is nothing that makes us immune to the suffering ex- perienced in concentration camps. The layer of skin between the environment and our nervous system is only microme-ters thick. The question as to what protection we can have against the innumerable situations that cause suffering and fear has proven to be a dead end for many great thinkers who argue that this is just the way it is; this is the way we are made; humans suffer because we are human. Another argument is that humans suffer because nature can't be con-trolled. Nor can we control time, so we age, we suffer, we die, no matter what medical treatment we receive. That is the way it is. Suffering is part of reality. As Sigmund Freud observed, "We are so made that we can derive intense en-joyment only from a contrast and very little from a state of things...Unhappiness is much less difficult to experience."
The Western philosophic cornerstone "humans suffer be-cause we are human" is, in the Buddhist view, a non-answer stemming from an incomplete analysis. The Buddhist analy-sis of vulnerability results in the extraordinary hypothesis that we suffer because we identify with, or "closely hold onto," the constituents of our personal identity: "This is my body. These are my desires, my thoughts, my ambitions, my fears; this is me."
Given that we have a body, thoughts, and feelings, is there an alternative to identifying with them? The Buddhist answer is yes. Realize the nature of your own mind and identity, fathom the nature of your own body, and with the sword of insight, cut the root of suffering. I suspect this is what the Dalai Lama had in mind when he turned down suffering as a topic for an East-West mind science meeting. Blatant suffering? Not so interesting. Stop denying and there it is. Suffering of change? Western science assumes it can't be fixed because the problem is hard-wired. The suffering of vulnerability, what Buddhism considers the key to suffer-ing, is not recognized in the West at all. Why do we have the suffering of vulnerability? Because we grasp onto our body, our identity, our self. Very deep. The key is inside.
A person who is liberated, who has freed his or her mind of all mental afflictions, still experiences physical suffer-ing. The difference between us and an arhat, a person who has freed the mind from mental affliction, is that an arhat doesn't identify with pain. Arhats experience physical pain vividly but don't grasp onto it; they can take action to avoid or alleviate pain, but whether they do so or not, the physical pain doesn't come inside. What an arhat does not experi-ence is mental suffering. A buddha, one who is perfectly spiritually awakened, has gone a further step. A buddha has no mental suffering of his or her own, but is vividly and non-dually aware of the suffering of others.
Superficially, the arhat who is free from mental suffering can seem to us who lack this realization as numb and de-tached, in a state of existential anesthesia. A buddha, one who is fully awakened, presents the paradox of being free from suffering and also non-dually present with other people's joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. A buddha taps into immutable bliss, the ultimate ground state of aware-ness beyond the dichotomy of stimulus-driven pain and pleasure. The mind of a buddha has been purified of all obscuration and from its own nature there naturally arises immutable bliss, like a spring welling up from the earth. With the unveiling of the buddha-nature of unconditioned bliss, there is also a complete erosion of an absolute demar-cation between self and other. The barrier is gone. This is why buddhas are vividly and non-dually aware of the suf-fering of others, their hopes and fears, the whole situation, and at the same time are not disengaged from the purity and bliss of their own awareness. The mind of a buddha doesn't block out anything and nothing is inhibited, and this is why the awareness of an awakened being is frequently described as "unimaginable."
Meanwhile, back in samsara, we are identifying—"This is my body. These are my problems. Your problems are not my problems." Our ground-state is the suffering of vulnerability, a very big problem. Many people assume that after death, the suffering of life is extinguished. Buddhists say that is wishful thinking. The Buddhist position is that whether you like it or not and regardless of your belief system, the nature of reality is such that there is an un-broken stream of consciousness not contingent on this body. Your body will eventually turn into fertilizer but your consciousness carries on.
There are both theoretical and empirical grounds for the continuity of consciousness. There is currently no consensus in psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, or philoso-phy of the mind, regarding an empirically based theory of consciousness. This is a major void in the edifice of modern science. Since object-oriented scientific methods themselves present obstacles to the effective study of consciousness, scientists are at odds even about the methodology of studying consciousness.
There are alternatives to the Western methods for the study of consciousness. The philosopher of science Tho-mas Kuhn observed that in order for a paradigm shift to occur, it is not enough to see that one's present paradigm is flawed. It is important to present a coherent alternative that accounts for what you know and makes intelligible what was previously unaccounted for. If you are in a boat that needs periodic bailing, you won't improve matters by be-ing rescued by a sinking ship—and you don't want just to swim for it either. What you want is another boat, preferably one without any leaks, otherwise your best bet is staying where you are. The Buddhist hypothesis is that, like the scientific theory of the conservation of mass/energy, there is conservation of consciousness. Consciousness doesn't arise from mass/ energy, but consciousness is conditioned by mass/energy. The brain, sense faculties, nervous system, and environment all condition consciousness. Just as mass and energy take different forms—gas, fluid, or solid—the Buddhist teach-ing is that under different conditions, consciousness mani-fests in different ways. Additionally, consciousness is not a by-product of matter, nor does it arise ex nihilo, out of noth-ing.
The Buddhist view is that the brain does not produce consciousness, but it does condition consciousness. The stream of consciousness is a continuity that stores imprints, memories, and tendencies throughout a lifetime. Just as mass/energy changes form rather than disappearing alto-gether, consciousness changes as it disengages from the physical body.
The Buddhist theory of the origin of consciousness is that consciousness arises from consciousness. The Buddhist hy-pothesis is that an individual's consciousness does not arise from the consciousnesses of his or her parents. Parents have their own continua of consciousness. Individual conscious-ness exists prior to conception, arising from a preceding, unique continuum and will carry on after this life.
When individual consciousness disengages from the body, the number of types of embodiments it can enter into is vast. There are states of re-embodiment that are condi-tioned by intense suffering; another state conditioned by unfulfilled desire; another conditioned by mental dullness; and another by great joy. If in this life as a human, we do not profoundly purify our minds and gain deep realiza-tion, we are vulnerable to rebirth in other less favorable realms of existence. The continuum of consciousness is tre-mendously malleable and can take on a wide variety of forms, some subtle and blissful, some very dense and mis-erable. There is nothing in this vast spectrum of modes of rebirth that we are automatically exempt from. Since we are no longer incorporated in a human body after death,
there is nothing human about us at all. According to Bud-dhist theory, re-embodiment is propelled by our habitual grasping. The sobering notion here is that not only is our mind basically in an afflicted state making us vulnerable to suf-fering, it doesn't get better by itself. If we continue in habitual patterns, there is no way out. When Buddhists say no way out, they mean it. Samsara never runs down. The cycle of existence from rebirth to rebirth is like being a ball in a per-petual motion pinball machine. Merely wishing, "I have been in samsara for countless eons and have had enough," won't get you out. Samsara runs of its own momentum as long as it is fueled by the same habitual patterns. The Bud-dhist hypothesis is that samsara stops only when we take radical measures and break through the habitual patterns of delusion.
Buddhist psychology states that mental suffering is pro-duced by one of three primary mental afflictions. The first primary mental affliction is delusion. The Buddhist term "delusion" includes the philosophical term "reification" and means mistaking what has no inherent existence as being concretely real. Delusion results in grasping—"I am," "I am autonomous," "I am separate," "I am permanent." The primary delusion of our self as an inherently existent, autonomous entity is the source of all mental afflictions.
Out of delusion, the primary affliction, grows the sec-ond fundamental affliction, attachment. Attachment is not simply desire but entails superimposing desirable qualities upon objects and screening out undesirable qualities. The result is craving. Attachment is distorted awareness in which we idealize an object—"If only I could go there, have that job, that spouse, that car, then I would be happy." Ide-alization creates a fiction that we cling to. When we conflate a person with a superimposed fiction, we might fall in love with the wonderful fiction and later be disappointed that the person "changed." Anger, also referred to as aversion or hatred, is the third of the three primary afflictions. Anger is the natural complement of attachment. Anger regards its object with superimposed disagreeable qualities, and filters out desir-able or neutral qualities. The frequent result of anger is aggression. The Buddhist hypothesis is that from day to day, from moment to moment, whenever we experience mental suf-fering, its source is the arousal of one or more of the mental afflictions.
When we experience suffering, we habitually identify the source of suffering as "out there"—other people, situations, traffic, the government. In Buddhism, this is an incorrect analysis, a wrong view. The radical Buddhist diagnosis of our condition is that the source of suffering is mental afflic-tions. When mental afflictions are catalyzed in any of many ways, we suffer. The actual source of suffering is not "out there." External circumstances and other people merely serve as catalysts to trigger something already within us. The source of suffering is not our job, spouse, children or other variations on the theme "I am suffering because of them or it." The source of suffering is rooted in mental afflictions.
What about happiness? Once again, Buddhism presents an extraordinary hypothesis. The Buddhist hypothesis is that happiness is your birthright; all you need to do is dis-cover it. When we stop the behavior that impedes natural, inborn happiness, when we stop throwing dirt in the wound, just stop, happiness starts to well up naturally. From a Buddhist perspective, what we need to do is stop making the great efforts smothering the natural happiness that is within us. A good definition of Dharma is: that which enables us to unveil the natural, genuine happiness within.
The purpose of discursive meditation on suffering, the third of the four thoughts that turn the mind, is to become disillusioned with all the mundane pursuits we value. Pleasure, reputation, comfort are all stimuli that result in rela-tive well-being but do not deal with the fundamental problem, our profound vulnerability to suffering, a problem that continues until we do something about it.
The last of the four thoughts that turn the mind is karma. "Karma" is the Sanskrit word for "action." In anthropo-logical terminology, "karma" is a thick, theory-laden term. Karma refers to the nature of actions and how their long-term consequences play out over time. According to Buddhism, the universe is not a mechanistic, sterile machine as some philosophies argue. Instead, reality has a moral dimension. Some modern Western Buddhists have shrugged off the significance of karma and the continuity of consciousness after death, claiming that the Buddha simply borrowed these ideas from the Indian culture of his time. Study of the prevalent views concerning the afterlife that were proposed in India during the Buddha's lifetime, however, shows that his assertions were profoundly unlike those of any of his contemporaries. Moreover, he claimed that he had directly observed the truth of his claims in this regard on the night of his enlightenment, and he showed others how they might verify these theories for themselves.8 Certainly we must consider that the Buddha's assertions in this regard may be wrong. But to claim that he adopted these from others as congenial metaphysical beliefs is simply a sign of ignorance. The repercussions of karma are deep because they affect not only this lifetime, but the entire continuity of conscious-ness extending over many lifetimes. The Buddhist belief in the continuity of consciousness from one life to another is backed with logical reasoning. Reasoning alone isn't utterly compelling, but Buddhism does present the continuity of consciousness as a coherent and rational hypothesis, and centuries of Buddhist contemplative experience have produced experiential evidence to support this hypothesis. There are many cases of remembered past lives, foretold future lives and, further, the subjective details of the tran-sitional, or intermediate, state between embodiments, called the bar do. Preparation for dying and taking rebirth is a very significant part of Tibetan Buddhist practice.
In 1989,I interpreted for the Dalai Lama in a Mind and Life Conference with a group of neuroscientists in New-port Beach, California.9 Most neuroscientists believe that the mind is a by-product, or epiphenomenon, of the brain; mind vanishes when brain dies and that is all there is to it. The neuroscientists were disturbed when the Dalai Lama, a very intelligent man, discussed the continuity of con-sciousness from one lifetime to the next. The scientists pointed out that retrospective accounts of reincarnation, however numerous they may be, are not scientifically com-pelling due to lack of proper controls. For example, a child's experiences in the first years of life are largely unknown. We can't know for certain what the parents told the child, where he went, or what he saw on television. It was further pointed out to His Holiness that only a prospective study would be impressive scientifically. If scientists interviewed a dying Tibetan yogi and were told by him the specific de-tails of his rebirth and these details were later confirmed by a child reincarnation of the same late yogi, this would be very hard for scientists to explain away as coincidence. His Holiness is very interested in collaborating with scientists on a prospective study of reincarnation.
Continuity of consciousness and karma are not elements of a religious creed Buddhists are required to believe. The extraordinary premise of Buddhism is that the nature of reality can be experientially determined through diligent spiritual practice. Being Buddhist means only that you trust and follow the Buddhist path, critically.
One key to the contemplative exploration of the nature of reality is meditative concentration, the ability to stabilize the mind and enhance its clarity. The refined and stabilized mind is the tool Buddhists use to investigate the whole of reality, from cosmology to the nature of awareness. Such meditative technology gives you access to exceptional states of awareness. The continuity of consciousness from lifetime to lifetime is not contingent upon any belief or disbelief in reincarna-tion. From the Buddhist point of view, even if you personally don't believe in continuity of consciousness, there is still continuity. An analogy from physics is that if you roll a ball down a ramp, it accelerates, even if you believe its velocity remains constant. In the future there may be contemplatives, maybe even Western contemplatives, who will take up the prospective challenge of the neuroscientists and die under scientific scrutiny.
If continuity of consciousness is a fact and if, as Bud-dhists tell us, it is possible to pass through the dying process with complete awareness, then an important question arises. Is rebirth random? Does Nature play roulette so that in one life you are human but in the next, for no reason at all, you are a frog? If there is coherence to rebirth, what is the nature of that coherence? The Buddha's claim was that, from the perspective of an awakened awareness, there is coherence—certain types of actions give rise to certain types of consequences. The coherence is called karma.
The fundamental cornerstone of existence as a sentient being is seeking happiness and avoiding suffering. The at-tainment of enlightenment may be the ultimate goal but in the meantime, a sentient being would rather be well than sick, have enough to eat rather than starve, have harmoni-ous relationships and not painful ones, have a fortunate life rather than a miserable one. We all desire these things. The Buddha taught that certain types of actions give rise to certain types of consequences. The question then becomes: what types of actions give rise to the things we wish for, and what types of actions give rise to the things we seek to avoid?
The natural inclination is to believe that this is easy enough to figure out for oneself. Unfortunately, the undis-ciplined mind tends to be subjected to delusion. As the eighth-century Indian Buddhist sage Shantideva wrote in A Guide to Bodhisattva Way of Life, "Those desiring to escape from suffering hasten right toward suffering. With the very desire for happiness, out of delusion they destroy their own happiness as if it were an enemy."10 In other words, de-luded desires for happiness lead us to engage in actions of attachment that inevitably result in aversion. Our goal is happiness, but our actions lead to suffering.
Continuity of consciousness is a continuum through dif-ferent states of awareness: sleep, dreams, the waking state, the dying process, the intermediate state, and rebirth. Freud wrote, "in mental life nothing which has once been formed can perish...everything is somehow preserved and...in suit-able circumstances... it can once more be brought to light."11 This statement, taken out of the context of the rest of Freud's views, is reminiscent of the Buddhist theory of karma, actions, and their consequences.
The Buddhist premise is that all actions, including men-tal actions, leave seeds, or imprints, on a continuum that is not only a continuity of experience, but also a kind of reposi-tory. This continuum is laden with tendencies and configured by experience. When something happens to you, whether traumatic or joyful, the experience imbeds itself in the form of memory, resulting in emotional and behavioral tenden-cies. In this way, the continuum of consciousness, or mind-stream, is configured by the cumulative effects of parents, friends, education, and our general environment.
The mental continuum is also configured by our actions. Engaging in a certain type of action develops a tendency, a pattern, or habit that is initiated and then reinforced. If the action was difficult at the beginning, it becomes easier as the habit becomes more deeply ingrained. Some habits de-velop much more easily than others. Responding with irritation when something disagreeable happens is a very easily acquired habit. But irritation and indignation are only two of many possible responses to something disagreeable. When a driver is rude on the freeway, gesturing and firing off a sermon on the nature humanity can get to be a habit. Another option is simply moving out of the way. A habit reinforced by subsequent actions triggered by outside events is one type of karma.
Being held morally, or karmically, accountable for one's thoughts is daunting. Fortunately, there is a loophole. When an unwholesome thought arises, it is grasping onto it, think-ing, "I want this ... I want to do that...," that starts the karma meter ticking. If you are meditating, and a disgusting im-age or desire arises, no problem. A malevolent, jealous, or selfish thought arising in the space of your mind does not accumulate negative karma. No harm is done by the pres-ence of negative thoughts as long as you don't grasp onto them. When thoughts are allowed to play themselves out and vanish of their own accord, your mind remaining like space, there is no accumulation of karma. The problem is having sticky awareness that latches onto negative thoughts with, "How could I be thinking this stuff ... but I like this thought... Oh,but I shouldn't...." Identification, grasping, is the problem, not the thoughts themselves.
I mentioned a loophole. If thoughts of anger, jealousy, or craving arise that distort the mind, you can choose not to identify with them and create a space around them. You can sever grasping and the accumulation of karma by honing attention to focus right in on the nature of the men-tal process itself. This is a powerful technique that works if you hit the mark. If you can attend right at the onset, right when the mind begins to be drawn into the vortex of a nega-tive thought, simply by observing the nature of the thought, the karmic effect is cut just as if with a knife. Effective spiri-tual practice includes developing the attentional skill to remain outside the vortex of afflictive thoughts and emotions without slipping in.
The fundamental moral, or karmic, framework of Bud-dhism is a list of ten virtues and ten non-virtues. These do's and do not's cover the most common problems in life. Committing an unwholesome or non-virtuous deed plants a seed that can potentially produce a negative impact as it matures in the mind-stream in this lifetime and the ones to follow. In this list of ten, there are three unwholesome deeds of the body, four of speech, and three of the mind. The three of the body are intentional killing, stealing, and sexual mis-conduct. These three non-virtues are negative because they inflict harm and suffering. The physical misdeeds are be-haviors we can make decisions about; we can usually decide not to engage in them. There is nothing metaphysical here.
The next four unwholesome acts concern speech and are more difficult to recognize and deal with than physical non-virtues. The first is harsh and abusive speech. The non-virtues of speech are difficult because, as the Buddha said, nothing in the world is faster than the mind; but the mouth is a close runner-up. Harsh speech engages a mental affliction, frequently anger, sometimes attachment or de-lusion, and turns speech into a subtle and sophisticated weapon, at times more damaging than a punch to the jaw. Harsh speech includes sarcasm. Tibetans liken sarcasm to throwing a rock covered in fluffy wool—it is initially mistaken for a friendly puffball until it meets its target. The second type of verbal non-virtue is lying. Lying is intentionally saying what is not true and can have many motivations. Slander or divisive speech is the third verbal non-virtue and an interesting one. Slander may be lying with a twist or it may be the simple truth coupled with a motivation to do harm or create conflict.
Idle gossip, the fourth of the verbal non-virtues, is con-sidered the lightest of all the ten non-virtues but, as one of my lamas remarked, it the easiest way to waste an entire life. Idle gossip is speech motivated by mental afflictions such as attachment, anger, jealousy, pride, and delusion. The net effect of idle gossip is worse than just wasting time; it reinforces mental afflictions and accumulates negative karma.
The next grouping in the list of ten non-virtues is the three non-virtues of the mind. The first is malice. Malice is the intention to inflict harm. Avarice, craving another person's possessions, is the second non-virtue of the mind. The third of the non-virtues of the mind is holding onto false views, which is regarded as the most harmful of all ten non-virtues. "False views" refers to misconceptions about the nature of reality. An example of a false view is the belief that actions have no moral consequences.
Paralleling the Buddhist list of ten non-virtues is a list of ten virtues. These are the flip side of each of the non-vir-tues. For example, the virtue opposite to killing is protecting life and the virtue corresponding to harsh speech is speaking gently. All virtuous and non-virtuous deeds place imprints upon the mind-stream that are potent karmic seeds that will ripen in this or a future lifetime. Once karma is imbedded in a stream of consciousness, it is carried from one lifetime to another until it is catalyzed. Just as a plant seed can remain dormant in the desert for decades and sprout to life at the first contact with water, a karmic seed can lie dormant for a long time, from lifetime to lifetime, before a catalyst triggers its ripening.
Another characteristic of karma is that its effect is simi-lar to its cause. For example, if one cultivates a tendency to help those in need, the karmic effect carried into the next life would be being born with an altruistic tendency, being gifted in compassion. Buddhists explain the differences be-tween babies, obvious to any parent, as partly due to karma. This does not deny genetic and environmental influences. Many influences come together in an intricate weave to form this life. The interesting point here is that Buddhists don't consider the mind of an infant to be a blank slate. Due to the influence of past lives, sentient beings are strongly conditioned even before conception. Therefore, cultivating wholesome tendencies is a top priority of Dharma practice.
The view that karma affects the continuum of conscious-ness from one life to the next is of fundamental importance in Buddhist practice. Many Buddhists acknowledge that attaining buddhahood in one lifetime, although possible, is highly improbable. Understanding karma and its effect on the continuity of consciousness elevates spiritual prac-tice from an all-or-nothing, one-life-only proposition. If spiritual practice has continuity and coherence, if greater kindness, wisdom, and balance have developed and the various afflictive tendencies have declined, then these quali-ties are embedded in the mind-stream. Even if you don't become enlightened in this lifetime, if you practice Dharma diligently, because of the nature of actions and their conse-quences, you will be able to pick up where you left off in the next lifetime.
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, reincarnations of ex-ceptionally mature practitioners are sometimes identified in childhood. These tulkus, which literally means "emana-tion bodies," are a source of inspiration for Tibetan Buddhists. The recognition of tulkus acknowledges that spiritual maturation is preserved as karmic propensities from one life-time to the next. This is true not only for tulkus, but for all practitioners.
A third type of karmic effect, and the most difficult to understand, is environmental. The various types of envi-ronments encountered in your life are also a result of karma. Being born in a hostile environment, amid plague, famine, drought, war, is a maturation of karma manifesting as an environment. The same reasoning also holds true for a harmonious, beautiful environment.
The Buddhist hypothesis is that humanness is very much contingent upon a human body and we are not thoroughly as human as we believe. When the human body dies, what remain are tendencies. According to the Buddha's teach-ings, it is difficult to conceive being born in a non-human form because we identify so much with human intelligence and human form. But we have more in common with other realms than we like to think. For example, if cravings domi-nate your life—"I want a nice car, a bigger house, more of my fair share"—then this is comparable to the life of a preta, a hungry ghost. Similarly, leading a life driven by one's "animal appetites," not taking advantage of human intelli-gence and experience, for all practical purposes, is a human facsimile of living the life of an animal. The general Bud-dhist teaching is that a life heavily dominated by delusion directs one toward rebirth as an animal; a life heavily domi-nated by craving leads to rebirth in a hungry ghost realm; and a life heavily dominated by malice or cruelty heads one toward rebirth in a hell realm.
I will give you an example of a rebirth in a Buddhist hell. Keep in mind these rebirths, all of them, are no more substantial than dreams. A Buddhist hell is not a place in the center of the earth or on the back of the moon. If one takes rebirth in a hell, the hell you experience comes into existence, like a dream, at the time you are born there and, also like a dream, seems very real while you are there. One of the Buddhist hell realms is called "again and again revi-talized." In this hell, you and all the people around you have weapons. You are in constant hand-to-hand combat, maybe killing a few of the other inhabitants of the dream before someone rams you through with a big spike and you die. But then you come right back to life and fight again. This happens over and over: fight, kill and get killed, come right back. That situation continues until the tendency that propelled you there wears itself out.
In non-human realms, unfortunately, the laws of karma also hold. There is a caveat, however. The greater your in-telligence, the greater your understanding and wisdom, the greater impact your actions have. Animals accumulate a small amount of karma for aggression, but a human being with the same behavior accumulates much heavier karma.
The metaphor of the tortoise cruising around in the ocean surfacing for air every hundred years is also descriptive of what is necessary for an animal to be reincarnated in a hu-man realm. From the Buddhist perspective, compassion is rare in the animal realm but it is there. In the hungry ghost realm, compassion is even rarer, and rarer still in the hell realms. However, again there is a loophole. Because of the relative difficulty of compassion in non-human realms, the karmic significance of even a little bit of compassion is great. It is said that in a hell realm, a being who has compassion for another is immediately liberated.
Think of an example from your own life when you felt you were in hell. How difficult was it to feel genuine com-passion for someone else? Not impossible, but certainly difficult because we tend to be absorbed in our own feel-ings and problems. It is not easy for virtue to arise in the midst of craving and obsession, or when the mind is de-luded. This is why once you take rebirth in a miserable state of existence it is very difficult to get out.
From the Buddhist perspective, the type of fortune we encounter, happiness or sorrow, is not due to somebody doing something to us. If I win the lottery, it is not because Buddha selected me for a bonus. No god or buddha is re-sponsible for what happens to us. Rather, our circumstances are fundamentally created by previous actions. This is a dangerous statement if misunderstood. A very unfortunate misinterpretation of what the Buddha was getting at in his teaching about karma is the conclusion that other people's suffering is simply their own fault. The Buddha did not teach that a child suffering from disease or hunger brought this suffering upon himself. The Buddhist explanation of suffering is that a deed embedded in the continuum of con-sciousness eventually gives rise to consequences. The deed may have occurred in this life or many lifetimes ago. This does not imply that a suffering person is morally degener-ate any more than suffering the consequences of eating con-taminated food does. The suffering we experience is due to karma accumulated under the influence of delusion and mental afflictions. This is true for all sentient beings.
The person witnessing another person's suffering has only one appropriate response: "How can I help?" When karma comes to fruition and causes suffering, the response should never be, "This is your karma. It's your destiny, so I can't help." Your own karma may very well present itself as an opportunity to help a suffering person. Misunder-standing actions and their consequences can be disastrous.
The Buddhist response to the non-virtues we all commit while strapped to the wheel of samsara can be inspiring and encouraging. The Buddhist teaching is that it is pos-sible to neutralize negative karmic seeds embedded in the stream of consciousness. Deeds cannot be undone, but it is possible to purify one's mind-stream so that the impact of karmic seeds will be nullified.
The method used to purify the mind-stream is the "four remedial powers." The metaphor for the effectiveness of the four remedial powers is that of burning a seed. Karma, like a seed, can be scorched in the fire of purification so that it will not sprout. The seed won't vanish, but it will not sprout.
The first of the four remedial powers is remorse, regard-ing a misdeed as detrimental. Remorse is sincerely focusing on a misdeed, taking responsibility for it, and regretting having done it. Remorse also includes acknowledging con-sequences. Just as remorse is a step toward nullifying the impact of a negative karmic seed, rejoicing in virtue em-powers its positive karma. Tsongkhapa said that the easiest way to empower the mind in virtue is to take delight in virtue. In the same vein, rejoicing about something malevo-lent, such as congratulating yourself on sarcasm, empowers the negative propensity of the karmic seed.
Rejoicing enhances and remorse helps neutralize the effect of karmic imprints on the mind-stream. Another ex-ample: If you give a homeless person five dollars but walk away thinking, "He would have thought I was just as gen-erous if I had given him only two dollars. Then I could have bought myself a coffee and newspaper," that remorse just neutralized the karmic benefit from your five-dollar beneficence. Remorse is hazardous when conflated with guilt. Re-morse is wholesome because it focuses on an event. Guilt is an afflictive state of mind focused on the self as in, "I am an unworthy person." Guilt, a reification of the self around negative tendencies, is simply another mental affliction. Properly directed remorse, on the other hand, can be very helpful for disengaging from unwholesome tendencies.
The second remedial power is reliance. When we have harmed other sentient beings, the remedial power of reli-ance is cultivating compassion for others; and when we have behaved wrongly toward spiritually realized beings or their teachings, the power of reliance is entrusting ourselves to their guidance. The third of the four remedial powers is resolve, turning away from misconduct. The power of resolve is stopping unwholesome behavior by the strength of determination and decision.
The final remedial power is purification. This is also called "applying the antidote," and entails doing something that counteracts or neutralizes the negative deed. For ex-ample, if the deed involved killing, applying the antidote would be protecting life. Buddhist tradition teaches that through the four reme-dial powers it is possible to completely extinguish the potency of even the most virulent deeds. There is no deed so evil that it cannot be purified. Milarepa said that the aim of his Dharma practice was to die without remorse. His point was that if you have engaged in non-virtuous deeds, it is im-portant to purify their karmic imprints on your mind-stream while you have the freedom to do so; purify karmic deeds in this life so that you don't carry negative imprints into the dying process. Crossing the threshold of death is a really bad time for remorse to arise.
The Buddhist scheme also accounts for grace, influence from outside the cycle of suffering, which is a powerful source of purification. It is said that the power of compas-sion, mercy, and grace of the enlightened ones is infinite. To open ourselves to grace, just as in Christianity and other religions, we need to open to it with faith. If you don't have faith, follow carefully the tenfold law by engaging in vir-tue and avoiding non-virtue and you will still come out all right.
We have now covered the First Point of the Seven-Point Mind-Training: "First, train in the preliminaries." The preliminaries are four discursive meditations upon the pre-ciousness of a human life of leisure and opportunity; death and impermanence; suffering; and karma. The preliminar-ies accelerate disillusionment with false dharmas so that we don't have to learn their lessons by long hard experience. At whatever age you start, ten years or eighty, you can get on the fast track to spiritual awakening if you realize at the outset what doesn't work.
Disillusionment with the mundane pursuits of happiness is not enough, nor is fathoming the depth of suffering or the variety of evil in the world. Knowledge of these might make you a good existential philosopher, but it won't give you the inspiration to devote yourself to spiritual practice. Theoretical understanding comes from reading, hearing lec-tures, conversing, thinking. But theoretical understanding is like a recipe in a cookbook, and a recipe is not the same as a meal. It is only from practicing Dharma that sustained inspiration for spiritual practice is derived. The practice it-self nourishes you with a sense of happiness and well-being. Suffering is diminished. The benefits of Dharma are tested by Dharma practice itself.
The Second Point:
The Seven-Point Mind-Training is a quintessential guide to enlightenment, which is defined in the Second Point as "cultivating ultimate and relative bodhichitta." The San-skrit word bodhi means awakening, and one who is awake is called a buddha. Chitta means mind, heart, and spirit, so I translate bodhichitta as a spirit of awakening. With ultimate bodhichitta we probe the nature of reality to realize its ultimate nature. Relative bodhichitta is the altruistic aspi-ration to realize perfect spiritual awakening for the sake of all sentient beings.
The cultivation of relative bodhichitta is like a mountain climber skillfully throwing a grappling hook up to a ledge to which he is climbing. The climber, confident in his hook, puts all his weight on the line, and starts the upward ascent. A skillfully placed grappling hook is a climber's connec-tion with his ultimate destination. Bodhichitta is the grappling hook for the attainment of enlightenment. Bodhichitta is also the basis of continuity of practice. If you die suddenly or become so ill that your capacity for practice steeply de-clines, bodhichitta—the aspiration for perfect awakening in order to be of service to others—will provide continuity over the lapses in practice and continue to draw you like a magnet toward enlightenment from one lifetime to the next. After solid grounding in the discursive meditations of the preliminaries, the Second Point of the Seven-Point Mind-Training moves directly to enlightenment itself, the cultivation and integration of ultimate and relative bodhichitta. The Second Point begins the training in for-mal daily meditation to integrate Dharma into active daily life. In traditional Buddhist practice, one begins every ses-sion by taking refuge, entrusting oneself to the "three jewels": those who have achieved perfect spiritual awak-ening, Dharma as the path to such awakening, and the spiritual community that is committed to enlightenment. Upon the foundation of refuge, bodhichitta, the highest mo-tivation, is cultivated with the heartfelt prayer: "May my practice be of benefit for the spiritual awakening of all sentient beings." This prayer nurtures our highest possible motivation, enlightenment for the welfare of others. Once you have achieved stability, reveal the mystery.
The Second Point moves directly to the contemplative in-vestigation of the nature of reality and consciousness itself. The brief mnemonic of the text encapsulates some of the deepest insight practices in Tibetan Buddhism. The insight practices taught here probe the nature of consciousness and its relation to reality, which is the mystery to be revealed. The stability referred to is meditative stability, mental bal-ance, the prerequisite to the contemplative investigation of the ultimate nature of mind and reality. The mind is stabi-lized and refined into an instrument of investigation, which is the foundation for the cultivation of wisdom and com-passion. This is the quintessential method for revealing the mystery.
The hand gesture, or mudra, commonly used in the medi-tative posture symbolizes the goal of the Second Point, the union of ultimate and relative bodhichitta: the right hand, symbolizing compassion, rests on the left hand, which symbolizes wisdom. The touching of the two thumbs symbolizes the union of wisdom and compassion, both the path and the goal of Buddhist practice. Achieving stability is central to the Second Point of the Mind-Training and has two interrelated aspects. One as-pect of stability is faith, or confidence, which is a theme shared by all religious traditions. The other aspect is medita-tive stabilization, a practice highly developed in the Buddhist tradition. Faith In our modern, highly secular world, we are not only over-whelmed with information, but we are cast into an ocean of conflicting religious, philosophical, and scientific claims about the nature of the universe and human existence. No human society in recorded history has ever been presented with such a diversity of views, many of them presented as if with great authority. Now in the midst of this cacophony of voices, we are presented with the teachings of the Bud-dha and later teachers who have followed the path he revealed. When we first encounter the Buddha indirectly through his teachings, we meet with a stranger from a faraway time and a faraway place. It doesn't get much stranger than that. And when we first encounter Buddhist teachings, many of them certainly do seem strange, for they fly in the face of many views held by our society at large.
The Buddha himself as well as contemporary authentic Buddhist teachers do not present themselves as unques-tionable authorities on the nature of reality, nor as masters who instruct us infallibly on how to lead our lives. These teachers offer themselves to us above all as friends, specifi-cally as spiritual friends, and as guides to lead us on an experiential journey in the pursuit of knowledge and personal transformation. But when we first meet them, they are strangers, and it is perfectly appropriate to respond to their teachings with agnosticism and skepticism. After all, when assuming a stance of agnosticism, we are quite realistically acknowledging that we don't know—the first step toward wisdom! And by taking a position of skepticism, we are in effect saying, "I doubt that you know either." Considering the wide range of authoritative claims being made today about everything from the nature of consciousness to UFOs, in many cases such skepticism has to be well founded.
But if we want to know, if we want to make genuine dis-coveries about matters that are of life-and-death importance to us, we have to move beyond agnosticism. If we are totally convinced that no one else has discovered what we want to know, then we have no one to rely but ourselves. But what are our grounds for being so certain that no one else knows about what we are after? If we are to be skeptical, surely we should start by being skeptical about how much we know about how much everyone else knows! If I'm re-ally agnostic, I have to start with the premise that I don't know whether you might have made important discover-ies that I have not. Likewise, just because our Western civilization is ignorant in some respects, it would be silly to assume that no other civilization has made important discoveries where we have not.
When it comes to knowledge, Western civilization has made enormous strides, especially since the Scientific Revo-lution. We can take great pride and satisfaction in our many discoveries concerning the world around us. But one do-main of reality in which we still remain scientifically in the dark is the realm of consciousness. It's just not science's strong point. However, precisely where science is at its weakest, the Buddhist tradition makes its strongest and most astonishing truth-claims. The only way we know of
the existence of consciousness is by means of our first-per-son experience, and the Buddhist tradition has devised many ingenious methods for enhancing and refining this mode of perception so that we can probe more deeply into the nature, origins, and potentials of consciousness. In any early account of the Buddha's life and teachings, it is obvi-ous that he claimed to have made bold discoveries based on his own meditative experience. If you read how he re-sponded to many of the metaphysical assertions of his time, you will see that he wasn't one for simply adopting wholesale the beliefs of his contemporaries.
For example, the earliest account of his enlightenment makes it clear that his claims about the reality and signifi-cance of the continuity of individual consciousness after death were based on his own experiential knowledge.12 In evaluating his claims, we may conclude that he was right or that he was wrong, but there is nothing to imply that he was agnostic or that he lifted these ideas from someone else. His assertions about rebirth and karma were unique in his time. One of his remarkable claims that was inspired initially by other contemplatives is that the scope and pre-cision of mental perception can be enormously enhanced by training in meditative concentration. In a broader sense, he claimed that the mental afflictions that beset us—such as hostility, craving, anxiety, and delusion—are not immu-table. With training they can be attenuated, and with deep training, they can be eliminated completely.
How do we know whether he knew what he was talking about? Simply put, we don't. We start out as agnostics. But if we want to find out, the only way to proceed is to put the training to the test of our own experience. Here is a time not for skepticism, but for intelligent faith. William James com-ments in this regard that where preferences are powerless to modify or produce things, faith is totally inappropriate, but for the class of facts that depend on personal preference, trust, or loyalty for actualization, "faith is not only licit and pertinent, but essential and indispensable. The truths can-not become true till our faith has made them so."13 We will never progress in Buddhist practice, in education, or in any other great venture without such faith, starting with faith in our own ability to gain new knowledge and transform ourselves in meaningful ways.
When we first meet the Buddha indirectly (through his teachings) or a contemporary Buddhist teacher directly, we are meeting with a stranger. But if we cultivate the rela-tionship, over time, we get to know the qualities of the teacher, and he or she may earn our trust. Then the teacher becomes a friend on whom we can rely for matters that are important to us, including matters that are presently be-yond our ken. After getting to know a specific Buddhist teacher, if we find him untrustworthy or unhelpful, then we are free to choose another teacher. Likewise, if upon careful examination we find the teachings of a certain Bud-dhist tradition to be unreliable, we can check out another Buddhist tradition. And if we find the Buddhist teachings as a whole to be unsound, we are free to look elsewhere. A number of my lamas have commented after giving public teachings, "If you find these teachings to be sound and use-ful, by all means put them into practice. If not, keep on looking!"
At the same time, we need to apply discerning intelli-gence to our own way of putting the teachings to the test. Do questionable Buddhist truth-claims violate reason or compelling empirical evidence? Or do they just violate our assumptions and what the people around us think? What do we really know, and what have we picked up as un-tested assumptions and preconceptions from our society? This is a time for self-directed skepticism. And if we put the teachings into practice and find them ineffective, where does the inadequacy lie: in the teachings or in our own implementation of them? For example, the Buddha and many later Buddhist contemplatives claim to have achieved irreversible freedom from various mental afflictions. If we fail to do so, what have we proven? That they didn't either, or simply that we did not practice with sufficient diligence and intelligence?
On the one hand I'm inclined to say there are no easy answers to these questions. On the other hand, there is one kind of response that is relatively easy and untroubling. While we are at sea in the midst of uncertainty about the nature and potentials of our existence, we can cling to ag-nosticism and skepticism as we would cling desperately to an anchored buoy. This can provide us with a bit of secu-rity and an easy answer: "who knows?" Intellectually there seems to be safety here, immune to the ridicule of others. But there's also an immobility to this position. We are at sea in the midst of confusion, and there we remain.
The Buddha is like one who swims out to meet us and shows us the way to shore. He says he has been there, and many discoveries lie in wait for us on land if we will let go of the buoy of our uncertainty, our faint-heartedness, and our skepticism. Of course, there is nothing to compel us to place our trust in him or in any later Buddhist teacher. We can remain agnostic and skeptical as long as we like. But if we choose to accept the challenge of the Buddhist path of contemplative exploration, we need to let go of our insecu-rities and take the plunge into practice. And this requires that we accept some of the Buddha's assertions on faith as working hypotheses. The Buddhist tradition speaks of three kinds of faith, and this is the first kind: the faith of belief.
How can we believe Buddhist truth-claims when there are so many diverse claims attributed to the Buddha, let alone the many points of disagreement among different Buddhist traditions? Two things need to be borne in mind here. The first is that, according to even the earliest recorded teachings of the Buddha, not all his assertions were meant as definitive truths about the nature of reality. Some of them are called "provisional truths," which are culturally imbed-ded and are meant more as heuristic devices to help specific individuals or communities at specific points in their spiri-tual development. But the Buddha and many later Buddhist contemplatives made many other truth-claims, based upon their meditative experience, that were meant to be defini-tive. That is, they were presented as genuine discoveries about the nature of reality, not just social constructs specific to a particular time and place.
How are we to discern which Buddhist teachings are pro-visional and which are definitive? Buddhist tradition states that the cultivation of that kind of discerning intelligence is a crucial element on the path to spiritual maturation. Put the teachings to the test of reason and experience, and see what you find. As for the many truth-claims across mul-tiple Buddhist traditions over the past 2,500 years, it would be unreasonable to expect that they would all speak with one voice. Just look at the history of Western science over the past four hundred years! And even today, in any cut-ting-edge branch of science there are disagreements, many of them quite fundamental.14 Once again, grappling with such diversity is a central challenge in the pursuit of knowl-edge. If we're not up to this challenge, we can always slide back to the stagnant comfort of agnosticism.
The faith of belief as a working hypothesis is one kind of faith that is regarded as indispensable in the Buddhist tra-dition. A second kind of faith entails admiration for those who have achieved high states of spiritual realization and for their teachings. Such faith is not simply a matter of belief,
but rather arises out of one's understanding and apprecia-tion of the noble qualities of such individuals and the truths they reveal. And a third type of faith in Buddhism is the faith of aspiration. With the faith of aspiration, the possi-bility of making genuine, deep discoveries about the nature of consciousness, its origins, and its potentials becomes more than a matter of belief. It is more than an apprecia-tion based on understanding. It is a fervent desire to test the teachings oneself by engaging in the practice. Now is the time when the extraordinary claims made by the Bud-dha and later Buddhist contemplatives are truly adopted as working hypotheses to be tested by experience.
Faith is important but is no substitute for putting spiri-tual teachings to the test. Does practice help or not? Are mental afflictions decreased and does genuine happiness increase? Constant vigilance, assessment, and reassessment are required to follow a path of spiritual awakening. What is required is consistent probing, not settling into dogma-tism or complacency, and continuously testing the path for its effectiveness. Of course, we are testing not just "the path" but our intelligence and perseverance in following it, so we must be equally critical of our own efforts. This brings a type of stability, or faith, that is in motion, part of the process itself.
William James addressed the issue of faith in the context of the dogmatic and materialistic mood of late nineteenth-century science. At the close of the nineteenth century, many scientists felt that religious belief was antithetical to the rational and skeptical stance of science. For example, Will-iam Clifford, one of the more prominent nineteenth-century scientific materialists, attacked religious faith on the grounds that "it is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence."15 Many scientists considered religion to be a failure of intellectual integrity, and faith to be a path of least resis tance for those unable to handle the brute facts of science. Some scientists today express the same sentiment, claim ing that religious people hold onto their beliefs because of an unfortunate genetic predisposition. ;
What such materialists ignore, however, is that scientists and religious people alike, without exception, place their faith in some belief system which transcends the scope of their present knowledge. As William James pointed out, whether in scientific research or in daily life, We often cannot wait but must act, somehow; so we act on the most probable hypothesis, trusting that the event may prove us wise. Moreover, not to act on one belief is often equivalent to acting as if the opposite belief were true, so inaction would not always be as 'passive' as the intellectualists assume.16 Faith, he asserted, is essential, but as a practical, not a dogmatic, attitude, and it must go with toleration of other faiths, with the search for the most probable, and with the full consciousness of responsibilities and risks. Specifically, James defended one's right to believe ahead of the evidence only in those cases where (1) much is at stake, (2) the evi-dence at hand does not settle the case, and (3) one cannot wait for more evidence, either because no amount of evi-dence can settle the case, or because waiting itself is to decide not to believe.
For many things studied by science, personal beliefs are virtually irrelevant. Whether or not a scientist believes in the existence of intelligent life in other solar systems will have a negligible effect on the data she collects from the Hubbell telescope. In other domains of reality, faith or in-tuition will significantly influence the reality that is being addressed: parenting, teaching, and almost any domain in which we engage with people. There is an enormous range of experience in which faith and intuition influence the reality about which we have faith.
What about personal reality? Do you have faith that the mental afflictions that cause suffering are genetically de-termined or do you believe that your mind is malleable and these afflictions can be alleviated? Do you believe that wisdom, compassion, virtue, can be cultivated, or do you believe that the brain's physiology fixes an upper limit on these virtues? Our faith concerning the human potential for wisdom and compassion has an enormous impact on how we lead our lives. Even a small positive intuition that happiness and well-being actually could arise from our hearts and nurture us can have a tremendous influence on life. Alternately, if you have faith that all happiness comes from the outside, this faith will also profoundly influence the choices you make in life.
William James agreed with most scientists that there are things about which we should not have faith. But there are other domains of life in which faith or lack of faith will have an enormous impact. If we have no faith that we can develop insight or develop deeper compassion, it's not likely that we will. In this way, our beliefs often act as self-fulfilling prophesies. We can have faith in our own potential, or we can remain skeptical and agnostic. Some people are skeptical of Buddhist truth-claims because they violate the beliefs of their religion. Others are skeptical of the truth-claims of all spiritual traditions because they violate the beliefs of scientific materialism. And yet others are skepti-cal of all truth-claims, be they scientific or spiritual, because they violate the beliefs of postmodernism. In Christianity references are often made to "believers" and "non-believ-ers," with Christians being the former and everyone else being counted as the latter. But in reality we are all believers! It is a just a question of what we believe.
Faith brings one type of stability. The second type of stabil-ity is meditative quiescence, which is the primary meaning of "stability" in the aphorism: "Once you have achieved stability, reveal the mystery." Once the mind is stabilized and finely tuned, the mysterious nature of phenomena, both the objective world and the mind, can be investigated and revealed.17 It is remarkable that training the attention, a prerequisite for spiritual maturation in Buddhism, is virtually neglected in the modern West. The West has very noble religious, sci-entific, and philosophical traditions, but one element that has been extraordinarily absent for at least a thousand years is a well-developed, systematic means of training the attention.
If the instrument used in probing reality is mechanical, a telescope for example, it needs to be in excellent working condition. Similarly, if the mind itself is to be the tool for probing reality, the mind should be in excellent working order. This is what is meant by "stability." Buddhists con-sider the mind to be in good working order when the mind is balanced and attention is refined.
Techniques for developing the mind's stability have been created and tested in the Buddhist tradition for 2500 years. These techniques address the basic problem of our minds, lack of balance. The Sanskrit word klesha, meaning "men-tal affliction," has the connotation of the mind being twisted or distorted. What the Buddhist tradition is telling us, in plain English, is that our minds are normally screwed up! And it's because our minds are screwed up that we experi-ence so much distress in our day-to-day lives. We get wound up about things we are attached to, things we want and are not getting, and things we fear losing. We get twisted about things we don't like, events we didn't want to happen, and about not getting things we do want. The tendency of the mind to become unbalanced and warped is due to such mental afflictions as attachment, anger, and delusion.
The marvelous scientific technology developed in the West over the last four hundred years doesn't help much in exploring the mind directly, in discovering the inner causes of well-being and suffering, or discovering the es-sential nature of consciousness itself. The only instrument available for probing the nature of consciousness directly is the mind itself. But as we quickly discover from experi-ence in meditation, our minds are distractible, they get fuzzy, and they fade out. The Second Point of the Mind-Training tells us to refine the mind into a reliable tool by train-ing in stability and vividness, then use the mind to reveal the mystery—the ultimate nature of objective phenomena and mind itself.
Training the attention has two aspects, mindf ulness and introspection. Mindfulness is the ability to attend to a chosen object with continuity and without distraction. Mindful-ness is different from concentration. Concentration entails condensing the attention to a narrow focus. Mindfulness is a state of stable attention that may be wide open and spacious or tightly focused, as one desires.
Introspection, sometimes called meta-cognition, observes what is happening in the mind, it discerns the quality of the attention. When you are angry, the faculty of introspec-tion observes the anger. When practicing meditative quiescence, if distraction or excitation arises, or the mind starts to fade into laxity, introspection observes these changes. Introspection is the ability to observe the state of one's mind from moment to moment. How is the mind operating? Is it like a car with smoke billowing out from under the hood, or is it cruising smoothly? Do virtues such as compassion and generosity arise easily or do they require
a lot of effort? In cultivating sustained attention, if you haven't developed your ability for introspection, then you are not going to notice when you are meditating poorly, and this means you will develop habits of lousy medita-tion. Habits, good and bad, are hard to break. It is possible to develop a sloppy, lethargic meditation practice with the mind running amuck. To recognize this, and be in a position to remedy it, introspection is crucial.
Compulsive ideation is the mind frothing at the mouth. Stating out loud whatever comes to mind without any so-cial filter could lead to a visit to a mental hospital. But if you can keep the same compulsive thoughts to yourself, this is considered normal. Introspection is the key for harnessing the mind so it can be useful, rather than com-pulsively spewing random imagery, memories, and ideas. When with introspection you note that the mind is rambling, just draw it back, again and again. If you attend to what is happening in your mind when it is happening, you won't get carried away on the many express trains of imagery and conversation that pass through. The technique is to remain still while your mind is in action. This is very dif-ferent from the mind burbling on and you burbling along with it. If you notice your meditation fading, from laxity to lethargy to sluggishness to drowsiness, then arouse yourself, even take a break to go out and splash cold water in your face.
Introspection, discerning how the mind is functioning from moment to moment, is crucial in meditation. It is also very important for mental health. In the Tibetan Buddhist approach, the relationship between spiritual awakening and mental health is seamless. Sound mental health is a require-ment for spiritual awakening. If you are not in good mental health, even though you may think you are taking a fast track to enlightenment by practicing very diligently, you can wind up exacerbating your own mental problems. The importance of introspection is also recognized in the West. A friend of mine named David Galin, a psychiatrist and cognitive neuroscientist, comments: "It is more dam-aging for a person's integration to be out of touch with the dimensions of personal reality through loss of self-moni-toring than to be out of touch with the externals through sensory loss or paralysis."18 Dr. Galin is saying that a deficit in introspection is worse than any sensory impairment. Sen-sory impairment does not preclude being an integrated, men-tally healthy individual, but a deficiency of self-monitoring, or introspection, does. Astonishingly, many modern philosophers of mind claim that meta-cognition, the mind's ability to self-monitor, is impossible, it can't be done at all. However, people in the health professions recognize that not only is meta-cogni-tion possible, it is absolutely essential for mental health. When the answer to the question, Is the mind healthy and balanced? is no, it is best to pause. Developing the skill of introspection, increasing the ability to check up on one's state of mind, is a specific goal of meditative stabilization.
William James, one of my intellectual heroes, wrote about the importance of attentional stability in education: The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character, and will ... An education which would improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical direction for bringing it about.19
James explored the relationship between sustained, vol-untary attention, and ethics, mental health, and genius. He wondered if there was a way to improve attention and eventually concluded that he just didn't know. However, simply raising the idea of training the attention made William James exceptional for late nineteenth-century Boston. Had William James lived in Tibet, he would have encountered techniques for training attention everywhere.
The Seven-Point Mind-Training, in agreement with con-templative traditions around the world, tells us that the attention can be trained to exceptional degrees and with remarkable results. The Second Point of the Mind-Training implies that not only can attention be stabilized, but that the potential of the human mind is so great that it can be used as an instrument for investigating the ultimate nature of reality.
More than a century ago, James reported on research indi cating that it is possible to focus the attention continuously on an unchanging object for only two to three seconds,20 and this continues to be the position of cognitive scientists today. Without further investigation of basic assumptions, one could get the impression that two to three seconds is the hard-wired upper limit of the brain's capacity for attention. ,.L Since our experiential reality is heavily conditioned by what we attend to, as James pointed out, if we had some control over attention, we would implicitly have some con-trol over our experienced reality. The skill of directing and sustaining attention is more than a marvelous ability; it is the cornerstone of understanding and choosing the reality we wish to experience. The focus of the Second Point of the Mind-Training, once again, is training in stability in order to "reveal the mystery" of the ultimate nature of reality, our own and that of other phenomena. Buddhism offers many methods of training attentional stability that can be categorized into two basic approaches: control and release. The control approach entails being able to focus and sustain attention on a chosen object at will. The goal of the control model is to become master of one's mind. A Tibetan metaphor for the untrained mind is an el-ephant in rut, rampaging through experience, driven by its own afflictions and causing havoc. In the control model,
the out-of-control elephant of the mind is gradually brought to heel. The criterion for success in the control model of training the attention is straightforward. To assess stability of attention, observe whether the chosen object is held in the attention or not. To assess vividness of attention, observe whether the object is clear or not.
The second approach to meditative stabilization is the release model. Let's take the analogy of a polluted river. The previous model of control is like taking active steps to purify the water in the river by filtration and so on. On the other hand, it is known that even if a river is dead due to excessive, prolonged pollution, if one just stops pouring in more pollutants, the purifying elements in the river itself will begin to reassert themselves. Over time, by releasing the river from continued pollution, it purifies itself. The release model when applied to the mind-stream is similar. Instead of applying specific antidotes to all the toxins in the mind, one simply tries to stop polluting one's mind-stream with grasping onto afflictive thoughts and emotions. This can be done quite simply by maintaining one's aware-ness without distraction and without mental grasping. In this way, even when mental toxins arise, the mind does not cling to them, and they are swept away effortlessly. In the release model, there is no object upon which to focus the attention. Meditative stability in the release model utilizes awareness itself without reference to any specific object. The release model is a "field stability," maintaining aware-ness in the field of the mind without latching onto any object. The technical term for the release model is "settling the mind in its natural state." The control approach to meditative stabilization is most familiar to Westerners and is most easily understood since science is largely based on a control model. The scientific revolution in the West was motivated in part by a religious belief that the mind of God was inscribed in the laws of nature. Deciphering nature's laws was a way to understand the mind of God. But there was another motivation fueling the scientific revolution—the desire to control nature. In some respects, desire for control over nature is positive. When it rains, we like to have a roof that doesn't leak; when it is cold, we like to keep warm; we like being able to pre-vent and control disease. Where the control model has failed in science is in its lack of balance. We have learned a great deal about the external world, learned to control it to an impressive extent, yet this ability is not balanced by a cor-responding knowledge and ability to control our own minds. Without the counter-balance of control over our own minds, our tremendous technological power will remain on a trajectory toward disaster.
In Buddhism, the control model is applied first to one's own mind with a motivation to help others. A secondary concern is controlling the external world. There are many control model types of meditation in Tibetan Buddhism and here I will now lead you through one practice that is ide-ally suited to balancing the endemic malady of the Western mind—compulsive ideation. This training in breath aware-ness can be practiced for an entire meditation session as is often done in the Zen and Theravada Buddhist traditions. Or, as in the Tibetan tradition, breath awareness can be used to calm and stabilize the mind in preparation for other meditations.
The Buddha said of this practice, "Monks, this concen-tration through mindfulness of breathing, being cultivated and practiced, tends to the peaceful, the sublime, the sweet and happy: at once it causes every evil thought to disap-pear and calms the mind."21 This remarkable claim, based upon the Buddha's own experience and corroborated by thousands of contemplatives after him, speaks volumes about the nature of the mind. The breath itself is not a plea-surable object, nor is it a virtuous one. It is simply neutral, like a stream of pure water uncolored by any additives. Yet when the attention is focused on the breath, by the simple fact of the mind abiding in a state of clear awareness, dis-engaged from perceptual and conceptual stimuli that arouse either craving or aversion, a sense of sweetness and joy be-gins to bubble up and afflictive thoughts disappear. The mind is indeed being controlled, but, like the polluted river that quickly purifies itself when toxins are no longer introduced into it, the mind quickly reasserts its intrinsic equilibrium, joy, and serenity. This is one of the most as-tounding and significant discoveries about the mind that anyone has ever made, and it deserves special attention in our society. How remarkable that happiness can be found without pleasurable sensory and intellectual stimuli, and that the mind can be calmed without drugs.
The Practice of Mindfulness of Breathing
Relaxation. When you first sit down to meditate, the mind tends to be rambunctious. The first goal is to somewhat subdue the mind, keeping the body as still as possible. Sit comfortably so that your spine is erect and your abdomen can expand freely during the in-breath. You can sit either on a chair with your feet flat on the ground or on a cushion on the floor. Hands can be in your lap or on your knees. Let your breath move easily. In this meditation, your eyes are open and your gaze is cast down resting in the space in front of you. Let your gaze be vacant without focusing on any visual image. Let the muscles of your face and around the eyes relax. Sit quite erect, and let your shoulders and arms relax.
Three calming breaths. To complete this initial relaxation process, take three slow deep breaths. Breathe first into the abdomen, then expand the diaphragm, and finally breathe up into the chest. Breathe out slowly and gently through the nostrils.
Counting the breaths. Breathe into the abdomen so that the abdomen expands during the in-breath and contracts gently during out-breath. Focus on the sensation of the pas-sage of air around the nostrils or upper lip. At the end of an exhalation, just before inhalation, mentally count "1." Af-ter the second exhalation, count "2" and continue counting. The counting is a cue, not a focus of attention. The attention remains on the breath and the sensation of air around the nostrils or upper lip.
An alternative technique while attending to the breath is to bring awareness into the field of the body as a whole. This field includes the tactile sensations of the entire body, where you feel your buttocks against the chair or the ground, your feet, legs, thighs, torso, shoulders, neck, and head. Bring your awareness into the field of tactile sensa-tions, and briefly at the end of the first exhalation and just before you inhale, count "1" mentally. During the entire course of the inhalation and exhalation, simply be present, resting your awareness in your body and on the sensation of breath. Introspection. Add introspection to breath awareness. Introspection is an intermittent, inwardly directed cross-current during mindfulness, which is maintained as constantly as possible. See if you can discern from moment to mo-ment what is going on in your mind: what is the quality of attention? Other than mindfulness of the breath, what is going on?
Remain relaxed, and in this way count the breaths 1 to 21. If you don't make it to 21 with continuity, start again at 1. Stabilizing the attention by focusing on the breath is an example of the control model meditation practice. The attention is engaged by holding onto an object, and when that object is lost, the attention must be redirected again, over and over. The control model of training the mind is practiced widely in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist traditions.
Stabilizing the attention using a mental image. In Tibetan Buddhist practice, breath awareness is frequently used in preparation for other ways of stabilizing the mind. Tibetan Buddhists often train the attention by creating a mental image and attending to it with continuity and clarity. To practice this technique, also a control model, first become familiar with your chosen image by concentrating on a physical representation of that image. Then mentally recreate the image and attend to it.
A metaphor for the mind when you first try to stabilize the attention is a bucking bronco—climb on and two to three seconds later you are thrown off. Focus again and get thrown again. With persistence, continuity develops. The wild stallion can be trained. When you first try stabilizing the attention, it seems that mental agitation is worse than before you made any effort at all. But the mind was always scattered. You were just not aware of it. If you acknowledge that one of the goals of meditating is to witness the condition of the mind and re-alize that stability develops gradually, you will not be disappointed.
The control model, fastening your mind onto a chosen object, a mental image, or your breath, has been practiced in the Buddhist tradition for more than 2500 years. Many people using this technique have been monks and nuns. When you live as a monk, as I did for fourteen years, espe-cially in retreat, you can actually control your mind to a considerable extent. During a solitary retreat, you have a lot of control over your environment. You know exactly how much rice you have left. Apart from the rats, nobody takes your food. Living in a monastery, the control model also can work well. Mastery of the control model is a matter of technique and practice.
A common aphorism in the cloistered environment is: "Noise is a thorn to the meditator." Gen Lamrimpa, a highly accomplished Tibetan meditator, once told me that if he heard a jarring sound while in deep samadhi, like cans bang-ing, the first time it happened it would shock him but he could settle back again. But another loud noise would shat-ter his meditation. He said that when his meditation was shattered by noise, he would diffuse his awareness and start all over again. The cumulative wisdom of centuries of clois-tered contemplative practice is that noise disrupts meditation.
The cloistered environment stands in stark contrast to the uncontrolled environment of everyday active life in the modern world. When I was a graduate student living in a family housing unit at Stanford University, I meditated early in the morning. At about 7:00 outside our window, a group of little girls would begin shrieking and driving their plas-tic tractors and tricycles across the bricks. I was meditating and these girls were disturbing my peace. I got to feeling pretty sorry for myself so I phoned my lama, Gyatrul Rinpoche, and asked for advice. He gave me a one-liner, "Just view it." This was not just Rinpoche's way of telling me to quit whining, but a reminder of the more encom-passing teaching to embrace obstacles in practice. And carry on. We can't always control our environment, but we can embrace it, the good, the bad, and the loud, and integrate it into Dharma practice.
The main practice of the release model is called "settling the mind in its natural state."23 "Natural state," note care-fully, does not refer to the mind's customary state. There is nothing natural about our ordinary state of mind. The typical state of the mind is distracted, carried away by one thought after another. In this state, when the mind focuses, it is grasping, identified with thoughts, memories, hopes, fears, and emotions. This usual state of our mind is like roaming the six realms of samsara, from anguish to bliss and every-thing in between. The practice of "settling the mind in its natural state" is a very simple and direct practice to begin to break free from the bondage of this compulsive cycle.
The quintessence of the release model for training the attention is to let awareness come to rest without distrac-tion and without grasping. "Without distraction" means not being carried away by whatever drifts through the space of the mind. "Without grasping" means not identifying with or mentally grasping onto any of the events or emotions that come along. Let events arise, play themselves out, and vanish without intervention. The release model is quite different from the control model that fixes mindfulness with continuity on an object, the breath, or a mental image. In the control model, mind-fulness is like a rope that is tied to an object. In the release model of "settling the mind in its natural state," the rope is released and mindfulness settles into the space of mental events. The practice of mindfulness of breathing releases the mind from attractive and unattractive perceptual and conceptual stimuli that arouse craving and aversion; and in so doing, the mind already begins to heal naturally. But in that practice, there is still grasping onto an object, so in that technique, practiced as a means of cultivating quiescence, delusion is not counteracted. In this practice of "settling the mind in its natural state," one releases grasping of all kinds, onto neutral sensations as well as onto negative and positive thoughts and emotions. The self-healing of the mind goes deeper. In releasing all such dualistic fixation
on mental and sensory objects, primordial awareness be-gins to shine through the veils of obscuration with greater and greater brilliance. To practice settling the mind in its natural state, sit with your eyes open, your gaze resting in the space in front of you, without being focused on any object, and draw your attention into the field of the mind. The gaze is important. Disengage the attention from external objects and pay at-tention to your mind. Shapes and colors arise in the field of vision, sounds in the field of hearing, and there is also a field of experience that is accessible only to the mind— thoughts, imagery, feelings, memories, and imagination. Let your awareness come to rest within its own domain, within the field of the mind, without extending itself out to the various sense fields. See if you can draw your awareness into the field in which these mental events emerge, play themselves out, and vanish. Let your body be as still as a mountain and let your awareness be as open and friction-free as space. Let the breath be natural and unforced.
Bring your awareness into the field of the mind and at-tend closely. Allow the natural limpidity and luminosity of your own awareness to emerge, shining a bright light in the space of your own mind. Let your awareness hover right in the immediacy of the present, without slipping into thoughts concerning the past or speculation about the fu-ture. For all manner of mental events that arise, including emotions that we so easily identify with, see if you can let your awareness remain at rest, non-interactive, and non-judgmental, keeping awareness in a state of stillness like empty space. Observe whatever arises. Observe the nature of each of the phenomena—emotions, imagery, memories, thoughts—without grasping onto their referents. Attend fully to the very nature of the mental phenomena without giving any effort to creating, sustaining, or stopping these
events. Let them be, arising, playing themselves out, and dissolving of their own accord. See if you can perceive the origin, duration, and mode of disappearance of mental events without conceptual elaboration. The crucial point is to perceive the mental events without grasping or identi-fying with them any more than space identifies with the birds and insects that fly through it. Let your awareness be completely at rest even when your mind is in motion.
The pragmatic benefits of developing attention, cultivat-ing the ability to direct attention at will and focus on what is constructive and helpful, are easily appreciated. A few years ago, I heard a woman diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer speak about the devastating effect she expe-rienced upon reading about her prognosis in a magazine. She said she couldn't get the statistics out of her mind. All hope she had of overcoming her disease by positive think-ing, diet, and behavior had vanished. This is a classic and tragic example of being tortured by one's own mind. Her final comment was, "I wish I knew how to meditate," and my immediate, silent response was, "I wish you had started earlier." A Buddhist aphorism is, "Your mind can be your greatest friend or your greatest enemy." Unfortunately, in her case, it was an enemy.
I'll use an analogy to compare the release model of set-tling the mind in its natural state to the control model of meditation. If seismologists could figure out a way to re-lease tectonic tension through a lot of little earthquakes and thus prevent a large sudden one, we would all be grateful. That would be good control. The control model in science has proved beneficial for controlling certain natural disas-ters, epidemics for example. Descartes expressed this model for science when he predicted that by knowing the forces and the actions of material bodies, we could "make ourselves the masters and possessors of nature."24 But the release
model is equally valuable. Recall Henry David Thoreau's famous statement, "In wildness is the preservation of the world,"25 and John Muir's remark, "In God's wildness lies the hope of the world—the great fresh unblighted, unre-deemed wilderness."26 Nature, powerful, majestic and beautiful, works well all by itself; don't try to fix it. The preservation of wildness is analogous to the release model. How impoverished we would become if we tried to con-trol everything and how vulnerable we would be if we had only wildness.
Both the control and release models develop attention. The control model utilizes grasping; the release model en-tails letting go from the core of awareness. In the release model, thoughts, ideation, imagery, memories, are not a problem to be controlled or snuffed out. The gushing fountain of thought is not the problem. The problem is grasping. This is a more subtle practice than the control model. Is it really possible to attend to something without latching onto it? Settling the mind in its natural state re-quires a light touch, like a bee just barely touching the flower while it drinks its nectar. The bee does not control the flower. The great benefit of the release model is that it is an ideal practice for an actively engaged life in which there is little control over the environment.
One of the metaphors Tibetans use for the technique of practicing "without distraction and without grasping" is of an unhurried grandpa at a park watching other people's children play. The mothers hover over the kids. The grandpa watches closely but does not intervene. Not intervening while observing vigilantly is the crux of the practice. An excellent word for this quality of awareness is "limpidity." Limpidity has the dual connotation of complete transpar-ency, like air or glass, and also luminosity or brightness. Limpidity describes a pool of water in the desert emerging from a spring in the fine sand, the bright sun shining through the water. The pool is limpid, completely trans-parent and luminous. Anything that appears in the water, even a speck of dust, becomes brightly illuminated. This is the defining characteristic of the natural state of aware-ness—it is limpid, clear and luminous and, like space itself, not the least bit sticky.
There are profound reasons for engaging in attentional practices. Buddhists regard ignorance as the root of suffer-ing, and ignorance has two parts. One type of ignorance is failure to attend to our actual nature, the nature of our own awareness. Not attending to who we actually are is a form of ignorance. A second kind of ignorance is identifying with things that we are not. We mistake as "I" and "mine" things that in fact do not have a self in them, cannot be an "1" or "mine." These two errors are the essence of ignorance, the root of samsara, the source of suffering.
Buddhism offers a working hypothesis: the myriad of thoughts and emotions that arise in the mind, the entire array of mental phenomena that we habitually identify with so strongly, is not our true identity. Identifying with these phenomena is what is meant by ignorance. In the quies-cence meditation practices I have described, identification is arrested and replaced by a limpid, vigilant awareness, and the habitual tendency to grasp onto "I" and "mine" is arrested.
Dismantling ignorance by overcoming the identification habit with awareness—is this all there is to spiritual prac-tice? No, this is not enough. There is a complementary practice that I will mention briefly here and describe in more detail later. The corollary practice to attending vigilantly without identification to our own body, feelings, and mind is attending frequently and closely to the minds, bodies, feelings, and experiences of others. This is the basis of compassion. What we attend to becomes our experienced reality, and as we attend to the situations of other people, this will expand the scope of our own reality. As we start to diminish our fixation on our own concerns and attend more to other people, balance is achieved. It is said that the awareness of a buddha is completely even, like the ocean, taking in equally the joys and sorrows of all people, friends, loved ones, relatives, and those never met. This is the meaning of a statement made by so many of the world's great spiritual teachers, "Love your enemy." It doesn't mean love the person you hate. You can't do that. Love those who hate you.
Meditative quiescence, with its two qualities, stability and vividness, is attainable. You can get there. There are many plateaus of development, but once true quiescence is achieved, the mind can be focused on a chosen topic effort-lessly, without distraction, for at least four hours. Once quiescence is attained, you can create a mental image and sustain it with a clarity virtually equivalent to seeing it with your eyes. At this stage of attainment, the attention remains in the mental realm, not seeping out into the physical senses. In the deepest stage of quiescence training, the senses go dormant while the mind continues in a high state of stable vigilance. Buddhist descriptions of attaining meditative stabiliza-tion are very precise. The achievement of quiescence entails an experience of bliss throughout the body and mind, an extraordinary lightness, as well as a dexterity of the mind. When mental and physical bliss subside a bit, there is a state of clear, serene awareness. Buddhists say that the qui-escent mind is attentive, aware, and in excellent working condition. From the Buddhist perspective the undisci-plined mind, prone to laxity, excitation, and distraction, is dysfunctional.
The Tibetan lama Geshe Rabten, under whom I trained for years in India and Switzerland, said that before his mo-nastic training his mind was like a stag with a great rack of antlers trying to make its way through a dense forest. He would struggle, get stuck, struggle again, one hindrance after another. Over the course of his formal twenty-four-year monastic training, he said his mind became progressively less like an entangled deer and more like a monkey gliding through the jungle from one vine to another. When this buoyancy and malleability arise, the mind is ready for anything. It slips skillfully through previous hindrances.
Tibetan contemplatives report that a finely honed mind can probe the nature of awareness directly; you recognize it. As you probe deeper, you see for yourself that this phe-nomenon of consciousness is not reducible, not a mere epiphenomenon of matter. Consciousness has the nature of luminosity, emptiness, and cognizance. The cumulative experiential finding of the Buddhist contemplative tradi-tion is that consciousness is a fundamental constituent of reality that maintains its own unbroken continuum.
Achieving quiescence does not take the same amount of time for everyone. Tibetans describe a superior, middling, and inferior ability for quiescence. A person of superior abilities, after becoming well-grounded in the preliminar-ies, might require three months of intensive effort under skillful guidance. For people of middling abilities, six months is average. For people of inferior abilities, about one year of intensive effort is necessary. If quiescence isn't achieved in one year, Buddhist contemplatives recom-mend returning to the preliminary practices, with a special emphasis on the cultivation of compassion.
The achievement of attentional stability has a parallel in the evolution of Western science. The breakthroughs in science in the seventeenth century were possible only in dependence upon developments in technology. Using a telescope that had been invented in the early seventeenth century, Galileo discovered spots on the sun, craters on the moon, and moons orbiting Jupiter (contradicting the Aris-totelian cosmology of his day that the sun had no flaws, the moon had no pits, and no celestial bodies had moons). Relying on the astronomical data of Tycho Brahe, a Danish astronomer who developed technology to precisely measure the movements of the planets, Kepler was able to discover that the planets travel in elliptical orbits, not perfect circles as Aristotle and Europeans after him had believed for centuries.
In astronomy, as in other sciences, breakthroughs are of-ten the result of the refinement of tools of observation and measurement. The Seven-Point Mind-Training states that the basic tool of discovery is our own mind, finely honed by training in attentional stability. The discovery to be made by our minds, the "mystery revealed," is the essential na-ture of awareness itself. The mystery remains a mystery only as long as it is veiled, obscured by ignorance.
The same mystery addressed by the Mind-Training re-ceives a very different approach by modern science, which views consciousness simply as an epiphenomenon of matter. The materialism of science leads to the assump-tion that mental states are by-products of the brain, and therefore knowledge of neurophysiology should lead to understanding feelings, experiences, subjective states, and consciousness itself. What scientists investigate are corre-lates between brain and mind functions, but this knowledge should not be equated with understanding consciousness itself. Upon careful examination, it doesn't even shed any light on the nature of the actual phenomenon of conscious-ness. While it is commonly assumed that these brain
correlates produce their corresponding consciousness states, this conclusion is not demanded by the empirical scientific data. On the contrary, as William James pointed out more than a century ago, evidence for mind/brain corre-lations may indeed imply that the brain produces mental events, or that it has the lesser role of simply releasing or permitting them, or that it merely transmits them, as light hits a prism, thereby transmitting a spectrum of colors. But with their bias toward materialism, most cognitive scien-tists simply assume that the first hypothesis is correct, despite the lack of compelling scientific evidence.
The centuries-long Buddhist tradition of investigating the nature of consciousness is summed up in a statement from The Cloud of Jewels Sutra: All phenomena are preceded by the mind. When the mind is comprehended, all phenomena are comprehended.... By bring-ing the mind under control, all things are brought under con-trol.27 These words present us with a challenge, not a dogma. The extraordinary hypothesis of Buddhism is that the refined mind can fathom the nature of reality and consciousness itself, with the most extraordinary results. Regard all events as if they were dreams.
As we engage with this practice, we move beyond medita-tive quiescence to contemplative insight into the nature of our experienced world. What the Mind-Training refers to with the simple mnemonic, "Regard all events as if they were dreams," shakes the very foundations of our existence. Niels Bohr's comment about quantum mechanics—"Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it."28—is equally true of these teachings. For example, after Geshe Rabten completed his twenty-four years of formal monastic train-ing, he spent years in solitary meditative retreat in the mountains above Dharamsala. Much of this time he spent meditating on the true nature of the phenomenal world, and when I asked him about his experiences, he replied, "If I should tell others about what I have seen, they would think I am crazy!" Those who study the Buddhist theory concerning the dreamlike nature of reality and are not shocked cannot possibly have understood it.
Buddhist practices for the cultivation of contemplative insight into the nature of reality are designed to overcome our fundamental ignorance about the nature of our own identities and reality as a whole. And this insight, when unified with the stability and vividness of meditative qui-escence, is said to bring one to nirvana, an irreversible state of freedom from all mental afflictions and their resultant suffering. Some Western Buddhists, however, have recently called this claim into question, stating that Buddhist accounts of irreversible spiritual awakening, or enlightenment, are misleading.29 This conclusion is based on the personal ex-periences of a number of Western meditation teachers who have dedicated as much as forty years to their spiritual prac-tice. Those interviewed concurred that their realizations and awakenings do not last. They pass, and those meditators have found that they invariably return to the world of change, and this brings with it the wounds of pain.
As long as we are embodied, we are certainly immersed in a world in which all conditioned phenomena are in a state of flux. This includes, of course, our own bodies and minds. But the important question is: does our engagement with the ever-changing world necessarily trigger our own mental afflictions of attachment, anger, and delusion? The Buddhist assertion is that these mental toxins are respon-sible for all the mental suffering and fear we experience, and when the mind is purified of these afflictions, all men-tal distress vanishes and even physical pain is experienced in such a way that the mind remains tranquil. So when the Buddhist assertion of the possibility of nirvana is refuted, what exactly is being called into question? Are mental af-flictions, as understood in Buddhism, not really at the root of suffering? Or if they are, is there no possibility of being forever healed from these afflictions? In other words, if we accept the premise that we suffer because our minds are distorted by these afflictions, are we intrinsically screwed up, or only habitually screwed up?
The observation that many senior Western Buddhist meditators have not achieved any lasting state of libera-tion should lead us to question not only the authenticity of traditional accounts of achieving nirvana, but also the nature of our own spiritual practice. I have heard many Western Buddhists' reports of their deep insights into the nature of reality through the practice of insight meditation, but I have never heard any of them report that they have accomplished quiescence as it is described in authoritative Indian Bud-dhist treatises on this practice. On the other hand, I have heard one Tibetan contemplative, Lobsang Tenzin, give a personal account of his fifteen years of intensive, continu-ous meditation in solitude, resulting in what he called "a state of immutable bliss that was constant, carrying through both during and between his formal meditation sessions." I have never heard of any Western Buddhist who has dedi-cated him- or herself to such awesome practice under such adverse circumstances. But if, through diligent practice, one person can achieve a state of permanent liberation, this holds out the possibility for others who have not yet risen to that level of insight.
The Buddha himself made it very clear that the achieve-ment of nirvana depends upon the union of both quiescence and insight, for without the stabilizing influence of quies-cence, all insights will be fleeting, and their transformative
and liberating effects will not last.30 However, a recent school of Buddhist meditation, originating in Burma, has proposed that achievement of the high degree of attentional stability of genuine quiescence, or meditative stabilization, is not necessary for the realization of nirvana. It is enough, they claim, to realize the ultimate nature of reality, or nir-vana, with the support of mere "momentary stabilization." Many Western Buddhists have followed this advice, and even the most senior of them, it seems, have not achieved any lasting state of liberation. The very notion that a mo-mentary glimpse of the actual nature of reality, or even many of them, should be enough to permanently overcome the fundamental affliction of delusion seems dubious. As an analogy, if a person is suffering from acute paranoia, a mere glimpse of the groundlessness of his fear will not likely heal him forever. Why then should anyone expect that a mere glimpse into the true nature of reality as a whole will forever overcome our delusions, which are far more deeply rooted than any psychosis?
If we are to exercise healthy skepticism, we should be just as skeptical of our own spiritual understanding and practice as we are of the reports of enlightenment of those who have preceded us. Otherwise, instead of ascending to the heights of Buddhist contemplative realization, we are prone to slip back to the commonplace Freudian assump-tions that humans are inevitably subject to suffering due to "the superior power of nature, the feebleness of our own bodies and the inadequacy of the regulations which adjust the mutual relationships of human beings in the family, the state and society."31 The Buddha claimed to have made an extraordinary discovery, and his findings have purportedly been corroborated by many later generations of Asian contemplatives.
If we are to make this discovery for ourselves, let us bear in mind the observation of the historian Daniel J. Boorstin, who refers to "the illusions of knowledge" as the principal obstacles to discovery. The great discoverers of the past, he declares, "had to battle against the current 'facts' and dog-mas of the learned."32 The Buddha encouraged his followers to be skeptical of his teachings and test them both ratio-nally and experientially. The dogma of our society is that to be human is to be intrinsically subject to mental afflic-tion and suffering. Maybe the time has come to wage a sus-tained battle against that dogma.
If all we are after is a temporary alleviation of our men-tal afflictions and the resultant suffering, there are a great number of avenues we can pursue. And if Buddhist medita-tion is presented as just one more way to achieve a transient easing of our distress, with no hope of a complete and irre-versible cure from all mental afflictions, then it is reduced to the status of one more matrix of psychological techniques. But this was not what the Buddha himself was pursuing in his quest for enlightenment, and it is not what he claimed to offer to the world.
Within Buddhism, there are various ways to set out on the path of contemplative insight. In this Seven-Point Mind-Training, we are first encouraged to "regard all events as if they were dreams." To explain this aphorism, I will draw from the teachings of the Dzogchen (Great Perfection) and Mahamudra (Great Seal) contemplative traditions of Ti-betan Buddhism. When you first encounter such teachings, if you don't sense that they challenge the foundations of your worldview, or that there never was any foundation at all, then you are not getting it. The Seven-Point Mind-Train-ing makes very strong statements about the nature of real-ity. If these statements are wrong, they are enormous mistakes. If they are correct, they are profound solutions.
When, in an earlier story I told about Gyatrul Rinpoche, a lama in the Dzogchen tradition, and his advice to me to "just view it," this was a loaded statement. The meaning is "apply your understanding of Dzogchen, the Great Perfec-tion, to all that you experience." We all embrace a view of reality, sometimes without ever consciously choosing it. A common view of Western culture is that reality is the world just as it appears to us. If I look at Jack sitting ten feet away from me, his body looks like a big chunk of matter existing totally separate from me. I am here and he is there and there is a vacuity between us. The environment I experience also seems to be totally out there and independent of anything I think, say, or perceive. From what I can tell from appear-ances, if I were to drop dead, that reality would not change at all.
Appearances suggest that perceived phenomena exist in-dependently of perceptions. Most of us, by default, live by this philosophic view. Appearances inform us that subject and object are separate and therefore, when people treat us badly, we target them as radically separate from ourselves and retaliate. From the history of scientific discovery, we might antici-pate that there are deeper realities than appearances would lead us to believe. Some of the views of twentieth-century quantum mechanics run profoundly counter to many of the assumptions of classical physics. The Seven-Point Mind-Training likewise presents a working hypothesis radically counter to ordinary subject-object experience. The injunction to "regard all events as if they were dreams" encourages us not to view things as if they were real, as if they existed objectively from their own side. We assume that reality neatly corresponds exactly to how it appears. The Mind-Training points to something deeper.
The Buddhist criterion for reality is that any hypothesized entity must be verified by critical analysis or careful observation. If probing into the nature of something causes it to disappear, this implies it wasn't real in the first place. There are ten classic Buddhist metaphors for the nature of phenomena. One metaphor is a mirage. A desert road that looks wet, if investigated, will be found to be dry. A mi-rage suggests a reality that isn't there. A second metaphor is a rainbow. A rainbow is not really an illusion, but the more closely you inspect it, the more it fades from sight. Although it appears to exist objectively, out there in the sky, upon careful examination we find this isn't so. What about reality as a whole? Will reality disappear as we investigate deeper and deeper? The easy answer is of course not. I look at Jack, who seems to be here. When I shake him by the shoulder, he tells me to stop. Is that adequate proof that Jack is here?
Try the same proof in a dream. If I were dreaming and said, "Jack, are you really there?" he could say, "Yes." I could do a reality check by touching his shoulder, and I would feel something firm. But this is a dream and feeling some-thing tangible in a dream doesn't mean that there is matter there. In a dream, Jack could appear, I could even touch him on the shoulder, but he would not exist independently from my dream.
Let's move from Buddhist analysis to philosophical re-alism. Realism assumes that there is a real, physical world out there, atoms, planets, and stars, from quarks to super clusters of galaxies. Almost all scientists until the end of the nineteenth century accepted the assumption that the phenomena known to science are "out there, existing in-dependently in the objective world." There were a few doubters, but scientific realism, the belief in reality being "out there" waiting to be discovered, was the working as-sumption of science. Realism has theological underpinnings: in the beginning, God created the world and human be-ings were created on the sixth day to discover what God
had already made. The theological premise of scientific real-ism is that the world is out there waiting to be discovered. Then came quantum mechanics in the twentieth century. Scientists, working under the reductionist premise that to understand something it is necessary to reduce it to its ba-sic components, started probing into what they thought would be the ultimate nuggets of physical reality, the final indestructible ball bearings of the Reality Machine, what is really there. Reductionism, the sensible assumption that has propelled most of science, is not unique to the West. The Vaibhashika school of Buddhist philosophy states that only fundamental constituents are real and the rest of phenom-ena are simply subjectively biased configurations. At the turn of the century, physicists were astonished to find that the fundamental components of physical reality seemed to depend on the mode of questioning and method of mea-surement. The fundamental constituents of reality "out there" did not seem to exist independently of systems of measurement. As physicist Bernard d'Espagnat recently commented,
It seems we are forced (by physics, not philosophy!) to acknowl-edge that we cannot know mind-independent reality as it is. In other words, the world described by science must be consid-ered as being a picture of mind-independent reality, not as it really is, but as it is seen through the selective and deforming lens of our own sensory and mental structures?3 The unexpected findings in physics undermined the philosophical stances of scientific realism and reductionism. Empirical results began to accumulate from the double-slit experiment, the delayed-choice experiment, and a variety of other experiments indicating that some of the deepest assumptions underlying Western science up to the twentieth century were just wrong.
Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, adversaries on many is-sues in physics, made similar statements about the defining role theory plays in science. When quantum mechanics was in its early stages of development, Einstein remarked to a young Werner Heisenberg, "on principle, it is quite wrong to try founding a theory on observable magnitudes alone. In reality, the very opposite happens. It is the theory which decides what we can observe."34 Einstein was pointing out that it is the conceptual framework that makes data in-telligible and determines what emerges into experience. Similarly, Niels Bohr wrote, "we must remember ... all new experience makes its appearance within the frame of our customary points of view and forms of perception."
A more radical view of physics asserts that in order for phenomena to shift from a state of being merely possible to being tangibly real, consciousness is instrumental. Aware-ness of an event is the actual trigger that makes potentia transform into physical reality. This is a minority view in physics today, but a minority view held by some very bril-liant people. A more conservative view is that the world consists of elementary particles that do not exist indepen-dently of measurement, and the measuring device chosen determines the kind of phenomena that emerge from a potential state to an actual state. Whether a photon is a particle or a wave is determined by what the instrument measures. Reality doesn't exist independently of the system of measurement and interpretation. Another theory in physics concerning the relationship of subject to object states that we co-create the universe by posing questions. Specific questions are posed through spe-cific systems of observation, measurement, and experiment. Setting up an experiment is a physical enactment of a ques-tion which evokes a reality that otherwise would not exist.
Hilary Putnam, a philosopher at Harvard, has stated a similar idea in philosophical terms. He suggests that hu-man beings are like characters in a novel of which we are also the authors. We are writing a novel that does not exist independently of its authors. An analogous Buddhist idea is "creating karma” referring to the process of engaging conceptually and creatively with the world we experience.
There is significant common ground between Buddhist contemplative wisdom and twentieth-century empirical sci-ence. Since 1987, a series of dialogues has been in progress between Western scientists and the Dalai Lama in the Mind and Life Conferences. Niels Bohr advised his scientific peers when they encountered the implications of quantum phys-ics, "Be prepared for a big surprise," but most of science continues rolling along in the rut of scientific materialism as if the most profound discoveries of quantum mechanics had no broader implications. The empirical discoveries that imply our interdependence with the nature of reality do not just apply to tiny particles; they affect all of reality. The implications of these discoveries, however, have been some-what contained, like an earthquake held temporarily in check. The nature of our interdependence with reality may seem like a head trip for people who can do the math. How do these radical statements touch experience? Physicist Nick Herbert wrote:
The source of all quantum paradoxes appears to lie in the fact that human perceptions create a world of unique actualities— our experience is inevitably 'classical'—while quantum reality is simply not that way at all... Since physics assures us that our lives are embedded in a thoroughly quantum world, is it so obvious that our experience must remain forever classical?36 Research in quantum mechanics discovers a reality in-consistent with gross appearances. Physical reality appears like it's made up of tiny, hard, objective, independent granules of stuff, but physics says this isn't the case. Yet even the physicist who does the research, or a philosopher of physics who understands the implications of the research, experiences life—home, job, family—in an ordi-nary, non-quantum way. In experience, nothing has shifted. Is disassociating the understanding of quantum physics from the experience of everyday life necessary? If our understanding can dive into the depths of the quantum mechanical view of the nature of reality, does our everyday experience have to be left wading around in a pre-quantum view of the world? How can experience and understand-ing be reconciled? Generally speaking, physicists don't seem to have much interest in integrating the insights of quantum mechanics into daily life. But integrating insight into experience is exactly what Buddhist contemplative practice is all about. Gaining insight and saturating every aspect of existence with that insight is the specialty of generations of Buddhist contemplatives. How deeply the insights of quantum physicists and those of Buddhist contemplatives actually coincide remains to be seen. It certainly deserves careful investigation.
Buddhists, like physicists, probe reality. Buddhists send an analytic probe right into the nature of experience and mind itself. Does an observed phenomenon exist purely objectively and independently of the perception of it? By penetrating analysis, it can be discovered that it does not; instead, there is a subjective component to phenomena without which phenomena don't exist at all. For example, a room appears to be totally "out there." On probing, we find that the room as we perceive it is contingent upon our visual faculties. Likewise, sounds that we hear are depen-dent on our ability to hear. At this point we are involved in a psychological truism. Keep on probing. There is light; photons exist. Sound waves really ripple through various media at finite speeds. A sound wave as described in phys-ics appears to your conceptual mind but what you actually hear is quite different. You may have felt a shock wave from a jet breaking the sound barrier, but you have never per-ceived a sound wave move through the air, just as you have never seen a photon zipping along at 186,000 miles per sec-ond. Light waves and sound waves as they are theorized in physics are concepts that are created within the context of a conceptual framework.
The Middle Way philosophy of Buddhism makes this point: investigate anything—mind, matter, cosmos, space, time—probe its objectivity, as something that exists with-out any trace of subjective influence, neither conceptual nor perceptual, and the result will be that you find nothing. Using the stabilized mind to probe the nature of phenom-ena leads to the discovery that everything is interdependent. In other words, the way phenomena appear is not at all the way they actually exist.
The Mind-Training says, "Regard all events as if they were dreams." How do dreams appear? The most produc-tive method to explore dreams is by being aware of dreaming while dreaming. Start by reflecting on how things appear in dreams. Let's take as a working hypothesis, as Buddhists do, that dreams emerge from your unique psyche and past and are not part of a big generic dream that belongs to everybody. In Buddhist theory, dreams are a flower-ing of mental propensities, or seeds, an idea that corre-sponds roughly to the Western theory of the contents of the subconscious. Suppose I dream that I am speaking be-fore a group of people. From a waking perspective, I would say that the people in this dream don't exist independently from the dream. Yet when I am dreaming, people appear to be just as objective and separate from me as people seem during the waking state. In a dream, if somebody insults me, I get angry just as though this person exists objectively. In non-lucid dreams, demarcations between subjects and objects appear very real. When I get happy in a dream, that happiness is not significantly different from the happiness I experience in the waking state. If someone punches me in a dream, it seems very real. While there seems to be an ob-jective environment, in a dream objects and environments actually exist in relationship to me, the dreamer. Dream and dreamer are interdependent.
In the Buddhist analysis, there is an analogy between the non-lucid dream state and our usual waking state. What we assume to be absolutely real in a dream and in the wak-ing state is not as it appears. The Buddhist analysis of our deluded waking state goes deep into the analogy between waking and dreaming. From the perspective of the waking state, it is easy to agree that what appears real and concrete in the dream is illusory, despite the fact that from within the dream it can be proved to be "real." In my dream, I can touch Jack or ask him if he is real and he will say yes. Within the context of a dream, that is good proof. From the per-spective of the waking state, I see that objects in the dream have no objective existence, but are dependent on me, the dreamer. Within a dream you can be absolutely positive you are not dreaming. The exception to the delusion of mistaking the dream-state to be real is to be aware, within the dream, that you are dreaming.
From the relative state of being awake, it is possible to reflect upon the dream-state as being a state of delusion. The Buddhists push past the state of relative wakefulness to actual wakefulness. The word "buddha" means "one who is awake." From the perspective of a buddha, the nor-mal "awake" state is a relative dream state and, additionally, the dream is deluded. Those of us who have not yet be-come buddhas can begin to appreciate the relationship between dream and dreamer by practicing lucid dreaming. The daytime practice of dream yoga is what the Mind-Training refers to as regarding all phenomena as if they were dreams. No leap of faith is required to immerse
yourself in the radical and intuitively sound hypothesis that phenomena have a dreamlike quality. This hypothesis is not unique to Buddhism and is found in a number of other contemplative traditions. Working with the dream-state analogy, imagine the relative perspective of a more awakened state (a buddha-like state), and realize that right now you are dreaming. The daytime practice of dream yoga entails pondering, "In this waking state, relatively speak-ing, I am fast asleep. Apparent reality is a dream and all of my assumptions about absolute demarcations, subject/ object, self/other are profoundly mistaken." A proficient lucid dreamer has dreams that are completely clear and, while dreaming, is aware that objects and individuals in the dream are nothing more than appearances of the mind. Absolute demarcations vanish. The environment in a dream and the persona of yourself in a dream are expressions of your own mind. The dream analogy to the ordinary waking state is a practice, not a philosophy.
The purpose of the Seven-Point Mind-Training is to pro-vide sufficient wisdom and practice, synthesized in one teaching, to achieve spiritual awakening. Buddhists do not assume that humans are hard-wired to perceive and respond to reality in fixed ways. Instead, the Buddhist hypothesis is that the mind is malleable and what is required to change perception and response is consistent behavior. When you wake up in the morning, note that the wak-ing state has a dreamlike quality and reflect that, from an enlightened perspective, the waking state itself is a dream. In our dreamlike ordinary waking perspective, the distinc-tion between subject and object is exaggerated. This means that sentient beings whom I experience as "other" are not absolutely other. "Otherness" is a convention. The sense of absolute objectivity and absolute subjectivity is part of the dream. The daytime practice of dream yoga, "regard all events as if they were dreams," is to sustain the sense that, from an awakened perspective, this relative waking state is a sleeping state.
There is also a nighttime practice of dream yoga, and some people are fortunate in having a natural knack for it. There are several techniques to develop the ability to dream lucidly. The best one for people with active minds is to settle the mind in its natural state while falling asleep. Visualiza-tion techniques tend to lead to insomnia from the effort required to maintain a visual image. Settling the mind in its natural state rests the mind in its own natural limpidity, not trying to do something, not intervening. Lying on your right side, called the lion's posture, is most effective for in-ducing lucid dreaming. Lying on the left side or on the back is not as effective, and the worst position is lying prone.
The optimal mental state in which to induce lucid dream-ing is to maintain limpid, fully conscious awareness and observe yourself falling asleep. Dr. Stephen LaBerge, who has done extensive research into lucid dreaming, confirms what Buddhists have said for over a thousand years: it is possible to enter the dream state with complete conscious-ness, possible to maintain lucidity throughout the course of a dream, possible to emerge from a lucid dream back into deep sleep, and possible to maintain limpid awareness and eventually emerge into the waking state.
To begin the practice of dream yoga, start by noticing early morning dreams when sleep tends to be lighter and of higher frequency. Emerge from sleep holding the story line of a dream; then, maintaining the thread of the story, reenter the sleep-state right into a lucid dream. As you are preparing to sleep by settling the mind in the natural state, do so with the aspiration to recognize the next dream as a dream. Buddhists and lucid dream researchers agree that such intention to recognize a dream as a dream is very helpful. The aphorism "Regard all phenomenon as if they were dreams" is a statement regarding the nature of reality. To awaken, practice yoga in the dream, both the waking dream and the sleeping dream.
We imagine that, from the perspective of a buddha, the ordinary waking state is dreamlike. There is another per-spective from which this is true—the deathbed. When we know full well that we are about to die, and reflect back on our life with all its experience, joys and sorrows, anxiety, all the stuff we are attached to, life may appear as having no more substance than a dream. Whether our time is long or short, this is a profoundly authentic perspective on the nature of a life. Life is a flash of lightning in the dark of night. It is a brief time of tremendous potential. The death-bed view of life has a direct practical benefit in day-to-day relationships. Atisha, who was a monk, gave this pithy counsel to distressed married couples: Your spouse is go-ing to be dead soon. You are going to be dead soon. Be nice to each other.
The Seven-Point Mind-Training packs the profound teachings and techniques of Buddhism into aphoristic state-ments. The Mind-Training is constructed of steps of insight, one after another. The lines of the Mind-Training encode practices that have tremendous practical application. The challenge is to awaken. Examine the unborn nature of awareness. Direct the mind right into the nature of awareness itself and examine that which is "unborn." "Unborn" awareness is primordial awareness. As long as you are alive, you can practice breath aware-ness. At any time and in any circumstances, as long as you breathe, you can practice breath awareness. In the Buddhist tradition, during the gradual sequence of dying, the mind continues through a number of experiences after the breath has stopped. After breath has ceased, even though the senses have shut down, and for all practical purposes you have lost your body, you can still observe the mind. After the breath stops, you can still meditate. As the dying pro-cess progresses, eventually you lose your mind also. The "mind" you will lose is the mind that is conditioned by life, the mind filled with memories, experiences, hopes, desires, emotions, conceptual faculties of recognition, and imagination, the same mind trained in meditation.
What is left after losing breath, body, and mind is what the Buddhists call "unborn awareness," or "the clear light of death." Unborn awareness is awareness in its primor-dial state, unstructured by experience or by a human brain and nervous system. The primordial nature of awareness is not structured by a sense of subject versus object. Un-born awareness is also not conditioned by being a good or bad person or even by being human. For centuries, contemplatives who have maintained continuity of aware-ness throughout death and subsequent reincarnation have described the details of the death experience, including the nature of unborn awareness. All of us will have the same opportunity as con-templatives to experience primordial awareness at death. We have no choice. We will lose our breath, our bodies, and our minds, and primordial awareness is what will be left. We will have an opportunity to ascertain the unobscured, unborn nature of awareness when we die; but whether we will be able to make use of this opportunity is another question. If we are offered a meal but don't know how to open our mouth, we cannot eat. Death offers us primordial awareness on a plate. Will we be prepared to take the opportunity of ascertaining it, tapping into this wellspring of wisdom, compassion, and power? Whether or not unborn awareness is ascertained during death is con-tingent upon whether it has been ascertained during life. The way to ascertain unborn awareness during life is to practice.
"Examining the unborn nature of awareness" is the meditative practice of turning the attention in upon itself to observe the observer. The three meditation techniques of the control model (using an object such as the breath to develop attentional stability), the release model (settling the mind in its natural state), and examining the unborn nature of awareness (observing the observer), when prac-ticed daily and in sequence, form a foundation for effective practice, integrating Dharma into daily life. The practice of observing the observer delves into the unborn nature of awareness itself, dismantling the di-chotomy between inside and outside. On the practical level, it is a potent antidote for a broad range of mental afflictions. When you get angry, anxious, or are craving something, when you feel jealous or conceited, practice observing the observer. This one practice drives a spike right through the heart of these afflictions, causing them to evaporate like mist.
Sit upright, diaphragm open, chest up, shoulders nice and relaxed, breathing down into your belly. Soften all of the area of the face, especially around the eyes. Bring your awareness into the space in front of you, directing the line of your gaze along the line of your nose without focusing. Let your visual awareness hover restfully in what Tibetans call "the space in between." For a minute or two, draw your attention inwards. As soon as a thought, recollection, imagi-nation, or any other mental event arises, be present with it and aware of it. It doesn't get away without being noticed. You detect it swiftly, without impeding it. Whatever arises in the mind, you are right there in the present, not slipping into memories or imagination but hovering right at the en-trance of the mind where mental events emerge. Rest there, for a minute or two, settling the mind in its natural state.
Now move into insight practice, examining the unborn nature of awareness. This practice is from the terma, or trea-sure teaching, Natural Liberation: Padmasambhava's Teachings on the Six Bardos. This terma was discovered by Karma Lingpa in the fourteenth century in a cave on Gampo Dar Mountain in central Tibet and is attributed to the eighth-century Indian tantric master Padmasambhava. He gave this quintessential instruction: While steadily maintaining the gaze, place the awareness unwaveringly, steadily, clearly, nakedly and fixedly, without having anything on which to meditate, in the sphere of space. When stability increases, examine the consciousness that is stable. Then gently release and relax. Again place it steadily and steadfastly observe the consciousness of that moment. What is the nature of that mind? Let it steadfastly observe itself. Is it something clear and steady or is it an emptiness that is noth-ing? Is there something there to recognize? Look again and re-port your experience to me!37 Padmasambhava's directions are to observe, articulate what is observed, and then return to further observation. He continues:
Steadily place your mind in the space in front of you and let it be present there. Examine well: what is this thing of yours that you have placed here today? Look to see if the one who is plac-ing and the mind that is being placed are one or two... If there is not more than one, is that one the mind? Observe: what is the reality of the so-called mind? ... Let the one who is ponder-ing, What is the mind like? observe that very consciousness and search for it. Steadily observe the consciousness of the meditator, and search for it. Observe: in reality, is this so-called mind something that exists?38.. .observe whether it is an empti-ness that is nothing. If you say it is an emptiness that is nothing, then how could an emptiness that is nothing know how to meditate? What good is it to say you cannot find it? If it is noth-ing at all, what is it that brings forth hatred? Is there not someone who thinks the mind has not been found? Look steadily right at that.39 Bring the meditation to a close.
The practice of examining the unborn nature of awareness deepens and extends formal daily practice beyond the con-fines of this body, these conditions, this life. The practices in the root text of the Seven-Point Mind-Training—culti-vating meditative stabilization, settling the mind in its natural state and examining the unborn nature of aware-ness—in Atisha's time of the eleventh century were based on centuries of cumulative contemplative experience aimed at achieving enlightenment in a single lifetime. I am con-vinced that these practices are just as applicable to contem-porary Western life as they were to other cultures in other centuries. There is a deep, gradual shift from training the attention with breath awareness, to settling the mind in its natural state, to probing the nature of awareness itself. The Dalai Lama once was asked, "What is the point of your practice?" and answered, "I am preparing to die." This was not a mor-bid statement. Death is an extraordinary experience, if we prepare to take advantage of it. Awareness of the clear light of death, unborn awareness, can be sustained for hours or days, in some cases for weeks, in rare cases for months. The Mind-Training advises us to prepare for death by examining the unborn nature of awareness during life.
Buddhists are concerned with knowledge that shifts and transforms perception, not knowledge for knowledge's sake or knowledge that has no impact on life. Many people ex-perience some of the short-term rewards of meditation such as increased balance of mind and mental clarity. Many people also notice, usually retrospectively, that the balance gained in meditation is easily lost. The practice of examining the unborn nature of awareness follows the practice of re-garding all phenomena as if they were dreams and moves into insight practice aiming for the deepest reality that can be accessed. It is through such practice that one can achieve a transformation of perception in which the fruits of meditation become stable and are no longer lost. A hard fact, repeated over and over in the Tibetan Bud-dhist tradition, is that insight practices are impossible to fathom thoroughly without a platform of meditative qui-escence. Accomplishing meditative quiescence means overcoming mental agitation, distraction, sluggishness and laxity, and being able to effortlessly focus awareness ex-actly, vividly and with stability for at least four hours. From the Buddhist perspective, awareness that stable and vivid is the defining characteristic of a functional mind. A scat-tered and dull mind, even though it can get by, is an afflicted mind.
Meditative retreat isn't necessarily the only or best solu-tion to the problems of practice. In 1988,1 helped a highly accomplished Tibetan contemplative, Gen Lamrimpa, lead a one-year retreat for about a dozen people. Externally, ev-erything was done right, homes were sublet, cars put up on blocks, money was saved to be off work for a year. We had a cook and we had a great place. Yet when some of the participants devoted themselves full-time to meditation, their mental afflictions just got worse. Whether in retreat or in active life, the central issue is how to live so that daily life supports rather than erodes spiritual practice, and the Seven-Point Mind-Training addresses this problem.
The First Point of the Mind-Training has already told us how, in the four preliminary practices: by attending to those aspects of reality that will inspire us to release the grasping of mundane concerns and reorient priorities toward spiri-tual practice. The Seven-Point Mind-Training then teaches meditative stabilization, settling the mind in its natural state, the insight practices of regarding phenomena as dreamlike and examining the unborn nature of awareness.
Primordial awareness, which is referred to as "unborn awareness" in the Mind-Training, is also referred to as the clear light nature of the mind, or rigpa in Tibetan. Rigpa is awareness that is beyond subject/object duality. Diidjom Lingpa, a great Dzogchen master who lived in the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, said it is extremely important to understand the difference between mind and unborn awareness. The difference is that mind is locked into structures, conditioned, saturated with conceptual frameworks, distinctions between subject/ob-ject, existence/non-existence, good/bad, up/down, Buddha/ ordinary sentient being, samsara/nirvana, etc. Mind is not only saturated with conceptual frameworks, it reifies itself and its objects, assuming them to have their own intrinsic nature. We believe in a personal identity and when we look at another person, we believe also in his absolute identity separate from our own. The mind works in conceptual frameworks and reifies the results. Mind, configured by conceptual frameworks, contrasts with unborn awareness. The experience of unborn aware-ness entails a spacious dissolution into a great expanse with no object, without obstruction and without intentionality. Unborn awareness is the effortless realization that all phenom-ena, the self included, lack an independent, self-sufficient nature. The dualistic mind and unborn awareness are very dif-ferent. The former is awareness that has become deluded. To penetrate the nature of mind is to see that it never was anything other than unborn awareness. To use the Tibetan metaphor, unborn awareness is like water; mind is like ice, and yet ice is nothing other than water in a different form.
The Mind-Training says "examine," not speculate, de-bate, or study. This aphorism of the Second Point is short and feisty. Every word has meaning. There are two approaches to this aphorism in the Tibetan tradition, both legitimate, both lead to insight, ultimate bodhichitta. One approach is "theory before practice," which puts theory first and meditation second. In the Tibetan tradi-tion, this means gaining a thorough conceptual framework such as Madhyamaka, Dzogchen, or some other view. Once the theoretical base is in place, you are ready for medita-tion. This is a good approach and after about four years you might have so much knowledge of the philosophy that you can teach it. But understanding doesn't mean you have insight. In the "experience before theory" approach, theory arises from experience itself. For the deep questions raised in in-sight practice, methodology with no theory whatsoever won't work. The approach of Padmasambhava is to pro-vide just enough theory to push deeper while maintaining experience as the leading edge. This approach is direct and ideal for people who don't have years to spend in study or in solitude.
Insight practice is similar to scientific research. Just as there is no way to understand physics or chemistry with-out spending time in the lab and no way to understand math without doing problems, you have to practice meditation to gain insight. One might expect that by doing insight practice, con-sciousness itself will become apparent. Padmasambhava examines this assumption by asking whether the visual, auditory, and other appearances in the mind are identical with consciousness. If consciousness is not the same as these appearances, what is its nature? What actually happens in insight practice is that one just sees more appearances. But not seeing consciousness is not the same as its absence. The teaching advises us to keep probing.
Recall the two approaches of theory first versus experi-ence first. Karma Chagme, a seventeenth-century master of the Mahamudra and Dzogchen lineages, distinguishes between them by using the metaphor of gathering firewood. You can gather firewood by snipping off all the branches of a tree one by one, so that the tree shrivels up and dies. This long, difficult process is similar to the approach of the monk who spends twenty years studying Buddhist phi-losophy, eventually graduating with a massive theoretical framework, spends the next twenty years in retreat, and finally devotes the rest of his life to teaching. The second approach, experience first, heading right to the heart of practice with just enough theory, is ideal for people who can't afford the time investment required for theoretical acquisitions. The experience-first approach cuts the tree down starting at the root. This can save a lot of time.
One of the best-known aphorisms of the Buddha is, "Any-thing that is born dies." Anything that is created is destroyed. In Buddhist cosmology, eventually all of the billions of world systems will be incinerated, leaving not even ash behind. A human life, all relationships, anything that is produced will come undone. Yet, nirvana, liberation, is called the "deathless state" and can be attained in life. Human beings are born and they die. Mind arises and passes, yet in the midst of its ongoing flux there is unborn awareness. That which is unborn does not die. To ascertain and dwell in the unborn nature of awareness is to achieve the deathless state. This can be done during life. What is required is faith enough to practice. Becoming familiar with the unborn nature of awareness during life improves the chances of ascertaining the clear light of death while dying. In ascertaining unborn awareness during death, everything that is conditioned, everything that is born and will die, is released. In this ultimate release, one is deathless, outside life and death.
Unborn awareness is not separate from mental events; it is the fundamental nature of that which is arising all the time. It presents us with a challenge: by not looking for something else, you can focus into that which already is.
The Seven-Point Mind-Training begins with incremen-tal steps to develop insight, also called wisdom, or ultimate bodhichitta. The first step is to achieve meditative stability, or quiescence. We have discussed two methods for devel-oping quiescence: the control method of breath awareness and the release method from the Dzogchen tradition of set-tling the mind in its natural state. The next step is to cultivate insight by directing awareness in upon awareness itself and examining closely. Insight into the essential nature of aware-ness itself and the nature of all phenomena is the ultimate spirit of awakening, or ultimate bodhichitta. Even the remedy itself is free right where it is.
The Second Point of the Seven-Point Mind-Training con-tinues the pursuit of ultimate bodhichitta: "Even the remedy is free right where it is." This quintessential line refers to the non-inherent nature of all phenomena. What is the problem and what is the remedy? The cen-tral problem is delusion, a false way of engaging with reality. The principal delusion is reification—mistaking our selves and phenomena as being inherently real and independent. We reify our minds and we reify subject and object. Reification profoundly segregates self from other and ap-prehends phenomena as being independently existent. Founded on the sense of "I am real," "I am independent," "I have a body and mind," there arises a strong sense of "you are totally separate and unrelated to me." This is the problem.
The perception of others as totally separate from our-selves encourages others to perceive us in the same way. This is the effect of delusion. According to Buddhist psy-chology, reification, the absolute dichotomization of self and other, self and object, is the basis of craving. I crave a nice car, a fine reputation, a certain person, and believe that if I had these things I would be happy. Alternately, we might believe something is getting in the way of our happiness. Reification is here too—"It is so-and-so's fault, it's the weather, politics, traffic." With reification, aversion, hostility, and resentment settle in.
The emotional imbalances of craving and aversion arise from the same cause: reifying the intrinsic, independent existence of our selves and other phenomena. From the cen-tral delusion of reification, also called "ignorance" in Buddhism, craving and aversion arise. In Buddhist psy-chology, the three primary afflictions of ignorance, craving, and aversion lead to all other mental afflictions. How does the central delusion of reification begin? Dharmakirti, a great seventh-century Indian Buddhist lo-gician, said reification starts by grasping onto self, then grasping onto others, and the result is mental affliction. Grasping onto self is the first step of delusion, the core of ignorance. If you are concerned that life is short, look to the root of the problem right where it starts, with "I am." Who says, "I am"? Turn in and look.
The remedy to the delusion of reification is wisdom. Wis-dom arises from insight. Insight arises from practice, and the technique that focuses on the central issue, reification of self, is observing the observer. This stage of meditation is reached by first training in quiescence by practicing the control model of meditation, like patiently training a wild stallion. Then, practice the release model of training the attention by letting go of identification and settling awareness on the nature of awareness itself. Next, turn in and observe the observer. Alternating between the control and release approaches to training the attention and then releasing identification is a powerful method for fathoming the essential nature of awareness itself.
From a Buddhist perspective, the problems in the world, from small interpersonal ones to huge geopolitical ones, are fundamentally the results of delusion. Therefore, the ultimate remedy is wisdom. Wisdom can be cultivated just as compassion and patience can be cultivated. One facet of wisdom is intelligence. Buddhist practice seeks to cultivate intelligence by testing Dharma conceptually and experien-tially. Another type of wisdom is primordial wisdom, a kind of innate wisdom that isn't generated. You can't pollute or purify primordial wisdom, you can't acquire it and you can't lose it. Primordial wisdom isn't cultivated; it is unveiled. There are two types of wisdom, both of which are rem-edies for delusion. The first can be cultivated and rises and declines, just like patience, loving-kindness, compassion, and many other conditioned qualities. The goal of the cul-tivation of intelligence is to unveil primordial wisdom, which is the very nature of awareness itself. Even the remedy, wisdom, when its very nature is unveiled, turns out to be primordial wisdom itself, "free right where it is."
There is a metaphor for the relationship between culti-vated and innate wisdom. Imagine a child who grows up separated from his mother. Years later, when the child and mother meet, they recognize each other instantly. The same is said to be the case of cultivated and innate wisdom. Cul-tivate wisdom, and when primordial wisdom is unveiled, the two meet like mother and child. The child is intelligence, which is cultivated, and the mother is primordial wisdom, which is present all along. The ultimate remedy for delusion, primordial wisdom, was never acquired, and therefore is described as "free right where it is."
The practice of settling the mind in its natural state gives some sense of how thoughts themselves are naturally re-leased. You don't release thoughts by applying a remedy. Rather, when you simply stop grasping onto them, you find that thoughts and mental events are released in their own state right where they are. A thought that arises in the open space of awareness has nothing to grate against, nothing to grasp onto; it simply arises and plays itself out like a cloud or rainbow forming and dissolving in the sky. When I was practicing settling the mind in its natural state in retreat, Gyatrul Rinpoche, my spiritual mentor, told me, "When the mind is settled in its natural state, even if all the malevolent forces in the world should arise to tor-ment you, they could not harm you. And even if all the buddhas and bodhisattvas should come to surround you, they could not benefit you. Since there is no target, you are beyond needing their benefit. You don't need a blessing from outside your mind, because when your mind is settled in its natural state, it is its own source of blessing." In the quiescence practice of settling the mind in its natu-ral state, you may get to a point of hitting a ceiling beyond which you can go no further. The ceiling is reification of self, of "I" the observer, "I" the meditator. You observe ideas and events arise and pass, but what is not released is "I." Thoughts are released, even emotions may be released, but "I" is not released. Therefore, abiding in a state that is non-conceptual, a state in which you are not grasping onto thoughts, is not enough to radically liberate the mind so that it doesn't revert to its habitual delusions. For liberation, the cultivation of insight is necessary. What is required is to turn inward, probe right into the nature of awareness itself. What is doing the probing? Wisdom, which
is cultivated and strengthened by probing into the nature of reality. "Even the remedy itself is free right where it is" means that even the intelligence that probes is free. There are two ways of looking at this. One is that even the mind that is observing and meditating does not have an inherent identity of its own. The mind seems to exist as something in itself, but when you probe right into its nature, not only are thoughts found to be merely appearances arising as de-pendently related events, but even "I," the observer doing the meditation, is discovered to be an appearance that is reified. Even the remedy, the "I" penetrating through delu-sion, does not have its own intrinsic independent existence.
All phenomena exist in a state of interdependence; noth-ing exists independently. This includes awareness. When I first met Geshe Rabten in 1971, he had completed his mo-nastic training and was meditating in retreat in a cowshed in the mountains above Dharamsala. One of the topics of his meditation was the lack of inherent existence of all phe-nomena. He meditated on the one pillar that held up the roof of his cowshed and got to a point where the pillar no longer seemed to exist as a real entity. He felt he was not there as a real entity either. It was then that he told me about his meditation, saying that if he were to describe his experience, people would think he was crazy, and if they didn't think he was crazy, they were not getting it.
Everything is interdependent. This friendly statement just begins to skim the surface. What Buddhist contemplatives are saying is that in the whole universe right down to the subatomic level, nothing exists purely objectively or purely subjectively. We can say, "Oh, it's mere appearance. I get it." We can focus in and observe that nothing exists in the mind purely subjectively or objectively, that there is pro-found interdependence. But when we really experience this, our perception of the world as a whole is profoundly altered.
The line in the Mind-Training that Atisha brought to Ti-bet might have been, "Even the remedy itself is devoid of inherent nature." This would be a straightforward, specific statement meaning that the remedy has no separate, au-tonomous identity, or nature. But that is not the line Atisha used. The aphorism here is, "Even the remedy itself is free right where it is." We are seeking to get out of suffering, and we arrive as a last resort at the Dharma. We are about to apply a remedy, a "fix-it," when the Mind-Training says, "even the remedy," just like everything else, "is naturally free right where it is" as soon as you release grasping. This does not simply mean being devoid of intrinsic existence. The word "free" means that by penetrating right through the nature of intelligence to primordial wisdom, which has never been anything other than pure, has never been any-thing other than free, you are free right where you are. In other words, the meaning of the remedy being free is that cultivated wisdom penetrates through to primordial wisdom, which has been free and pure all along. When we observe the mind, we notice how we reify the events of the mind. By reifying anger and other mental impurities, we empower them. Reification is like blessing afflictions, "Dominate me" and giving them the invitation, "Hit me." This is delusion at work. Imagine sitting on a lawn, resting in your own nature, and a truck comes along and dumps a lot of garbage next to you. Is your response, "This is mine!"? Not likely. Similarly, we don't need to iden-tify with anything that is dumped in the space of our awareness.
It gets worse. There is another level of delusion. After we have reified, "This affliction is mine," we construct a personal identity based upon the reification of what never existed: "I am an angry person. I am a nice person. I am a selfish person. I am paranoid. I am a jerk. I'm wonderful!" This is another level of delusion. It is a tragedy to live life acting out of an assumed identity that doesn't exist. The Mind-Training tells us that the innate nature of mind is pure: the remedy itself is free right where it is. How do we assume a false identity? Suppose a hypnotized person is told he is a kangaroo. In his trance, he jumps around like a happy kangaroo until someone asks, "Where is your pouch? Where are your big feet?" If he hadn't been so in-volved in being a kangaroo, he might have noticed that he doesn't look much like a kangaroo. Some basic question-ing of his identity might snap him out of his kangaroo delusion. Like a man believing he is a kangaroo, we iden-tify with ingrained suggestions about our identity. When we identify with the mental afflictions, we suffer.
There is a parable in the Tibetan tradition similar to the New Testament parable of the prodigal son but with an interesting twist. Karma Chagme relates this story in the book Naked Awareness: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen,40 and I will paraphrase it here:
In the center of the land of Orgyen dwelled a wealthy and powerful king, his queen, his son the prince, and his wise minister. The kingdom was powerful, the palace was huge, and the king's reign was tremendous. But the prince was foolish and immature. On one occasion, the prince went to a festival near the palace and became entranced by an illusionist. Illusionists plied their trade using three ingredients: deep concentra-tion, some kind of physical substance, and mantras. These three elements were masterfully spun together to create very persuasive and realistic illusions. The prince, en-tranced by the illusionist's apparitions, suffered near total amnesia and forgot his identity. When he looked around, he failed to recognize his ministers and started wandering. The prince wandered for years as a beggar suffering the misery of being homeless. The heir to the throne being lost, the king grew old and the kingdom fell into decline.
After years of wandering, the prince came to the door of his former wise minister to beg for food. The prince was dirty and his clothes were in tatters, but the minister recog-nized him and tried to persuade him of his true identity: "You are the prince! Come home! The king awaits you."
The prince, believing himself to be a worthless beggar, did not believe the minister and refused to enter his father's palace. The minister explained what had happened with the illusionist and how he had wandered off. In doing so, the minister challenged the prince to examine his identity: Who were his parents? What was his birthplace? What was his true identity?
The prince was dumbfounded. He couldn't answer a single one of the minister's questions. When he examined his identity, he could find no answers because he had reified his identity as a beggar. The prince, stunned at what he didn't find, asked the minister to reveal his personal history and actual identity. The prince then understood instantly and was enthroned. In an instant, while not discarding his identity as a beg-gar, he stopped living in the manner of a beggar. The mis-ery of being a vagrant disappeared by itself and the king-dom and the subjects without exception came under his rule and they lived in great joy and happiness.
The beggar prince is symbolic of the nature of our true identity. The young prince symbolizes the state of mind that neither realizes the actual nature of awareness nor is deluded by the momentarily arising expressions of the mind's creative power, a state of mind that neither grasps nor is illuminated, a mind that has not yet penetrated to its essential nature. The minister symbolizes the spiritual mentor, endowed with realization, who teaches out of compassion. Just as the prince did not recognize his true iden-tity and became a beggar, we fail to recognize our own true identity and wander "like beggars" in the cycle of exist-ence. Just as the minister recognized the prince and restored him to the position of royalty, the spiritual mentor serves as guide to recognizing the true identity of one's mind, primordial wisdom.
The aphorism "even the remedy itself is free right where it is" refers to the insight that penetrates to primordial wis-dom. This simple but potent line says two things. One is that by attending to and reifying mental phenomena, which are frequently afflictive, we grasp onto mental phenomena as "I" and "mine." This is the foundation upon which we construct and reify a sense of personal identity. We construct a sense of who we are out of identification with mental afflic-tions and other qualities and habits. This sequence of errors is the enormous problem that causes so much suffering.
The second implication of this aphorism is that by identi-fying with that which is not our "self," we fail to recognize our actual nature. By failing to attend to our actual nature, we fail to realize it. This is similar to the hypnotized man so busy jumping around believing himself to be a kangaroo that he doesn't notice he is actually a human being.
The word used in this line is "free." What happens if you free mental afflictions by releasing them? Shantideva, the eighth-century Indian Buddhist author of A Guide to the Bodhisattava Way of Life, was referring to mental afflictions when he wrote, "Once the affliction that dwells in my mind has been expelled, where would it go, and where would it rest and attempt to destroy me?"41 After you stop empowering the afflictions by identifying with them, you see that the primordial nature of your own awareness has never been anything other than pure. If you can intuitively affirm, even tentatively, that the essential nature of aware-ness, your own intrinsic primordial wisdom, is none other than the mind of the Buddha, then primordial wisdom invites you to dwell in that quality.
At the point when grasping onto a false identity is released, practitioners of Vajrayana Buddhism use visualization and imagination to assume an identity commensurate with primordial wisdom, the identity of a buddha. Without un-derstanding the lack of an inherent nature of one's ordi-nary identity, this practice can be not only silly but dangerous. In Vajrayana practice, any sense of superiority is an indication that delusion is being enhanced and the practice is being done incorrectly. Suffering is the result of doing misguided practice with all the good intentions. One example from my experience was a fellow who spent months in intensive Vajrayana practice, assuming the iden-tity of a buddha. Eventually he came to regard himself as superior to everyone around him and was abjectly miser-able. This was a state of affliction reached with great effort in mistaken practice.
There is a very practical way to take the danger out of spiritual practice, particularly ones that use imagination. When practicing, settle the mind in its natural state and when probing inward, remember the parable of the prince. Before he recognized his true identity as a prince, under the guidance of his mentor he carefully investigated his identity as a beggar and found that it didn't exist.
The parable of the prince is analogous to the practice of probing in, then releasing. When you think, "I am thinking this, these are my thoughts, this is who I am," investigate the origin of the thoughts. What is their location, who is it that observes them? Investigate. What is the nature of the meditator who is striving so diligently? The result is a not-finding. In that emptiness of not-finding, there is a spa-ciousness free from personal ego in which the ordinary sense of personal identity has vanished. In that spacious-ness there is space for something of boundless proportions to be present, which is, in fact, already present. Primordial wisdom is already there. Primordial wisdom is not some-thing you will get someday. It is already within you. It is just not being recognized.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama advises practitioners of Vajrayana to meditate on the emptiness of their own identity first. Otherwise, there is no point in doing such visualiza-tion practice. Retaining one's own identity while imagining that one is a buddha is a major delusion. To be free of dan-ger, first completely dissolve your ordinary sense of ego. In the spaciousness that results, assume the identity of that which has been present all along. Don't worry about as-suming the right, perfect identity of a buddha. It is not going to be right. We can't clearly imagine what buddha-mind is like. The point is to be less wrong as we proceed. Just as a hypnotized man has to recognize he is not a kan-garoo in order to recognize his human identity, we have to dissolve the delusion of self-identity, the ego, before enter-ing into the spacious, primordially present identity of buddha-mind.
Enlightened awareness is a quality of awareness that is free of reified divisions of self/other, subject/object; it is boundless, spacious, and all-embracing. Enlightened awareness perceives the lack of inherent existence of all phenomena. It is an awareness that is implicitly, naturally, imbued with boundless non-discriminating compassion. As much as you can imagine that, you experience a facsimile of enlightened awareness right now. The great benefit of Vajrayana practice is that by imagin-ing yourself as the embodiment of a buddha, you can draw from your own awareness qualities of that buddha and these very qualities are experienced more and more vividly. The more deeply you imagine the quality of compassion, the more you tap the reservoirs of compassion within you. Imagination is an invitation that draws qualities forth from a source that is fathomless. If you lack the intuitive affir-mation of primordial wisdom, or buddha-mind, or if you believe that in no sense whatever are you a buddha, then there is no point to doing Vajrayana practice. Vajrayana practice is based on intuitively affirming the awakened state and taking the awakened state itself as the path to awakening. The truth of the path, its validity, is realizing the awakened state.
In meditation, you can assume the identity of a buddha by intuitively affirming the presence of buddha-mind. Bud-dha-mind saturates your own mind, like oil saturates paper. The choice is to either attend to the "myness" coagulating the self, or open the door to engaging with the enlightened awareness that innately suffuses all your mental states. Recall the parable of the prince, "While not discarding his identity as a beggar, he stopped living in the manner of a beggar." This means that in assuming the identity of a buddha, you do not stop being who you are. This is not really assuming a new identity, but neither is it being who you always believed yourself to be.
This aphorism refers to a mind free of conceptualization, relaxed in a state free of grasping onto self, others, subject, object, past, present, future, or anything else. This practice of resting in the universal ground is similar to settling the mind in its natural state, but the meaning is not the same. "Settling the mind in its natural state" is initially presented as a quiescence practice, a precursor to the insight practice introduced here. Quiescence practice follows a technique, frequently attention on the breathing, to calm the mind so that the mind can then "settle in its natural state." At this point, whatever thoughts arise are observed with clarity and without grasping or any other intervention. Contem-plative adepts report that quiescence practice commonly leads to experiences of bliss, clarity, and non-conceptuality, but the qualities of quiescence alone are founded on an unstable equilibrium. The attainment of quiescence alone does not enable you to fathom the depths of the mind or sever the root of delu-sion. The profoundly ingrained tendencies of locking onto conceptual frameworks and reification have not been eradi-cated. With quiescence practice alone, these deep habits just become latent. In other words, it is possible to achieve qui-escence, a state of bliss and clarity, in which delusion is not apparent, not because it has been eradicated or overcome, but simply because it has become dormant.
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition reports rare and excep-tional individuals for whom the practice of settling the mind in its natural state alone has been sufficient to attain full awakening. For these few, it is possible to penetrate imme-diately to the absolute nature of the mind. But for most of us quiescence alone is not enough. "Settling the mind in its natural state," which is a quiescence practice, is not enough. It is necessary to vigorously explore the origins of mental events, where they take place, how they dissolve, and then to penetrate the nature of the observer. What is required for most of us is a very rigorous training that includes a phase of active investigation in close dialogue with an ex-perienced spiritual mentor who challenges our habitual tendencies of reification. Most of us need to investigate the deeply rooted belief that there really is a world "out there" and a self "in here" engaging with it. Grasping and reification are extremely tenacious. By progressing in the practice through investigation, in-sight is gained into the nature of awareness itself, and grasping ceases. The stage of penetrating through all con-ceptual frameworks and reification to insight into the pri-mordial nature of awareness is called the "breakthrough." At the point of breakthrough you are ready for the practice encoded in the aphorism "the essential nature of the path is resting in the universal ground." Maitripa, a great Indian mahasiddha, or contemplative adept, summarized breaking through to the universal ground:
All great, all-encompassing realities are primordial, and their L nature is not fabricated. If you do not seek, but settle your mind in the inconceivable absolute space of phenomena, that is meditation. Meditating while seeking entails a deluded state of mind.42 "Meditating while seeking entails a deluded state of mind" is an interesting statement! Maitripa is saying that universal truths are timeless and not contrived by human thought. Insofar as one is seeking, there is a sense of "I am looking for something," which reaffirms the superimposi-tion of the conceptual frameworks of subject/object, this/ that, I/you. In the stage of breakthrough, the conceptual framework of seeking itself is challenged. Maitripa's ad-vice is that there is a point when you need to let go of everything. If you skip the rigors of insight practice and merely abide in the quiescence practice of settling the mind in its natural state, chances are you will hit a low ceiling. But with insight practice, you can penetrate through the sense of division between subject/object and meditator/ object of meditation. Once this barrier is broken through with insight, Maitripa says stop probing. After breaking through to non-conceptual, non-dual awareness, the es-sential nature of the path becomes simply resting in the universal ground.
In the cultivation of quiescence, the relationship between mindfulness and introspection is important. In practice, when you approach the achievement of quiescence, the mind is no longer prone to excitation but is fearlessly calm, stable with vivid clarity. The mind flows single-pointedly like a laser. While in meditation, there is no danger of the mind slipping into laxity. Awareness is directed and focused, effortlessly. At this point, introspection has completed its job and meditation is at a turning point. The mind is func-tional, smooth, free of laxity and excitation. At this point, the intervention of introspection, checking up with "how am I doing now?" becomes an impediment. When quiescence is achieved, relinquish introspection, release grasping so deeply that introspection itself is released. Until this point, continuity of attention could only be sustained with effort, but once quiescence is achieved, you no longer attend to an object—you release it. You release the object you attend to. Many of the themes of quiescence practice are analogous to events that take place in insight practice. However, only insight meditation fully supported with quiescence is radi-cally and irreversibly transformative. In the state referred to as "the universal ground," habitual grasping is released deeper than a state of abeyance; it is completely severed right at the root. In the Dzogchen, or Great Perfection, prac-tice a distinction is made between minor emptiness and great emptiness. This is a crucial distinction. In Dzogchen practice, you probe right into the nature of awareness to observe the observer. What is found is an absence and in that absence there is luminosity, a clarity or limpidity, but no agent, nothing from its own side. You observe an ab-sence of an observer, an absence of an intrinsically existent, self-sufficient observer observing an observed object. The absence of an intrinsic and autonomous observer is called "minor emptiness." It is called "minor" because there is still grasping. What is being grasped onto is the absence of an observer, an absence dependent upon engaging with a conceptual framework. The meditator may not be reifying concepts, but the "absence" is apprehended only within the context of a conceptual framework. When even the no-tion of "emptiness" or "absence" is released, the essential nature of the path is resting in the universal ground. The essential nature of the path is a state of awareness that is beyond the notion of emptiness or non-emptiness; beyond existence or non-existence; beyond past, present, or future, and beyond subject/object. The essential nature of the path is Great Emptiness.
There is another level here. The awareness that suffuses our minds right now, as far from enlightenment as that may seem, is none other than the universal ground. Gyatrul Rinpoche sometimes chided me, saying, "When you were a young man, you went to India, going from one teacher to another. Then you went off to Switzerland, back to India, then to Sri Lanka, then you come here. You are still going here and there. What you don't recognize is that what you are seeking is always with you!" The path to enlightenment has many facets, but the Mind-Training tells us that "the essential nature of the path is resting in the universal ground." The term "universal ground" is my translation of the Sanskrit word alaya and the Tibetan equivalent ktinzhi (kun gzhi). "Kiin" means all, or everything, and "zhi" means basis, or ground. You may be familiar with the Sanskrit term alayavijnana, sometimes translated as "storehouse consciousness," with the term vijnana meaning "consciousness." In the Yogachara school of Buddhist philosophy this refers to the stream of con-sciousness that carries on from lifetime to lifetime, acting as a repository for memories, habitual tendencies, and karmic seeds. That is one meaning of alaya. But that is not the meaning Atisha is referring to here. The great fourth-century Indian Buddhist sage Asanga stated that when quiescence is accomplished, one should relinquish mind-fulness and simply be present in a state of awareness without form, without any sense of subject and object. Here awareness is drawn into itself, disengaged from the senses, a state in which the mind is free of appearances and there is not even a sense of having a body. In this state of quies-cence, the mind is vivid and clear. Quiescence is spacious, serene, without form and substance. Like a mountain cabin in the recesses of your mind, quiescence is a nice place to hang out. The problem is that quiescence in itself is not transformative. Once you have achieved quiescence, you have disengaged from whatever tendencies you have for anger, craving, jealousy. But that is all. Quiescence is ethically neutral, neither virtuous nor non-virtuous, and implicitly conditioned. Quiescence is subliminally structured by your past habitual tendencies that carry on from one lifetime to another. This ongoing consciousness is sometimes called the foundation of samsara, the basis for the cyclic existence of birth, aging, sickness and death, life after life. This is the substrate of the samsaric stream of consciousness that holds the whole show together. But this consciousness is a only a facsimile of that which the Mind-Training refers to as "universal ground." The "universal ground" of this aphorism of the Mind-Train-ing is the ultimate universal ground, the Great Emptiness, which is the foundation of both samsara and nirvana. This "universal ground" is the "one taste" that pervades the
entire phenomenal world and absolute reality. This is the realization of complete openness, natural perfection, and absolute spontaneity, in which one fathoms the falsity of one's previous reification of such dualistic constructs as subject and object. Let me draw a parallel with an analogous type of break-through. At a recent Mind and Life conference with a small group of distinguished physicists, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was struck by the depth of insight physicists have gained by probing into the nature of phenomena, right down to particles of light. One physicist, Anton Zeilinger, described how when he probed deeply, he found that noth-ing existed objectively and independently. Instead, all quantum events arose within the context of a system of measurement. The Dalai Lama was amazed that physicists have so deeply penetrated the nature of phenomena. And this physicist was also amazed that Buddhist contemplatives have come to similar conclusions without the aid of modern science and technology. There are two related meanings of the word "dharma." It often refers to spiritual practice, but it also means simply phenomenon, any phenomenon. Photons are dharmas. The essential nature of phenomena is called in Sanskrit dharmata, meaning "dharma-ness," the very state of being existent, or simply reality-itself. Reality-itself is in the nature of the objects of investigation, and this is where physics goes stunningly deep. Quantum theory addresses profound questions about the nature of reality. Penetrating into the nature of any "dharmas," whether mental processes, im-ages, outer phenomena, atoms, or photons, is to ascertain dharmata—reality-itself. Buddhists also engage in research. Buddhists investigate the mind experientially, probing the nature of mind to dis-cover the nature of the observer. The result is a "not finding."
By investigating the nature of the observer, contemplatives penetrate beyond mind (Sanskrit: chitta) to chittata, or "mindness," the mind-itself, the essential nature of the mind, the very state of being aware. The pursuit of contemplative insight entails probing both the nature of objective phenomena (both mental and physical) and probing inward to discover the nature of the subjective mind. This is the prerequisite to the experience of the breakthrough. "Resting in the universal ground" is a state of awareness in which dharmata and chittata are no longer perceived as distinct from each other. Now one re-alizes that the real nature of objective phenomena has never been separate from the real nature of subjective awareness. This is a universal truth, simply called tathata, or suchness, for it is finally beyond all articulation. The Buddhist expla-nation for the surprising findings of quantum mechanics is that the essential nature of the photon is none other than the essential nature of the mind of the physicist who is prob-ing the essential nature of the photon. The more profoundly we study external phenomena, the more clearly we see the reflections of our own minds. Nothing we conceive or perceive exists independently of our conceptions and perceptions. All subjects and objects arise together, and nothing whatsoever exists independently of the conceptual framework within which it is conceived. This is a radical statement with deep implications. For ex-ample, if nothing has independent existence, not even a photon, how can scientific researchers distinguish between good and bad research? As long as you believe there is something out there, you can assume good research will accurately reveal what is out there. But if there isn't anything really out there existing independently of all conceptual frameworks, are we creating the world of physics as we go along?
If phenomena do not exist independently of the concep-tual framework in which they are identified, does this mean reality is determined by belief? Such radical relativism is the conclusion of neither Buddhist contemplatives nor physicists. There are different domains of relativity. Some-one who is an enemy to me may be a good friend to someone else. Such truths are contingent upon perspective. This re-routes us back to a central issue of Buddhism: reification. Reification is taking something that is true relative to our-selves and believing it to be true independently of ourselves. Just as there are personal truths, there are cultural truths. There are truths in Western culture that don't hold for In-dians or Africans. Until around the mid-twentieth century, anthropologists routinely considered cultures that didn't share Western beliefs to be "primitive." It took decades of exposure to other cultures to realize that many "primitive" cultures operate with a set of assumptions different from our own and have a different basis of rationality. Beyond personal and cultural truths, consider whether there are truths that are dependent on species. A dog's re-ality has a strong olfactory component. To a dog, apples may appear gray, not red. Just as human reality is anthro-pocentric, dog reality must be canine-o-centric. In the Buddhist worldview, with its many types of sentient beings, realities arise in relationship to specific individuals, cultures, and species.
Science attempts to penetrate beyond the limitations of the relative experiences of the individual, culture, and spe-cies to what is really out there. Science discovers laws that can be stated mathematically. When Galileo declared that God speaks in the language of mathematics, he was ex-pressing a belief held by most scientists, then as now, that science penetrates beyond anthropocentric understanding to what is really out there. Buddhism addresses the same question. The Buddhist answer to the question of whether it is possible to enter an unconditioned state of awareness is yes. In accomplishing meditative quiescence, the mind shifts from the physical realm in which experience is dominated by the senses to a realm of archetypal forms, called the "form realm." The form realm is beyond human senses, culture, and condi-tioning, but is accessible while having a human body. This, I expect, is the realm in which the laws, patterns and math-ematical truths of nature exist. The Buddhist claim is that a human being can, by means of deep meditative concentra-tion, access the realm of archetypal forms, and even formless dimensions of boundless space, consciousness, nothing-ness, and a state of being that transcends the concepts of discernment and non-discernment.
As one shifts from personal to cultural to pan-human realities, and even to universal realities in the archetypal realm, all of these realities arise together with a mind that is able to access them. In all of these cases, the tendency is to reify. Mathematical expressions of the laws of nature are reified by the mind that accesses them as if they are inde-pendent of the mind. The Buddhist premise is that neither the constituents of the physical world nor the mathematics of natural laws exist in and of themselves. This doesn't mean that archetypes or mathematical laws of nature are merely concepts of an anthropocentric view of nature. But Bud-dhism claims that it is possible to go even beyond the form realm and the formless realm to the universal ground, which absolutely transcends all conceptual frameworks. This is stated in the Mind-Training as: "The essential nature of the path is to rest in the universal ground." On this theme Padmasambhava declared: Astonishing! The ongoing awareness and clarity called the mind exists, but does not exist even as a single thing. It arises, for it manifests as samsara and nirvana, and as a myriad of joys and sorrows. It is asserted, for it is asserted according to the twelve vehicles. It is a label, for it is named in unimaginable ways. Some people call it the mind-itself. Some non-Buddhists call it the self. The sravakas call it personal identitylessness. The Cittamatrins call it the mind. Some people call it the middle way. Some call it the perfection of wisdom. Some give it the name tathdgatagarbha. Some give it the name Mahamudra. Some give it the name ordinary consciousness. Some call it the sole bindu. Some call it the absolute nature of reality. Some label it the universal ground.*3
Padmasambhava lists some of the many contemplative traditions within Buddhism: sravakas, Cittamatrins, Madhyamikas, and proponents of the tathagatagarbha theory, as well as non-Buddhist schools. He points out that the many names for "the mind" refer to the same reality; many points of view converge toward the same truth. This is analogous to the universal truths of science that are independent of the cultural background of the researcher. Contemplative practice has many parallels to scientific research. Just as scientific investigation leads to knowledge that transcends culturally conditioned beliefs, so does contemplative investigation. In the following passage, Pad-masambhava discusses the universal ground, or essential nature of awareness: To introduce this by pointing it out directly, past consciousness has disappeared without a trace. Moreover, future realization is unarisen, and in the freshness of its own present, unfabricated way of being, there is the ordinary consciousness of the present. When it peers into itself, with this observation there is a vivid-ness in which nothing is seen. This awareness is direct, naked, vivid, unestablished, empty, limpid luminosity, unique, non-dual clarity and emptiness. It is not permanent, but unestablished. It is not nihilistic, but radiantly vivid. It is not one, but is manifoldly aware and clear. It is not manifold, but is indivis-ibly of one taste. It is none other than this very self-awareness. This is a real introduction to the primordial nature of being.44 The primordial nature of being, the essential nature of awareness itself, is without form and yet is neither inert nor static. Padmasambhava challenges us to replicate these findings:
The mind-itself is certainly empty and unestablished. Your mind is intangible like empty space. Is it like that or not? Ob-serve your own mind! Empty and void but without a nihilistic view, self-arisen, primordial wisdom is original, clear consciousness. Self-arisen and self-illuminating, it is like the essence of the sun. Is it like that or not? Observe your own mind! The primordial wisdom of awareness is certainly unceas-ing. Uninterrupted awareness is like the current of a river. Is it like that or not? Observe your own mind!
The dispersing discursive thoughts are certainly not being grasped. This intangible dispersion is like a hazy sky. Is it like that or not? Observe your own mind! Recognize all appearances as self-appearing. Self-appearing phenomena are like reflections in a mirror. Is it like that or not? Observe your own mind! All signs are certainly released in their own state. Self-aris-ing and self-releasing, they are like clouds in the sky. Is it like that or not? Observe your own mind!45 The Seven-Point Mind-Training begins the probe into the nature of reality using the dream analogy. Within the con-text of the dream there is a distinction between self and other that cannot be ignored. This is true in life and death as well. When I die, I will reap the consequences of my karma, not someone else's. Yet, from the perspective of the awakened state we realize that the apparent distinction between self and other is a manifestation of something deeper. It is merely an illusory expression of a primordial state of awareness that transcends all distinctions between self and other. The Buddhist position is that there is a nomi-nal truth of "I" and "you," but there is no transcendent real "I" that is independent from its label. It is the conceptual designation of "I" that evokes a referent, creating the ap-parent discrete qualities of entities.
The Buddhist position is that conventional reality is evoked by the process of conceptual designation. First we designate the self with the sense of "I am," and then the self is reified. William James noted that when we lack a term for something, it is very difficult to engage with it. A label is a vehicle for engaging with its referent. The meditations of the Seven-Point Mind-Training use labels— "minor emp-tiness" and "great emptiness" are examples—to draw out a reality. The Mind-Training goes deeper, however, in probing beyond the labels to dwell in reality itself. Between sessions, be an illusory person.
Phenomena, once investigated, are found to be without permanence or stability and are like illusions. This being realized, the Mind-Training addresses the ongoing challenge of contemplative practice to maintain a seamless connec-tion between meditation and the rest of life. In the aphorism "Between sessions, be an illusory person," the words "be-tween sessions" refer to the post-meditative state, the hours of the day when you are not in formal meditation. The re-maining points of the Mind-Training are critical in helping us protect and nurture the fruit of formal practice during active life. The challenge of contemplative practice is to achieve the greatest possible benefit from the quality of awareness and insight resulting from meditation. Just as polluting the en-vironment and then cleaning it up is like following a big elephant around with a shovel and bucket, meditation can clean up after everyday life. In daily life we get stressed out, circle around in mental afflictions and then a warning light flashes, "Need to meditate." Meditation can get us re-centered and tuned-up so that we can go out and jump in the mud again. In retreat, when one is spending twelve hours a day in formal meditation, the post-meditative state is a small fraction of one's overall time. But when living an engaged and active life, meditating only one or two hours a day, integrating formal practice into daily life is critical. The Mind-Training directly addresses the problem of "be-tween sessions," how to integrate the fruit of formal practice into the rest of life.
The challenge is to integrate practice into life like ad-vanced yogis, so that there is no difference between formal meditation and active life. At the other end of the meditation spectrum is the person who has hardly dipped a pinkie into meditation thinking, "I don't need to meditate. I regard all of life as meditation." It is very difficult to transform one's entire life into meditation if no time is actually spent meditating! By settling the mind in its natural state, a sense of well-being will spring forth from the very nature of awareness, and virtues will arise easily. In meditative stabilization, vir-tue flows unimpeded. Mental afflictions can still arise but, like fish swimming upstream, are easily swept away. There is a reality deeper than quiescence. Probing the nature of awareness leads to recognizing the absence of any subject separate from its environment and, further still, that awareness is conceptually completely unstructured and pri-mordial. Primordial awareness is the straight track to en-lightenment. More accurately, it is enlightened awareness itself. It is none other than your own buddha-mind. If you can constantly ascertain the essential nature of your own mind, you don't need to do any other Dharma practices. However, it is nearly impossible to rest for a sustained pe-riod in buddha-mind, because we have so many habit pat-terns that lead us astray. The core problem again is reification, grasping onto events and ourselves as being in-herently real. The practice of "between sessions, be an illusory person" is extraordinary because it concerns both physical and mental reality. This sequence of practices of the Second Point of the Mind-Training is aimed at the cultivation of ultimate bodhichitta and began with "regard all events as dream-like"—all that looks real consists merely of appearances. When you examine your mind, the real "I" who seems to be engaging in this examination dissolves, leaving an emp-tiness. What remains is simply empty appearance. Now, emerging from formal meditation and entering active life, how will you engage with others? "As if you were an illusory being" dwelling in an illusory environment.
The entire environment we perceive around us arises, in part, in dependence upon our sense faculties. The environ-ment we experience does not truly exist "out there." Sight is dependent upon visual faculties, hearing is dependent upon auditory faculties, and tactile sensations depend on nerve endings. Psychologically, all that we experience is dependent upon ourselves. We do not experience anything purely objectively. The arising and perceiving of experience is co-emergent between ourselves and the world around us. Yet, the deep belief persists that the world really exists "out there" now and eons before we were born. The Buddhist hypothesis extends beyond the psychologi-cal. The Buddhist hypothesis is this: that which is perceived arises in dependence upon the perception of it. Things are empty of independent, inherent existence. What appears to exist "out there" is empty of objective existence from its own side. This does not mean that nothing exists apart from our perceptions. Rather, it means that by probing the nature of existence of anything we experience perceptually or con-ceptually, we find that nothing exists by its own indepen-dent nature. Another way of phrasing this is that appearance extends all the way down to the root and there is nothing beyond the appearances. Appearances extend down to quarks; nothing is there purely objectively and nothing is there purely subjectively. This is the Buddhist hypothesis. In A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Shantideva raises a serious qualm regarding the Madhyamaka view, which is the view of the Seven-Point Mind-Training, that it is pos-sible to realize the illusory nature of something and still crave it.46 For example, when you're watching a movie, you may know perfectly well that what you are watching is an illusion, but you may still become afraid when someone is about to get killed. Knowing a movie is fiction doesn't inhibit any of the emotions of fear, joy, sorrow, or lust. Mental af-flictions as well as positive emotions continue to arise even when we are aware that something is an illusion.
Shantideva discusses this problem using a simile relevant in eighth-century India—illusionists who created appari-tions with the power of their samadhi, magical substances, and mantras. Recall the parable of the prince who forgot his true identity when he became entranced by an illusionist. Shantideva's dialogue challenges the Madhyamaka posi-tion by noting that when a magician conjures up a beautiful woman, his subject may feel craving for her even while knowing that she is an apparition. Using a modern example, the realization that TV is "just an illusion" doesn't prevent us from getting angry, afraid, or filled with desire when we watch it. Shantideva's response to this qualm is that simply hav-ing a glimpse of emptiness, some fleeting experience of the illusory nature of phenomena, will not eradicate mental af-flictions because of the tremendous power of our habitual response patterns. This points once again to the necessity of achieving quiescence as a foundation for the cultivation of insight. The tendency of reification continues on by the powerful momentum of habit even when we know for cer-tain that what we are dealing with is an illusion. When we see something attractive, our mind reflexively grasps. Shantideva points out that realizing emptiness once or twice is not enough. A bit of insight into the illusory nature of phenomena will not eliminate mental afflictions. What is necessary to eradicate afflictions at their root is to become more and more accustomed to realizing emptiness. Only drenching yourself in the awareness of emptiness will gradually erode the underlying habits resulting in attachment and aversion.
In his book Natural Liberation, Padmasambhava describes the dream yoga technique of the "impure illusory body."47 This pertains to the aphorism "between sessions be an illu-sory person." The impure illusory body practice is seeing your own body and that of others as being nothing more than matrices of appearances, displays having no substantial reality. Padmasambhava describes the "the mirror practice" for overcoming the reified sense of "I" that becomes of-fended or hurt: Dress attractively and stand in front of a mirror. Imagine that you are young and attractive. If you are a woman, say to yourself in the mirror, "You are drop-dead gorgeous!" If you are a man say, "You are ruggedly handsome!" Lather it on. Imagine other people praising your physical appearance. Observe if this elicits something like happiness in you. Observe carefully and then immedi-ately turn in and try to observe that which is thinking, "I like this." Then do the opposite. Look your worst and say to yourself in the mirror, "You are disgusting." Imagine other people being abusive to you. Again, immediately turn in and observe that which is hurt and thinks, "I don't like this." In the mirror practice, your goal is to elicit something and then try to identify its target. The object is to recognize that the target is in fact no more substantial than the reflec-tion in the mirror. Padmasambhava elaborates further, pointing out that what we take as a real and substantial self is merely a matrix of dependency related events and, apart from delusive appearances, there is no real body, no real mind, no real per-son. Delusive appearances seem to be substantial from their own side. When you investigate, whether as a quantum physicist or as a Buddhist meditator, you discover that the substance that was expected to be there is not found. The meditator dwells in the awareness that things appear more substantial than they are.
The Seven-Point Mind-Training practice of "between ses-sions, be an illusory person" tells us to imagine the body as being like an illusory apparition throughout the day. Imag-ine your own and others' speech to be like echoes. If you are standing next to a canyon and someone a hundred yards away shouts an obscenity to someone on the far side, but the echo comes back to you, you know not to take it per-sonally. It is devoid of content, a voice merely ricocheted off a rock face. There is no substance to the event itself and there is no target. The practice of living as if you were an illusory being is to maintain this awareness throughout the day so that even if people speak in an offensive way, there is no target. All speech is like an echo. All mental events are like a mirage, with no corresponding objective reality. Mental events that seem real, memories that torture us, thoughts that unnerve us, images that frighten us affect the mind as they do only because we grasp onto them as being real. Instead, practice regarding mental events as mere appearances, in which case there is no basis upon which mental afflictions can arise. Padmasambhava sums up the practice of living as if you were an illusory being by emphasizing that the most pow-erful corrosive to the armor of Dharma practice is the reification of the eight mundane concerns: seeking material acquisitions and avoiding their loss, seeking pleasurable stimuli and avoiding unpleasant ones, seeking praise and avoiding blame, maintaining a good reputation and avoid-ing a bad one. The sign of a mature Dharma practitioner is the equalization of these eight mundane concerns. Every transformative path emphasizes the importance of equal-izing these four dichotomies until they become of one taste. There is another interpretation of the line, "between ses-sions be an illusory person." The practice I have just described is called the "impure illusory body" because it presents an ontological challenge to the reality in which we participate, showing it to be matrices of dependency related events. This practice is called "impure" to distinguish it from an-other "illusory body" practice, "cultivating the pure illusory body."48
The practice of the "pure illusory body" can't be accom-plished with intelligence alone. The heart of this practice entails the cultivation of a vision of all physical appear-ances as being embodiments of enlightened consciousness. Everything mental, verbal, and physical is experienced as being the continuous flow of nothing other than the Buddha's mind, speech, and body. The intellectual objection to this practice concerns the lack of evidence that this is the actual nature of reality. Great Buddhist intellects such as Nagarjuna and Tsongkhapa have battering-ram syllogisms as powerful tools to pulverize reification. But there is no syllogism that demonstrates that everything is buddha-mind. There are many things that we believe because we per-ceive them. But what is the experiential evidence that all forms are none other than forms of the Buddha, all sounds none other than the speech of the Buddha, and that all that arises in the mind is none other than the creative play of primordial awareness? This is not what we see when we look around us. The practice of the "pure illusory body" is based neither on logic nor on ordinary perception. The practice of the "pure illusory body" is based on primordial wisdom.
Within each of us, there is a capacity for the intuitive af-firmation of truths deeper than surface appearances, truths not dependent on sensory confirmation. What allows for this intuitive affirmation is primordial awareness. The prac-tice of the pure illusory body affirms the presence of bud-dhas everywhere. Practicing the pure illusory body is rec-ognizing that the wisdom, compassion, and power of the buddhas is present and active in every moment. How would reality ideally present itself so that one could swiftly attain enlightenment? The blessing and power of all the buddhas is saturating us inside and out at every moment. At the same time, we are preoccupied with the eight mun-dane concerns thinking, "I didn't get as much money as I deserve ... This is all his fault..." and so forth. After a while, we die. We missed our opportunity to attend to the bless-ings of the buddhas. The view of the practice of the pure illusory body is that the buddhas are always trying to get our attention and bring us to enlightenment. We fail to pay attention. William James said that what we attend to becomes our reality. Samsara never wears out. We are deeply habituated to perceiving everything that happens to us as either good or bad fortune, and if we attend to the eight mundane con-cerns, they become our reality. In the meantime, we could be on a fast track to enlightenment. The view of the prac-tice of the pure illusory body is to recognize that every single moment offers the best which all the buddhas have to offer. This is as good as it gets, right now.
Recall the man who thought that he was a kangaroo. The man who was hypnotized into believing he was a kangaroo might imagine himself as a human being in order to realize his true identity. Similarly, we deeply believe we are real, suffering individuals with limitations, and we can use the power of imagination to work out of this delusion. Exam-ine appearances and concepts, recognize them, dissolve them. Recognize that there is no core identity, no intrinsic individual who is limited, suffering and deluded. In the absence of intrinsic ego imagine, "I am perfectly awakened here and now." The practice of "the pure illusory body" is also called "pure perception" and is accomplished by the power of imagination. The practice of pure perception is effective when it is prac-ticed a lot. In pure perception, look beyond the surface and imagine that other people are none other than expressions of buddha-mind. We can choose to focus on positive at-tributes. What we attend to becomes our reality and if we attend to the buddhas in situations, in things, in other people, it is the buddhas we engage with and the reality of the buddhas that becomes our reality. Using imagination to perceive reality is a paradoxical con-cept, so I'll elaborate with a couple of examples. How does the practice of pure perception apply in marriage—in what way is a husband an illusion? In a Buddhist context, "illu-sion" is an ontological description and does not diminish the value of the person or relationship. What "illusion" means is that you, the other person, and the relationship do not exist as independent, self-sufficient, autonomous little globules of reality. "Illusion" means entities are ap-pearances and there is no concrete reality behind the appearances.
When samsara, ordinary existence with all its ups and downs, is viewed as just appearances, the question arises whether appearances themselves have meaning or value. There is no logic or empirical evidence to answer this ques-tion. It can only be answered by engaging in dialogue with our own primordial wisdom. I will relate an event from my life. When I was twenty years old and trying to make sense of existence, I came across a book on Dzogchen by Evans-Wentz entitled The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation. This was my introduc-tion to Buddhism and it zapped me. I wanted to trace it to its source. At the time, I was hitchhiking in Norway and wrote in my journal, "I've got to seek guidance from a wise old man," the archetype of wisdom for me at that time. The next morning, I started hitchhiking and ended up in the wilderness between Bergen and Oslo. Nobody picked me up for four or five hours. Finally, I gave up and walked against the current of the traffic, dangling my thumb be-hind me. A black VW driven by a little old man pulled over. I threw my guitar and backpack in the back seat and hopped in. Within five minutes I learned that he was a Buddhist monk named Sugata—there couldn't have been more than a handful of Buddhist monks in all of Europe at the time— and that he had lived in Nepal with Tibetans. We became good friends and corresponded for years. It is perfectly legitimate to interpret this encounter as a coincidence. However, my intuition says that this wasn't one isolated, remarkable, amazing event. My intuition says that if I clear the dust off my eyes, I will see everyday events that are just as powerful and meaningful. All of life, every day, all the time is designed to bring us to enlightenment if that's what we're seeking. Appearances are suffused with utterly magnificent meaning. The Buddhist rationale legitimizing the use of imagination is that everything exists in dependence upon conceptual designation. We influence the reality we experience by choosing what we engage with and how we engage with it. What we attend to and how we attend to it determine the nature of the reality that rises to meet us.
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition it is said that when those who have purified their minds look at their environment, they view a Pure Realm, a domain that is none other than a creation of the mind of the buddhas. One Buddhist belief is that it is possible to take rebirth in a realm that is a figment of the Buddha's imagination, where one can continue prac-ticing Dharma and attain enlightenment. If you suspect that you may not attain enlightenment in this lifetime, belief in Pure Realms provides a very attractive safety net. How-ever, if you perfect the practice of pure perception in this life, wherever you are at any time, now or after death, is none other than a Pure Realm. There is another approach to the illusory body practice. If you look for evidence of the blessings of the buddhas but see only samsara, if you are unable to affirm the primordial wisdom latent within you, apply yourself to the continued cultivation of virtue. By gradually purifying the mind, cultivating virtue, the dust is cleared off the eyes. By culti-vating virtue and purifying the mind, primordial wisdom will gradually emerge into the bright light of consciousness. The aphorism of the Mind-Training is, "Between sessions, be an illusory person." Another analogy is found in dream yoga. In a lucid dream, you regard yourself as being present. People can hear you speak. You can touch them. In a lucid dream this is recognized as only an appearance; there is nothing real, no substance, no real "I." In dream yoga prac-tice, the stage beyond learning to transform the contents of the dream is letting the dream be. It is just a dream. Bud-dhist experience in dream yoga shows that transforming dream contents can catalyze the material of the psyche on deep levels. Dredging the depths of the mind brings up impurities, from this lifetime or past lifetimes. When the subconscious starts getting dredged, Buddhists warn us to be prepared for a roller coaster ride of incredibly vivid
nightmares. In the practice of letting the dream be, when a cobra is about to bite your neck, don't do anything, even though as a lucid dreamer, you could. Don't do anything. Let the dream be, and let the cobra sink its fangs into your neck, knowing full well that there is no one who is harmed because you are dreaming. The cobra is not real either. Whether you are being pushed into a fire or over a cliff, let the dream be. Use the power of insight to release yourself to the things that scare you most deeply. You are not harmed. This enormous breakthrough occurs in the dream-state while cultivating awareness with intelligence. In your waking state, however, don't walk in front of a speeding truck unless, by the power of your waking-state medita-tion, you can transform that truck into a marshmallow, as you can in a lucid dream.
There is a close analogy between lucid dreaming and the practice of living as if you were an illusory being. In a lucid dream, while perfectly aware that you are dreaming, you can engage with events while recognizing that they have no substance. Nothing is reified. This same awareness can be brought into every-day life. Observe that in situations in which you become upset or start craving something, invariably the objects of your attention have been decontextualized. In these situations, subjective input is being ignored and the offending situation, act, or person, appears in isolation. Since nothing exists in isolation, this is delusion. This may be the way reality appears, but this is not the way reality actually is.
A frequent theme of Dzogchen practice is "all things ap-pear but are non-existent." All these things around us, including myself, appear. When you investigate their ac-tual nature, you discover there is no essence to be found. This is the meaning of "between sessions be an illusory person." This point marks a watershed in the Seven-Point Mind-Training. The emphasis so far has been on developing meditative quiescence and contemplative insight, gaining greater understanding into the nature of objective reality and of awareness itself. If this is all you ever knew about Buddhism, you would be left with a very unbalanced im-pression. So far I have only discussed one of the two primary aspects of Tibetan Buddhist practice, the cultivation of insight, or ultimate bodhichitta. According to Buddhist tradition, one must realize the nature of reality to attain liberation. But wisdom alone is not enough. As His Holi-ness the Dalai Lama has cautioned, if your spiritual practice includes only the kinds of practices discussed so far, you may be derailed into an indifferent state of disengaged, uncaring, and isolated inner peace.
The remaining points of the Mind-Training are aimed at complementing and integrating the wisdom of ultimate bodhichitta with the compassion of relative bodhichitta. These remaining points show how to transform all moti-vations into the highest motivation of achieving spiritual awakening for the benefit of all sentient beings. The remain-ing points provide practical guidance for life, how to speak and act throughout the course of the day and night so that your entire life supports spiritual practice. Just as medita-tive practice flows into life, giving it depth, meaning, joy, wisdom, and compassion, so life can support meditative practice. With the next aphorism, the Mind-Training begins to balance the cultivation of wisdom with the cultivation of compassion. Alternately practice giving and taking. With the simple line, "Alternately practice giving and tak-ing," the Mind-Training begins its second major theme, the cultivation of relative bodhichitta. Investigating the nature of the mind and other phenomena develops ultimate bodhichitta, the remedy for the delusion at the root of samsara. Wisdom, or ultimate bodhichitta, is one aspect of enlightenment; relative bodhichitta, stemming from loving-kindness and compassion, is the other. The practice of giving and taking, known in Tibetan as tonglen, is the first of several practices in the Mind-Training designed to cultivate relative bodhichitta.
During his travels in Tibet, Atisha was occasionally known to express a touch of irony. Atisha was a scholar from the sophisticated civilization of classical India, who lived the final seventeen years of his life in rough, wild, and backward Tibet. Buddhism had been introduced to Tibet in the seventh century but had degenerated to a con-siderable extent by the time he was invited there by the Tibetan King Yeshe O. While many Tibetans expressed their deep admiration for bodhichitta, Atisha noted that this al-truistic aspiration for enlightenment was often reduced to a mere liturgy. This led him to make the ironic comment that only Tibetans know how to develop the spirit of awak-ening, bodhichitta, without cultivating loving-kindness and compassion. Modern Buddhists may heed this same cau-tionary note. The fruit of authentic bodhichitta arises only from the fertile soil of the prior cultivation of the "four immeasurables": loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity.49 A central theme of Buddhism concerning the relation-ship between the practices of relative and ultimate bodhichitta is: "Wisdom without skillful means is bond-age. Skillful means without wisdom is bondage." The central element of "skillful means" is compassion. This is a critical point, especially for Westerners. When we begin Buddhist practice, we tend to go whole-hog for the powerful insight practices that have no counterpart in Christianity, Judaism, Islam or in Western philosophy or science. It is easy to go overboard on the wisdom side of Buddhist practice. It happens in Zen. In Theravada prac-tice, the overwhelming emphasis is on insight practice, or vipassana. A Tibetan Buddhist practice based exclusively on Dzogchen or Mahamudra also becomes unbalanced. The Buddha's warning about cultivating insight alone is that wisdom without skillful means is bondage. With rare ex-ceptions, the cultivation of wisdom alone will not lead to enlightenment. At worst, it becomes a dead end.
In other spiritual traditions, Christianity for example, the cultivation of love and service is very much in the fore-front. Altruism is considered a noble quality, and in the secular world many people place a high priority on being of service to others. Yet, people in service professions are especially prone to emotional burn-out. Buddha's analysis of this problem was, "Skillful means without wisdom is bondage"—altruism needs to be balanced with insight and wisdom. An imbalance of either compassion or wisdom results in bondage. Serving others without a deep source of wisdom and insight to draw upon will lead to exhaustion. Alter-nately, pursuing wisdom without cultivating compassion will lead to a disengaged, self-centered barrenness, another kind of burn-out. Buddhists speak of both renunciation and compassion as virtues. These two terms may seem antithetical to each other, but they are actually closely related. Fifteen minutes of watching the evening news is enough to make one feel that the problems of the world are so overwhelming that one might just as well not do anything. Giving up, or with-drawing, is not what Buddhists mean by renunciation. The attitude, "Everything is rotten so I'm going to leave the world behind and become a buddha," leads to a deep chill. The deep chill can happen in the Zen, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhist practice; no tradition has a monopoly on unbal-anced practitioners.
There is a danger of lack of balance also in the practice of meditative quiescence. Imagine achieving quiescence. There is a sense of physical well-being, a nice feeling in the heart, the mind is serene—as long as nobody interferes. This is the slippery slope of quietism, an extreme state in which happiness arises only when no one is bugging you. I once read about a Christian mystic who had fused his breathing with the Jesus Prayer. Hour after hour, day after day, month after month, he saturated his mind with the Jesus Prayer. As long as he recited the prayer, bliss arose. When he be-came very adept in this practice, he found he no longer wanted to deal with people at all because they interfered with his bliss. In Buddhism, this is called the extreme of quietism. Balance is the central theme of the Seven-Point Mind-Training. Enlightenment has two wings, wisdom and compassion. With only one wing, either wing, you fly around in circles, if you get off the ground at all.
Buddhist teachings are described as non-theistic because they don't subscribe to the notion of a creator god separate from creation. Nevertheless, when the Buddha was asked how one can become one with God, he didn't answer, "There is no God! Attain nirvana!" Instead, he encouraged the questioner to cultivate the four immeasurables, also called the four "divine abidings" of loving-kindness, com-passion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. Developing these four is an indispensable, direct foundation for cultivating relative bodhichitta. The first immeasurable opening of the heart is loving-kindness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has often remarked, "My religion is cultivating a good heart." The theme of culti-vating a good heart is described in many ways in Buddhist teachings. In 1997, I served as an interpreter for a Mind and Life conference with the Dalai Lama and a group of distinguished physicists. Throughout the five days of the meeting, we discussed such fascinating topics as quantum physics, the space-time continuum, space particles, the big bang, and the expansion of the universe. At the end of the five-day meeting, His Holiness concluded, "I was very happy to spend this time with you. In reality, what is most important is to have a good heart." And these brilliant physicists agreed!
His Holiness often points out that debates about the exist-ence of a creator god, buddha-nature, the inherent existence of phenomena, and whether the nature of the world is du-alistic or not, all lead to endless discussions. No matter what realization people have, there will always be disagreement on certain subjects. There will never be a time when repre-sentatives from all the world's religions and philosophies meet and agree on the big topics of philosophical and meta-physical doctrine, let alone the smaller points. However, there is one thing on which there is agreement among religious and secular people all over the world: the value of loving-kindness and compassion. Who disagrees? No one. Loving-kindness and compassion are at the heart of spiritual practice. There is a big difference between loving-kindness and attachment. They are at odds with each other, and this re-quires some close attention because they are routinely conflated. The confusion arises because in the West "love" often refers to attachment, one of the three core afflictions in Buddhism. But "love" is also sometimes used synony-mously with "loving-kindness," a primary Buddhist virtue.
Buddhists often use the term "loving-kindness" instead of simply "love," recognizing the confusion between the virtue and the affliction. I've heard people say that they love their mother, spouse, friends, children, the beach, sunny weather, their homes, and their vehicles. What is the common denominator? Should we cultivate all these kinds of love? Buddhists carefully distinguish between the "love" of loving-kindness, the virtue, and the "love" of attachment, which is an affliction and a root cause of misery and conflict throughout the world. Conflating the two is like mistaking a spoonful of dirt for a spoonful of medicine. Loving-kindness is the heartfelt yearning for the well-being and happiness of others, based upon a similar yearning for oneself. Loving-kindness is concern for a sub-ject with feelings, a subject who, like oneself, can be hurt or gladdened, a subject who wants to find happiness and be free of suffering. In Buddhist terminology, you cannot have loving-kindness for a motorcycle unless you believe it is a sentient being. Having loving-kindness for chocolate, weather, situations, locations or any other inanimate entity is deluded.
Loving-kindness is for sentient beings only. When I look at someone, he appears to my mind as an object. Loving-kindness is not for objects. How can I have loving-kindness for sentient beings when they appear as objects? Loving-kindness arises when there is empathy. I can't empa-thize with objects as such, because they don't feel anything. Objects only have a surface dimension, so it is natural only to like or dislike objects. Sentient beings have a dimension of experiencing that makes them subjects. As you attend to your own feelings, your own subjective desire to find hap-piness and be free of suffering, you realize you are not alone. Sentient beings are all in the same boat with the same bottom line: all of us, as subjects, want to find happiness. Loving-kindness, based on empathetic understanding, is only for subjects. When you are engaging with a subject, recogniz-ing the subjective dimension of another sentient being, only then can there be loving-kindness.
Attachment is for objects. Attachment involves focusing on an object's surface, a chocolate surface, a car surface, a woman surface, a man surface. Attachment isn't concerned about its object's dimension of subjectivity. Attachment plus projection is the source of a lot of what is mistaken for love. Infatuation occurs when there is a projection of desirable qualities upon an object, resulting in an investment of self. This same process disempowers oneself because happiness is projected outside onto an object of attachment. A house, job, bank account, girlfriend—if any of these are lost, there goes happiness. But our happiness is never in an object, never outside us. Happiness is a state of mind. When we create an idealization of something, accentuating the posi-tive, pumping up the neutral, ignoring the negative, this is, unfortunately, called love.
A human being—an immensely complex, multi-dimen-sional phenomenon made up of feelings, desires, hopes, fears, personal history—who becomes the object of infatu-ation is flattened to a surface: "This person (my loved one), gives me happiness. The figure, the face, the voice... so attractive. I have to have it." This is attachment. Attachment operates with the motivation of finding self-gratification in an object. How does attachment express itself? To a mo-torcycle: "I own you." To a person: "I love you." Attach-ment is totally self-centered and engages with objects for one's own satisfaction. The early stages of attachment may be happy, but later there is disappointment as projections weaken and idealization wears thin. Given time, the ob-ject of infatuation appears changed, even disagreeable. Aversion sets in and you can't stand the former loved one. Aversion, like attachment, is also deluded. Attachment is the most subversive mental affliction be-cause it easily takes on the guise of something genuinely good—loving-kindness. We revere people who emanate genuine loving-kindness. Attachment is the pretense of loving-kindness. Attachment is very tricky. Geshe Rabten told me how to test for attachment in re-lationships, whether friendships, family, or romantic.
Relationships are complex. Most are based on more than just attachment, but few relationships involve pure, un-conditional love, without any attachment whatsoever. Therefore, most of our relationships are a mixture of love and attachment. The reason there is anxiety in relationships is not because there is so much love, but because there is so much attachment. The test of love versus attachment can be done when you perceive that a person you love changes for the worse. What happens? If the love is genuine, feel-ings of love grow stronger. If the love was really attachment, there is withdrawal. A friend of mine told me that just before he and his former wife called it quits, they were sitting across from each other at the breakfast table. He was irritated and resentful as he glared over his newspaper, thinking, "You are supposed to be giving me happiness and you are not doing it!" She was very likely thinking the same thing. This was attachment.
Since I was a monk for fourteen years, I am frequently asked to compare attachment to love and asked how to de-velop loving-kindness without attachment. Immeasurable loving-kindness includes everyone, without a sense of some people being closer to you and some farther away. That sounds possible in principle for a monk living in a monastery, but how can you—or should you—possibly avoid having a special sense of closeness to your family? Happily, there is a non-monastic approach to the culti-vation of loving-kindness. One of my Tibetan mentors, the late Tara Rinpoche, a wonderful Tibetan lama who became a monk when he was a child, vividly clarified the strategy for cultivating loving-kindness in lay life. This strategy is a bit different from that of a monk. The lay strategy is to be-gin with the affection you feel for loved ones, and refine it, just as you might refine gold. In the beginning stages, the chances are that our relationships are a mixture of attach-ment and genuine love. We want something from the other person: happiness, fulfillment, affection, and these hopes and expectations are an indication of attachment, dealing with objects. But we also truly care about the other person's well-being. So the Buddhist challenge is to nurture genu-ine loving-kindness in such relationships and purify it by gradually diminishing the affliction of attachment, which results in less conflict, misery, and anxiety in our relation-ships. As your love for your own children, for example, becomes more and more unconditional, extend that love to your children's friends, their parents, and finally extend this loving-kindness out to all beings. Recall again William James's principle that what we at-tend to becomes our reality. We have a choice about what we attend to in our relationships. Do you want to attend to others' defects and mistakes? By selective attention, we can find that the object of our attachment becomes less desirable. Alternately, we can attend to the humanness, the subjectiv-ity of the other person and those qualities we admire, and this will naturally lead to increased appreciation and affection.
Virtually all our relationships start out as a mixture of attachment and genuine love, a mix that gives rise to a lot of unnecessary suffering and anxiety. The lay approach to cultivating loving-kindness is to sift out attachment and purify loving-kindness. This process then can extend to other relationships that are less intimate. In fact, there is no real difference between people close to us and people we don't know. As you develop unconditional love for your children, you realize other children also want to find hap-piness and be free of suffering. Start with the mix of love and attachment, purify it, and expand out in all directions, like water flowing evenly over an alluvial plain. In A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Shantideva prays, "May I be a protector for those who are without protectors, a guide for travelers, and a boat, a bridge, and a ship for those who wish to cross over."50 By following this bodhisattva ideal, you become the unknown friend of everyone you meet.
The distinction between loving-kindness and attachment is enormous. Attachment is an affliction. Loving-kindness is a crucial aspect of spiritual awakening. The Meditative Cultivation of Loving-kindness The cultivation of loving-kindness is taught in many ways in the Buddhist tradition. I will describe one technique based upon the writings of the fifth-century Indian Bud dhist sage Buddhaghosa.51 This meditation should be prac ticed after the usual preparation of sitting in an appropriate posture, taking three cleansing breaths, and cultivating meditative stability, for example by counting twenty-one breaths. < The first step of this practice is to reflect upon the antithesis of loving-kindness, which is anger and hatred. In a non-moralistic way, consider the repercussions of these afflictions. Anger is draining; it takes effort. In retrospect, anger rarely seems justified, nor is it usually effective in solving prob-lems. When you stand back, you see that what you seek is happiness and that what you want to do is solve problems. The Buddha's comment on hatred was, "Hatred never ceases through hatred: hatred ceases through love; this is an eternal law."52 In this phase of the meditation, investi-gate the effects and efficacy of anger for getting what you want. As the Dalai Lama often comments, "If you must be self-centered, at least be intelligent about it!" The most direct method for bringing an end to anger is cultivating loving-kindness. The next phase of the practice is to bring forth the yearning: "At all times, regardless of circumstances, may I be free of anger, hatred, and all vari-eties of aggression and malice." To bring more power to this meditation, imagine that your yearning has come to fulfillment right now. Imagine encountering situations that have aroused anger in the past and imagine responding to them without anger.
In this meditation, use wholesome desire focused on the well-being of others and yourself to empower imagination. Bring forth the yearning: "May I be free of all mental afflic-tions." Bring forth the yearning: "Regardless of the situation, may I not fall into the trap of afflictions, but simply deal with the situation free of anxiety, with intelligence and ef-fectiveness." Imagine this to be true right now. Bring forth the desire to be free of the attachment that gives rise to fear and anxiety. Imagine being free of all fear and anxiety in the present, past, and future. Imagine being free of the attachment that gives rise to fear right now. The next phase of the meditation is to bring forth your most meaningful aspirations and envision a life that would be truly one of fulfillment, happiness, and meaning. Allow the wish to find genuine happiness to arise. Imagine being truly well and happy regardless of the external circum-stances. Imagine right now that your deepest yearnings have been fulfilled.
Now bring to mind a living person whom you admire. Contemplate this person's qualities that inspire admiration. With this person in mind, bring forth the yearning: "May you, like myself, be free of all anger, resentment, and hatred, and abide in serenity, without the turbulence of mental af-flictions." Imagine that it is so. As you wish to be free of anger and find happiness, wish this also for the person you admire. Let the field of your awareness embrace all the people in your immediate environment with the thought: "May you, like myself, be free of all suffering and be well and happy." Imagine this to be so for each person. Expand your awareness to the surrounding community, to thousands of people, each with desires for happiness, each wishing to be free of suffering, just like yourself. Continue to gently expand your awareness in all directions, extending to all sentient beings on earth, who all have in common the wish for happiness and the wish to avoid suffering, the thought, "May each one be well and happy." Imagine this to be so. This concludes the meditative cultivation of loving-kindness.
Loving-kindness is an especially valuable practice for West-erners, especially Americans, who tend to specialize in self-deprecation. In 1990,I was interpreting for another Mind and Life meeting with the Dalai Lama and a group of cog-nitive scientists. The vipassana teacher Sharon Salzberg was also one of the participants, and she asked His Holiness about the validity of cultivating loving-kindness for one-self. She commented that she had found this practice very useful in teaching Westerners, for many of us suffer from low self-esteem, self-denigration, and the feeling that we are not even deserving of happiness. There was a long dis-cussion back and forth until it became apparent that the Dalai Lama had a hard time fathoming what we Western-ers meant by "self-effacement, lack of self-esteem, self-hatred, self-contempt"! It seemed to take a long time for him to understand these Western afflictions, and in the course of this conversation he learned the meaning of a word that has no equivalent in Tibetan: "guilt." When he learned the nature of these psychological maladies and their prevalence in the modern West, he finally concluded, "In answer to your initial question about beginning the culti-vation of loving-kindness directed toward oneself, and whether this has a place in Buddhist practice, yes it does." And he burst into laughter.53
Loving-kindness should be directed first toward oneself. If there is no loving-kindness toward oneself, the chance of experiencing genuine loving-kindness for others is remote. The Buddha put it this way, "One who loves himself will never harm another."54 Focus first upon yourself, wishing, "May I be free of animosity, affliction, and anxiety. May I live happily." Using the power of your desire, imagine it is so. Next, gradually expand the field of your concern so that at no time is there any hypocrisy. The Christian injunction, "Love your enemy," is very difficult. Buddhism's "Love those who harm you" is just as tough. If you try too soon to bring forth loving-kindness for those who have wounded you or your loved ones, the effect will be very weak or you may simply succumb to hypocrisy. Therefore, the traditional formula used in this meditation starts with loving your-self. Bring forth acceptance and affection for yourself and then extend it to another person, recalling that person's kindness and his or her virtues that inspire affection and admiration. Bring forth the same wish with an underlying empathy—"like myself, so with you." After you consider yourself, bring to mind a dearly loved friend and cultivate the same thoughts of loving-kindness. Then consider a person you know but toward whom you are indifferent. Regard this person now as you do your loved and admired friend. With loving-kindness wish and imagine: "May you be happy." Finally, consider a hostile person as you did the indifferent person, and extend lov-ing-kindness to him also. In this way, meditate repeatedly until the barriers among the categories of friend, neutral person, and hostile person vanish. This is the meaning of "immeasurable" loving-kindness.
The final phase of this practice applies to a person you consider an enemy. This is difficult. In Buddhism, "enemy" does not refer to a person you hate. An enemy is a person who you feel is your adversary, who wishes you harm. An enemy is a person who would be happy if you got hit by a truck or at least lost your reputation. In this practice, when you focus on an enemy, this is a person who may have harmed you, taken advantage of you, slandered you, or a person who is going after something you have or want. The practice is to wish that person happiness. If you wish to develop unconditional love, practice until all the distinc-tions between dear friend, casual friend, stranger, and enemy dissolve. When you meet resistance in this practice, be honest. It is easy to feel loving-kindness for some people, but for oth-ers, no way. When you bring a person to mind, there may be fear, dread, contempt, anger, some feeling diametrically opposed to loving-kindness. The mind might just stop. This is a universal problem and you have to backtrack to deal with it. To break down this habituation, dissolve the cari-cature of the enemy by recalling his or her inoffensive qualities of behavior. When we focus on a person as being contemptible, we tend to focus on just afflictions and mis-deeds. But no one is devoid of good qualities altogether. When we view a person as 100% disgusting, nothing else, we feel justified in our contempt. When we feel aversion, we tend to edit the big picture down to a cartoon. But no-body is a cartoon. To dissolve the cartoon, attend closely. There is more going on.
An enemy is a person who has harmed us or those we love, intentionally or not, by cheating, abuse, deceit. If our response is hatred, the enemy wins. The enemy wants to do damage, and if our response is to contort our hearts in anger, the effect of the enemy's action is compounded. The person who wishes us harm should be very satisfied if he not only got us with the first punch of his aggression, but doubles his score with our self-inflicted resentment. In the long run, our own anger and resentment cause us greater suffering than any damage inflicted by someone else. When our response is hate, our enemy has hit a home run. On the other hand, we can stop the game and say, "You have of-fered me the gift of your hatred, but I choose not to accept." This is possible. After an encounter with an enemy, the hurt that contin-ues is not due to the damage he inflicted. The enemy has a life and eventually will go off to do something else. After an encounter with an enemy, the source of ongoing suffer-ing is the true enemy, anger. Shantideva writes, "Enemies such as craving and hatred are without arms, legs, and so on. They are neither courageous nor wise. How is it that they have enslaved me?"55 Of all mental afflictions, there is none more virulent and pernicious than anger.
Anger, the true enemy, is a special case. Anger deludes us because it nearly always seems to be justified. The fault always seems to belong to someone else. Some people who have suffered great adversity provide inspiration and guid-ance in dealing with anger. Palden Gyatso, who spent thirty-three years in concentration camps in Tibet being tortured and starved, told me, "The Communists took my life. They got me when I was a young man, took the heart of my life. Now I am an old man and will die soon." Yet he said this without hatred. When I interpreted for him dur-ing a demonstration outside the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, he called up to the gray walls and closed shut-ters, "What are you afraid of? Come out and speak with us. We wish you no harm. We don't hate you!" How could he say, "We don't hate you," after thirty-three years in a concentration camp? Palden Gyatso sees events in a context broader than the personal events of a single life.56 The Buddha described the benefits of cultivating loving-kindness in this way: One sleeps in comfort, wakes in comfort, and dreams no evil dreams. One is dear to human and non-human beings, deities guard one; fire, poison and weapons do not affect one; one's mind is easily concentrated; the expression on one's face is se-rene; and one dies unconfused. Even if one achieves nothing higher, one will be reborn in the Brahma World.57
When an obstacle to the cultivation of loving-kindness appears, for example anger toward an enemy, the cause is reification. A target has been created that doesn't exist. This is where insight, wisdom, integrates into the practice of lov-ing-kindness. Insight is the powerful method to overcome the fundamental obstacle to the cultivation of loving-kind-ness, reification. Examine closely. Is the target of your anger a person's body or mind? Investigate and recognize that the reified object you hate doesn't even exist. If insight prac-tice doesn't take you all the way to this realization in one step, Buddhaghosa suggests you can still begin to heal your mind by giving a gift to your enemy. At all costs and with skillful strategies, break the habit of reifying the enemy.
The immediate cause of loving-kindness is seeing the lovable qualities in others. Westerners sometimes get the impression that Buddhist loving-kindness is an "I love the world, it's my neighbors I don't care about" type of love. Tibetans describe loving-kindness as the mind becoming love, like the feeling of a mother whose child rushes home into her arms after being away at summer camp. Loving-kindness succeeds when animosity subsides and it fails when it produces attachment.
In the Buddhist tradition, for all its emphasis on non-violence, oddly enough a prominent metaphor for spiritual practice is warfare—identifying and vanquishing the true enemy. Buddhaghosa wrote of the "near" and "far" enemies of loving-kindness. The near enemy of loving-kindness is attachment. In cultivating loving-kindness, the affection that arises can very easily slip over into attachment. At-tachment is the "near" enemy because, while its actual nature is that of a mental affliction, it masquerades as "love."
The "distant" enemy of loving-kindness is its diametric opposite—malice.
The cultivation of loving-kindness, the "giving" referred to in the Mind-T raining's aphorism "alternately practice giving and taking," is a very effective practice for active, everyday life. I once practiced the cultivation of loving-kindness during an extended solitary retreat in the high desert. Each time I practiced, I would bring to mind dear friends, neutral people, and some who had treated me badly. But after doing this quite a number of times, my recollections of these people became rather flat, as if I were bringing to mind mere images, but not really attending to actual people. The practice became superficial. In my expe-rience, the cultivation of loving-kindness is most effectively done while actively engaging with other people in their day-to-day lives. When you open your heart to others, the practice is very real.
The complementary practice to the cultivation of loving-kindness is the cultivation of compassion. This is the heart-felt wish that oneself and others be free of suffering and the sources of suffering. Loving-kindness is the wish for well-being, and compassion is the wish for freedom from suffering. Loving-kindness and compassion naturally give rise to and support each another.
The first phase of the cultivation of compassion entails reflecting on the effects of compassion. When you have felt compassion, what have been the effects? What influence have compassionate people had on your life? Conversely, when you experience indifference or worse, a sense of cruelty, what has been the effect? When you witness indi-viduals, communities, governments or nations acting out of indifference or vengeance, what has been the effect?
The next phase of the cultivation of compassion is viv-idly bringing to mind a person or a group of people who are suffering or an individual or group who are causing suffering. Empathize with the suffering and let the wish naturally arise, "May you be free of suffering and the sources of suffering." Imagine it to be so.
In 1992, I visited Samye Monastery, the oldest monas-tery in Tibet, a beautiful place, which has been rebuilt after it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. An old yogi named Tenzin Zangpo from Eastern Tibet was visiting Samye at the same time and was giving teachings on Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life. I am very interested in learning from the experiences of advanced contemplatives, so I requested to meet him. I asked the old yogi questions about meditative quiescence, but he kept emphasizing, "For deep meditative practice, before attempting to achieve quiescence, first cultivate compassion."
The importance of compassion can be determined ex-perientially. When mental balance and serenity arise in meditative practice, observe what happens to that sense of well-being under the influence of anger or irritation. Men-tal balance always gets destroyed. It is not possible to abide in meditative equipoise and be resentful at the same time. The balance of the mind crumbles in the face of anger. And there is something worse. Imagine doing a long retreat for months on end, practic-ing meditation eight to twelve hours each day, aimed at the goal of developing deep attentional stability and clarity. Imagine that you accomplish quiescence, with the ability to sit for hours on end with your mind totally focused, ef-fortlessly, vividly and without excitation, wherever you direct it. Once you have achieved such a state of meditative stabilization, if your mind should succumb to the affliction of malice, a thought diametrically opposed to loving-kind-ness, the Buddha claimed the mind can become a terrible weapon of destruction. Therefore, as you develop the power of concentration, make sure that your mind is less and less prone to the influence of afflictions. Just as there is evidence supporting the belief in the positive power of prayer, take the advice of the Buddha on the opposite point: negative thoughts have power and concentrated negative thoughts can be very dangerous.
Just as attachment is frequently mistaken for love because its superficial display may be similar, anger can look like compassion. When we see someone being victimized by another we think, "Punish the bad person. Rescue the good person." This is the same solution victimizers have and they also feel justified. Anger can be mistaken for compassion when the latter extends only to "good" people, while we hold "bad" people in contempt and feel fully justified in doing so. In the Buddhist perspective, attachment for some and hatred for others is just one more manifestation of an afflicted mind.
Compassion is difficult. Compassion means wishing that both victims and victimizers be free of suffering and the sources of suffering. This is important because when we're filled with righteous indignation, wrath and anger pose as compassion. But anger is not compassion any more than attachment is love.
I was first taught A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life in 1972 by the Tibetan lama Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey. This monk, who so wonderfully embodied what he was teach-ing, said the bodhisattva way of life is one in which you empathize more and more deeply with the suffering of all those around you, not just your family and friends, but the whole world with its myriad sentient beings. Why should we take on this suffering of others, adding to the burden of our own personal problems? Shantideva responds, "I should eliminate the suffering of others because it is suffer-ing, just like my own suffering. I should take care of others because they are sentient beings, just as I am a sentient
being."58 When I heard this I was struck with the math: in cultivating the bodhisattva way of life, one develops a greater and greater capacity for empathizing with the suf-fering of more and more sentient beings. Every airplane that crashes, every natural disaster, every war—you would need to multiply the number of victims by hundreds to account for all the loved ones whose lives were shattered in each such tragedy. There is so much suffering. If the Buddhist path of liberation entails developing compassion, and compassion entails deeper and deeper empathy with the suffering of more and more sentient beings, where does it end? This is a path of joy? The bodhisattva path would seem to lead to infinite suffering. I asked Geshe Dhargyey to reconcile buddhahood, the bliss of spiritual awakening, with its non-dual awareness of all the suffering in the world. He responded by pointing out that I was extrapolating from a very small pool of experience: "You can't take your own experience and multiply it infinitely to calculate the mind of a buddha. The crucial element that you haven't taken into account is wisdom."
Compassion can be unbearable without wisdom. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has profound empathy for the Tibetan people, who look to him as their refuge and source of hope. How is it possible for him to be happy as long as the Tibetan people suffer? This is compassion balanced with wisdom. Insight taps into a joy that allows one to embrace suffering without being overwhelmed by it. Compassion without wisdom is bondage. Wisdom without compassion is bondage. Compassion and wisdom are the two wings of enlightenment.
The primary realization of insight is emptiness. You can be deluded about a lot of things—the nature of space /time, black holes, the origin of the universe—but if you are de-luded about your own nature, who you are, and act on the basis of that delusion, you will constantly suffer repercus-sions. To end the suffering caused by delusion, apply the remedy of insight into your own personal identity. If the object of all our tender loving care, the inherently existent "I," doesn't even exist, we need to know that.
Tsongkhapa was once giving a discourse in Tibet on the lack of inherent existence of all phenomena, including the self. When a teacher speaks out of deep experience, the words have a special power. A monk in the audience sud-denly started to freak out, feeling he didn't exist at all, and in desperation he grabbed onto his collar. Tsongkhapa chuckled and released the monk from his panic by com-menting that he had established the conventional reality of his own identity on the basis of his collar!
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition warns about penetrating the nature of selflessness before the mind is ready. If the mind is not adequately prepared, when there is a glimmer of insight into the profound reality of the emptiness of one's own personal identity, it will be experienced as a loss of a cherished treasure. However, if the mind has first been nur-tured with compassion, then when some realization of personal identitylessness is glimpsed, this insight will be experienced as a discovery of the most precious of all treasures. Whether the realization of emptiness is perceived as a loss or a discovery depends on the degree of one's preparation. Insight in the context of compassion is a wonderful discov-ery. Wisdom without compassion is bondage—insight into the emptiness of personal identity without compassion can be perceived as a loss of self and lead to terror. If we are empty of inherent existence, in what way do we exist? From quarks to galactic clusters, how does the physical world exist? The Madhyamaka Buddhist view is that we exist as dependency related events. I am a se-quential matrix of events. Reading this book is an event. We are all events. The corollary of emptiness is dependent origination. The two are really of the same nature, just viewed from two different perspectives. Something exist-ing independently, in and of itself, is never found under even the most penetrating analysis. The realization of wis-dom is that all phenomena exist as dependency related events. Realizing that existence is inextricably and funda-mentally interdependent with everything and everyone leads naturally to acting in ways that take into account all those connections.
Shantideva gave a marvelous metaphor that appears in other religious traditions as well: "Although it has many divisions, such as its arms and so on, the body is protected as a whole. Likewise, different beings, with their joys and sorrows, are all equal, like myself, in their yearning for hap-piness."59 The notion of all sentient beings being like a single human body is an excellent metaphor for interdependence. When your nose itches, the compassionate finger helps out and gives it a gentle scratch. Cultivating compassion primes the pump for the real-ization of the profound interdependence of all phenomena. We are not independent things that somehow become re-lated. We are the relations. This is why the cultivation of wisdom must go hand-in-hand with the cultivation of compassion.
In 1992, when I went to India with the group of neuro-scientists to do research on the effects of meditation, one of our interests was compassion. In the mountains above Dharamsala there are yogis who have spent years cultivating compassion, and we spent some time with a young monk who had been in retreat for six years. Richard Davidson, a psychobiologist from the University of Wisconsin who has done pioneering work correlating shifts in expression with emotions, explained to the young contemplative that he
would see a video called "Compassion in Exile," which con-tains explicit footage of Tibetan demonstrators being beaten by the Chinese military. We had hauled electronic equip-ment up the side of the mountain to video the young monk's face while he watched. As the monk watched the video, we didn't detect any change of expression in his face at all, no grimace or shudder, no expression of sadness. After we turned off the cameras, we asked him to tell us about his experience. He said, "I didn't see anything that I didn't al-ready know goes on all the time, not only in Tibet but throughout the world. I am aware of this constantly." It wasn't that he didn't experience compassion while watching these brutal scenes. Rather, his compassion was so constant that seeing these images on a video monitor provided him with no new stimuli to arouse his compassion beyond its steady state.
The Buddhist concept of compassion is deeper than episodic responses to isolated events. The first phase of cul-tivating compassion is contemplating the advantages of compassion and the disadvantages of its absence. One meditates on the benefits of compassion, then considers compassion's far enemy, cruelty. Indifference is simply an absence of compassion. When we feel cruelty, the polar op-posite of compassion, we deal with subjects, just as we do when we experience compassion. When the mind is domi-nated by cruelty, we recognize that a subject can be made to suffer and we wish him to suffer. Contemplating the ben-efits of compassion, the disadvantages of its absence and the disadvantages of its opposite, cruelty, is part of the preparation for the direct cultivation of compassion. The first step of the main practice of cultivating compas-sion is focusing on a person who is in misery. As you imagine being in this person's shoes, bring forth the wish, "May you be free." The next step, without which the whole
meditation winds up being superficial, is more difficult. Focus on an evil-doer, a person who brings grief to others, and wish also for him, "May you be free of sufferings and its sources." A response of contempt, hatred, or disgust to-ward an evil-doer is not compatible with Dharma. The struggle for most of us is not to give in to our deeply habituated knee-jerk reactions to evil, hypocrisy, and dishonesty. This phase of practice, cultivating compassion for the evil-doer, is one of the litmus tests of Dharma. It is relatively easy to feel compassion for those who suffer. But arousing compassion for a malicious person is an indication that we are making some progress on the path.
Geshe Rabten spent twenty-four years in a monastery, about ten years in the mountains in meditation, and roughly the last fifteen years of his life teaching. I first received teach-ings from him when he was still in retreat in the mountains above Dharamsala. He made a statement about compas-sion that was difficult to grasp: an evil-doer is even more worthy of compassion than a physically impaired person. Having compassion for the disabled is quite easy. However, from the Buddhist perspective of emptiness and dependent origination, the person in good health, capable and ener-getic, who lives his life as an evil-doer, is especially deserving of compassion because he is leading a way of life that will result in misery not only for others but for himself for lifetime after lifetime. After focusing on a suffering person, then an evil-doer, next focus the practice of cultivating compassion on a loved one or friend with the same wish, "May you be free of suffer-ing and its causes." Next, focus on a neutral person. Finally, focus your compassion on a person in the special category of "enemy," one who wishes you harm, and cultivate compassion for this person also. Cultivate compassion by focusing on the different categories of people—evil-doer,
loved one, neutral, and hostile—until barriers break down and compassion flows evenly. Practice until compassion flows smoothly like a river over a flat plane in all direc-tions, not just in the path of least resistance. Wish for all kinds of sentient beings, "May you be free of suffering and its causes." Remember that the near enemy of loving-kindness is attachment. Attachment is the near enemy because it persuasively masquerades as the real thing, loving-kind-ness; likewise grief is the near enemy of compassion, for it can easily be mistaken for compassion. If I discover to-morrow that I have terminal cancer and have only three months to live, you are not going to make my day by cry-ing on my shoulder. I will gain no benefit by your being sad for me. Grief is the near enemy of compassion.
Just as loving-kindness has the far enemy of hatred, compassion also has a far enemy: cruelty. Cruelty is the diametric opposite of compassion. And just as loving-kind-ness has a proximate cause, seeing the lovable qualities in others, compassion's proximate cause is seeing others in suffering and incapable of relieving their distress.
The meditative cultivation of compassion succeeds when it causes cruelty to subside, and it fails when it produces merely sadness. Immeasurable compassion is limitless in the sense of being without barriers; it flows evenly in all directions. Immeasurable compassion is the great remedy to cruelty and is the foundation of spiritual maturation. In the Mahayana Buddhist view, there is something even beyond immeasurable compassion, called "great compas-sion." Great compassion rises beyond the wish, "May you be free of suffering," to "May I make it so." Great compas-sion shoulders the responsibility for freeing others from suffering. If you shudder at this, you are getting the mes-sage. Consider all the conflict in the world. How can a single
person take on the responsibility of freeing others from suffering? Recall over and over, deeper each time: compas-sion without wisdom is bondage. What "I" can take on the responsibility of alleviating the suffering of the world? I, as one finite individual, certainly don't have the ability. The Buddhist view is that "I" as a separate autonomous entity, as an ego, does not even exist. The Buddhist view is that my existence is one of interrelationship with all those around me. Furthermore, my existence is also in interrela-tionship with buddha-mind that is everywhere present. And this enlightened awareness has an inexhaustible ca-pacity for serving the needs of the world. This is what is meant by great compassion. To cultivate and sustain great compassion you need deep insight into the fundamental nature of mind.
There are levels of compassion. There is "episodic com-passion," when you feel sympathy for those whom you see are presently in distress. There is a deeper compassion that arises coupled with insight, in which you realize imper-manence, the flux, or transient nature, of everything around you. Everything you grasp onto for dear life, the body, hap-piness, everything, is in a state of flux. Anything acquired will be lost. Realize impermanence deeply and recognize how sentient beings bet their lives and happiness on what is impermanent. Finally, the deepest form of compassion, great compassion, without boundaries and non-dual, arises wedded to the realization of emptiness and has no reified object at all.
The cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion is a primary practice for the hours of the waking day when we are not sitting in formal meditation. There is no better time for the cultivation of loving-kindness and compassion than while engaging with others. No special conditions are necessary. There is no more powerful way to accumulate merit than through the cultivation of compassion. Merit is spiritual power and is the force empowering meditative practice for insight, purification, and spiritual transformation. The cul-tivation of loving-kindness and compassion is the basis of the practice described in the Mind-Training as "alternately practice giving and taking," known in Tibetan as tonglen, which is among the most highly cherished practices in the Tibetan tradition.
The Practice of Tonglen
The practice of giving and taking, tonglen, uses the power of imagination to engage with realities beyond immediate experience. The enactment of loving-kindness is the "giv-ing" component of the practice of giving and taking, and the enactment of compassion is the "taking" component. The taking component begins by bringing to mind as viv-idly as you can a loved one or a community of people whom you care about deeply and who is suffering. The cause of the suffering may be physical, psychological, social, or en-vironmental. For a moment, empathetically enter into the suffering of this person or group. Imagine experiencing the burden of their adversity. Now, in your mind's eye, stand back and bring forth the wish, "May you be relieved of this burden and may this adversity ripen upon me." Whatever the affliction or adversity, physical or mental, imagine tak-ing from this person the despair, affliction, and pain. Imagine the suffering in the form of a black cloud being removed from the other person's body and mind and be-ing drawn into your heart. Imagine that as the suffering is funneled into your heart, that person is gradually relieved. As soon as this dark cloud enters your heart, imagine that it meets with your own sense of self-centeredness, visual-ized as an orb of darkness, and that in an instant both that
cloud of misery and your self-centeredness mutually ex-tinguish each other, leaving not a trace of either behind. Now imagine all of your merit, prosperity, happiness, all the blessings in your life from the past, present and future, as a powerful wellspring of brilliant white light emanating from your heart in the reverse direction. Imagine these pow-erful rays of light reaching out and suffusing the person with the prayer, "All that is good in my life, my posses-sions, my happiness, my good health, my