Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche
Protecting One’s Mind
Before beginning with the instructions, I would like to greet you kindly. In general, you are very interested in the Dharma and also have the intelligence to know what the Dharma is like. You are studying the Dharma out of devotion and with great diligence. I want to thank you very much. Please keep your enthusiasm up.
I will speak about the yogas of tranquillity and insight meditation according to the treatise, Pointing Out the Dharmakaya by the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, who lived from 1556-1603. If one is able to do these practices, it will pacify one’s afflictions of hatred, greed, and so forth. It will also pacify any difficulties or suffering that one may have and enable one to develop wholesome results. Practicing tranquillity and insight meditation will help one develop intelligence and wisdom. This is something that can happen. It is said in many instructions that all accomplishments really come from practice. It is because of actual practice that one is able to receive the blessings and can develop the power of the practice. However, attaining the power of the practice depends upon one’s diligence, which, in turn, depends upon one’s faith and devotion. So, in order to develop faith and devotion that are necessary when aspiring to practice the Dharma, one needs to do the four common and four special preliminary practices.
When engaging in the actual practices, deep holding is primary, because samadhi (which is the Sanskrit term that was translated into Tibetan as ting-nge-‘dzin) of insight needs to have a basis. The basis for samadhi of insight is “tranquillity,” i.e., shamata meditation. It is important that one has a good, stable, and resting aspect. Since this is important, one first does the practice of tranquillity or shamata meditation.
In the instructions on tranquillity meditation, there are the points for the body and the points for the mind. Of these two, the first one is the points for the body. They are usually described as the “Seven Points of Posture of Vairocana.” Many of you probably know them, but sometimes it is not possible to sit comfortably in this posture. If one can sit comfortably in the seven points of Vairocana, then one should. But if one can’t, it’s okay – it’s not absolutely necessary. What is said to be most important is that one sits in a way that is comfortable and relaxed, in a way that is not too tight. It is said that it is important not to grip, not to tighten, not to hold or pull oneself too much, rather to sit in a comfortable, relaxed, and easy way.
Whether sitting in the seven-point posture of Vairocana or not, it is important that one is comfortable. This was described by the teacher Machig Labdron, who was the accomplished female practitioner who brought the pacification teachings of Chöd to Tibet from India within the scope of the Eight Chariots of Accomplishment. She taught that the points of the body (the four channels that run through the four limbs of the arms and legs) should be loose and relaxed and that one should not tighten them in any way. If they are tightened, then one’s mind becomes tightened and the body tightens all the more. When the body tightens, it can be very harmful for meditation. It can be harmful for one’s body and it can hinder one from holding the samadhi that one has. If one makes the mind a little bit airy, then maybe that makes one shake and tremble a bit. Therefore, it is important to be at ease and relaxed in one’s body and four limbs.
No matter how one sits, it is very good if the spine is straight. The Ninth Karmapa explained why this is so and stated, “If the body is straight, then the channels will be straight. If the channels are straight, the winds will be straight. If the winds are straight, then the mind will be straight.” And so, if the body is crooked, then the channels will not be straight. Therefore it is important to keep the body straight so that the channels are straight. If the channels are straight, the winds will be straight. In that case, the winds will not go back and forth but go as they should in the body. When hearing about wind, one takes it to be the coarse breath. In this context, the subtle wind is the quality of motion and movements in one’s body. Motion is the characteristic of wind. If there is a lot of wind moving in one’s body and is not moving well, then there will be a lot of different thoughts that will arise in one’s mind. And if there are a lot of thoughts in one’s mind, this will harm or hinder mind’s ability to rest. So, for this reason, in order to develop deep holding, i.e., good samadhi, it is important to hold one’s body straight by sitting straight.
There are two sections for the points of the mind, the general and specific instructions. There is a quote that describes the general instructions for the mind during meditating, which reads: “Do not follow after the tracks of the past. Do not send out a welcome to the future, rather rest in equipoise in the present moment.”
“Do not follow after the tracks of the past” refers to the fact that all things change from moment to moment – things change every instant. Things go from being in the future; in the next moment they are in the present, and in the next moment they belong to the past. So, every moment things change and go by in a momentary fashion. When looking at external objects, it can be difficult to see that external things change so quickly and in every moment. But when looking at one’s own mind, one can see that thoughts first arise and then they go into the past, i.e., in one moment thoughts are in the future, in the next moment they are in the present, and then they are in the past. When they have gone into the past, they have ended. So, whatever thought there is, when it is in the past it has ceased and is no more. Whether it is a thought of one of the three afflictions of hatred, greed, or delusion, or whether it is a good thought of faith and devotion, when it goes into the past, it is gone. Likewise, thoughts of the future concern things that have not happened yet, so they, too, cannot be objects of observation. One can only look at present moments. But present moments are extremely short and belong to the past very fast. If one can rest in the space of the short time of a present moment, without being distracted and leaning away by following after thoughts, then it is good. If one can look at the present, without many thoughts happening, then this is enough. This is all one needs to do in meditation. These are the general points of the mind that are taught in the text.
In the instructions, Pointing Out the Dharmakaya, the Ninth Karmapa then explained the specific points and first said to use an external object of form for meditation. He offered instructions on using the external objects of sound, smell, taste, or touch as the bases for meditation. Then he taught tranquillity meditation without a support. Following, he presented instructions for doing meditation by using the breath. These are all described very clearly, so you can read them. I thought that it would be more beneficial to spend a bit of time explaining how to rest with the mind better. If you understand how to rest with your mind, how your mind is and what to use when meditating, then it would be very beneficial.
The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, wrote a treatise entitled, Distinguishing Consciousness from Wisdom. In this treatise, he described the eight different collections of consciousnesses that we have. Which consciousness does one use when meditating? How is it that one meditates? It would be beneficial for one’s meditation to know which consciousness one uses when one meditates.
Of course, when one looks at the mind, it seems to be just a mind, but it can be divided into eight different types of consciousnesses. There is what we call “the consciousnesses of the five gates,” which are the five sensory consciousnesses that are like gates to the world of perceptions. The way they work is that on the basis of the eye faculty there arises an eye consciousness that perceives an external object of visual form. Furthermore, on the basis of the ear faculty, the ear consciousness arises and hears an external sound. Likewise, based upon a nose faculty, a nose consciousness arises and smells a scent. Also, the faculty of the tongue gives rise to the tongue consciousness that experiences a taste. Similarly, the body faculty gives rise to a body consciousness that experiences touch, which can be experienced as soft, rough, or anything like that. In this way, we have the five sensory consciousnesses.
Looking at the five sensory consciousnesses, it is interesting to ask whether they are conceptual or non-conceptual. Do they have thoughts or are they free of thoughts? The five sensory gates are called “direct perceptions,” i.e., they perceive an object directly. The eye consciousness directly sees a form, the ear consciousness directly hears a sound, the nose consciousness directly smells a scent, and so forth. But these consciousnesses do not think about what they perceive and do not discern, “That’s nice,” or “That’s not nice,” or “This is good and that is bad.” They are non-conceptual, i.e., by nature thought-free. They just experience and that is how they are. They are naturally present and therefore we experience things through our five sense consciousnesses. They cannot and need not be stopped. There is no reason to stop them. Their characteristic is to be naturally present and clear, i.e., the five sensory consciousnesses always perceive something and they are always clear. They are mind’s characteristic – thought-free, direct, and clear perception.
The next two consciousnesses are stable in contrast to the unstable five sense consciousnesses. Stable means that they are continuously present - they are always around. The first is called “the all-ground consciousness,” alaya-vijnana in Sanskrit. The alaya consciousness is like the source or place from which everything arises. It is just clear awareness. All the things one clearly sees and experiences arise from the alaya. Clear awareness is what is meant when talking about the all-ground consciousness.
The second consciousness is called “the afflicted consciousness.” It is also stable, because it is always present. The afflicted consciousness is that aspect of mind that subtly clings to a self. It’s not a coarse clinging to a self; rather it is a subtle clinging to a self. Whether one actually thinks, “Me,” or “Mine,” or whether one is not thinking, “Me,” or “Mine,” in both cases there is a subtle clinging to a self that one may or may not be aware of. For example, if one is studying Buddhist philosophy and learns that there is no self, one develops certainty that there is no self. At that point one does not have the coarse thought, “Me,” but there is still a very subtle habitual or latent tendency to think, “Me.” And that is due to the seventh afflicted consciousness. Later on, when a practitioner has developed deep knowing and attained a Bodhisattva’s levels of realization, clinging to a self is purified during tranquillity meditation. As a practitioner progresses to the seventh and eight Bodhisattva stages, the afflicted consciousness is fully purified and not even present during post-meditation. But it is always present for ordinary individuals, who never stop having a coarse and subtle sense of “Me” and “Mine.”
The eighth consciousness, the all-ground consciousness, is mind’s ever-present clear aspect. If one looks at the mind’s clear aspect, its essence is emptiness – it can’t be found or proven to exist anywhere. However, we do not recognize it as being empty of own existence. And so we see it as a self and think other things arise from what we mistakenly think is one’s true self. This is due to the stable, all-ground consciousness that has the aspect of ignorance.
Which consciousness is used when doing tranquillity meditation? The sixth mental consciousness. A short summary: There are the five sense consciousnesses, sixth is the mental consciousness, seventh is the afflicted consciousness, and eighth is the all-ground. The sixth mental consciousness is said to be a conceptual consciousness, i.e., it is a consciousness that has a lot of different thoughts about what is perceived by the first five. It generates many afflicted thoughts, many indifferent or neutral thoughts, and many virtuous thoughts, too. These various thoughts arise all the time and mix and combine thoughts that relate to the three times: There are thoughts about the future, about the past, and about the present. For instance, we think about what we saw with our eyes yesterday, we think about what we are going to see tomorrow, and we think about what we are seeing today. We mix all these thoughts into one with the sixth consciousness and see everything as present. The sixth mental consciousness combines all three times and doesn’t really distinguish between the past, present, and future.
Many different thoughts arise in the mental consciousness. In order to pacify thoughts in the sixth consciousness, one needs to let the mind rest peacefully within the expanse of the non-conceptual eighth consciousness. The eighth consciousness is like a big ocean, and the thoughts arising in the sixth consciousness are like waves on the ocean’s surface. Sometimes thoughts are very powerful, like huge waves. These waves of thoughts cause one to accumulate karma. One gently lets the powerful thoughts and afflictions subside into the ocean that is the eighth consciousness, the alaya, rests at ease, and then thoughts are pacified. In doing that while resting in ease in the expanse of the alaya, one has deep holding of tranquillity meditation.
As to deep holding of tranquillity meditation, many thoughts arise in one’s mental consciousness. Sometimes they are joyful and happy thoughts and sometimes they are thoughts of displeasure or depression. But, whatever sort of thoughts they are, one needs to take control and have mastery over them with mindfulness and awareness. If one manages, any thoughts will be pacified into the expanse of the all-ground consciousness. This means to say that the all-ground consciousness has the clear aspect. It has the clear aspect of knowing. It can know all sorts of things, and yet it does not give rise to coarse thoughts of pleasure, displeasure, or anything like that. There is just the clear, the knowing aspect. Occasionally thoughts pop up in the sixth consciousness. One needs to be able to settle these thoughts down. One needs to have good mindfulness and awareness in order to do so, though.
When we talk about mindfulness and awareness, we are talking about two different mental factors that resemble thoughts or are a way of thinking. First there is mindfulness. Another translation for mindfulness is “recalling,” i.e., remembering what one is doing. Mindfulness here is remembering, “I don’t want to lose myself to all my thoughts,” or “I don’t want to have thoughts,” or “I want to be meditating now,” or “I am meditating now. I shouldn’t be moved by all these thoughts.” If one has mindfulness, one recalls what one is doing and awareness will naturally be present. Awareness means simply recognizing what is going on, i.e., knowing what one is doing. One knows that one is meditating and understands what is going on. Knowing what one is doing while doing it is being mindful. Then one will naturally develop awareness. But if one loses mindfulness, then awareness will automatically be lost and one won’t know anything. One won’t know what one is doing and won’t remember that one is meditating but will lose oneself to thoughts instead of letting them be. So, it’s important to develop mindfulness and awareness. It’s important to use mindfulness and awareness in order to be able to control the sixth consciousness and in order to develop deep-holding meditation. So, with both, a practitioner will be able to develop tranquillity meditation correctly.
Mindfulness and awareness are extremely important. The Son of the Victors, Shantideva, spoke about them and said, “All of you who wish to control your mind, develop mindfulness and awareness, even if you have to risk your own life. If you develop mindfulness and awareness, I will join my hands in prayer for you.” So, if one wants to be able to control one’s mind, to protect one’s mind, Shantideva said that one needs to develop mindfulness and awareness. It is so very important that he joins the palms of his two hands at his heart in prayer and begs us to make sure that we rely upon them.
The great teacher Dakpo Tashi Namgyal, the great Drukpa Kagyu Lineage-Holder who lived from 1511-1587, spoke about mindfulness and awareness and taught that one should not be too fastidious about them, rather one should let them be vast and expansive. Being fastidious is thinking, “Now I have to be mindful,” or “Now I shouldn’t be thinking. I’m trying to meditate.” Practicing like this is being tense and tight, which will not be beneficial. One needs to be pervasive, vast, and open and not squeeze one’s brain. All one needs to do is merely not forget, rest relaxed, be at ease while alert, and not forget what one is doing. One shouldn’t squeeze and pull and try to be tight about meditation, rather have mindfulness that is open and vast. It will be very good if we have easeful, relaxed, and expansive mindfulness.
If we practice tranquillity meditation in this way, we are very relaxed and rest like that. Here it is called “tranquillity.” A more literal translation is “calm abiding,” which consists of two words, “calm” and “abiding.” Calm means simply letting all thoughts be pacified; abiding refers to the stable aspect of resting. This is what we mean by the practice of tranquillity meditation. Please do a short meditation now.
Thank you very much.
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless (in number) as space (is vast in its extent).
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities, may I and all living beings without exception
swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
May virtue increase!
Instructions from the seminar on Pointing Out the Dharmakaya by the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje, presented at Vajra Vidya Thrangu House in Oxford, 2006, translated from Tibetan by Karma Choephel, transcribed & edited by Gaby Hollmann, solely responsible for any mistakes. Photo of Rinpoche courtesy of Katrin Weller from Stuttgart.