Chögyi Nyima Rinpoche, “Present, Fresh Wakefulness”
A Meditation manual on nonconceptual wisdom
We have set out to attain liberation and enlightenment. The reason we study, reflect and practice meditation is to attain liberation and enlightenment. Anything that helps this process is good and should be adopted. Likewise, anything which obstructs enlightenment should be avoided. Some circumstances are adverse, meaning they prevent liberation and enlightenment. Those include the emotional obscurations. They ob struct the attainment of freedom and omniscient enlightenment and are always to be avoided. Other circumstances are conducive to being free and awakened. These are the six paramitas, the five first of which are means, and the sixth which is knowledge – in particular, the knowledge of realizing egolessness.
As the paramitas indicate, we need both means and knowledge. These two aspects should always be combined. Means without knowledge does not help much. Similarly, knowledge without means does not help much. Means and knowledge are like our feet and our eyes: if we can walk and we can see, we can get to our destination. If we have legs but cannot see, we will not know where to go. Likewise, if we can see but have no legs, we cannot arrive. We need both. The first five of the paramitas, the means, are like legs to walk on, while the sixth, transcendent knowledge, is like the ability to see clearly. When we can both walk and see, we won’t waste our effort because we will he moving in the right direction. When we unify means and knowledge, the effort we put into proceeding to wards freedom and enlightenment is never wasted.
Every thought is an involvement in hope and fear. Because this is an important point, I will reiterate it once more. We need to know ex actly what freedom means from a Buddhist perspective. Generally speaking, freedom means being free of rebirth among the six classes of beings within the three realms – free in the sense that we do not need to involuntarily take rebirth in a state of suffering against our own wishes. That is freedom. The driving force that spins us through samsara, among the six classes of beings, is nothing other than our own thinking. Whatever one does while caught up in de luded ordinary thoughts only causes further samsaric. existence. When our disturbing emotions and our grasping is not so intense, we end up in the realms of humans and gods. When our emotions, our clinging, are very intense, the experience we have is that of hell realms, of hungry ghosts or of animals. Even though we may look like a human being, if our emotions and selfishness are incredibly rigid and uptight – if we are terribly aggressive, angry, hateful and attached, jealous, and so on – our experience is like that of being in hell.
To sum up everything I’ve just said, we could say that the maker of all pleasure and pain is mind. The joys and sorrows experienced by all sentient beings of the six realms are made by mind. Even the happiness and suffering experienced during the course of one single day is all experienced by mind.
Since mind is inconcrete or insubstantial, it cannot be fulfilled. Its craving is inexhaustible. The problem with normal mind is that it never gets enough. If mind could somehow become satisfied, then there would be an end, a limit. But even when we get what we think we want, it is never enough. It seems that we always want what we do not yet have. We want whatever is most difficult to get, and that is hard. If we do happen to achieve what we aimed at for so long, that which was so hard to get, that again is not enough. We set a new aim in mind. It turns out that the achievement was not that great after all, despite our enormous desire for it.
In other words, every thought is an involvement in hope and fear. The hope and fear may be subtle, of medium strength or quite in tense, but there is no exception. Hope and fear is by definition an uptight, narrow-minded mental state, and that is painful. Intense hope and fear is intensely painful. When we are occupied by intense hope and fear, food does not taste good, and it’s even hard to sleep. The objects of the five senses are no longer beautiful. As hope and fear subside to a moderate level, we can start to enjoy what we see, hear and taste, at least a little bit. When we are only slightly an noyed with a subtle level of hope and fear, we say, “I am happy how nice! What a nice day!”
If we look back upon that fine, nice day, however, we will notice that even then there were repeated moments of subtle hope and fear. They are always lurking latently in the background, just waiting to pop up in full bloom. We probably don’t notice them in the course of our everyday experience, but they are still there. We try to con vince ourselves that we are not anxious or annoyed about anything, and we call that happiness. It seems that we need to fool ourselves in this way, because acknowledging reality is simply too painful. So, is there really ever any moment in which we are truly happy? Honestly, those moments of being happy, unafraid, at ease and totally fearless are very rare. For this we have conceptual thinking to blame: truth fully, it does not have that many great qualities.
We need to be free of selfish emotions. Selfish emotions are merely thoughts. Thought states are given different names: emotional thought, neutral thought, virtuous thought, hostile thought, selfish attitude, emotional attitude. Compared to selfishness, a neutral frame of mind is better. For example, to think “Water is water; the sky is the sky” is a neutral thought. To think water is water is not necessarily good nor evil. Compared to a neutral thought, a whole some or virtuous frame of mind is better – for instance, “I want to help others.” Any kind of noble-hearted attitude is a good thought. Therefore, at any time and in any situation a good thought, a good attitude, is something we should try to adopt. An aggressive attitude based on selfishness is always to be avoided, because ill will and ag gression makes both ourselves and others uneasy. As well, it makes us create negative karma.
This is exactly what I meant when mentioning conducive and ad verse circumstances. To be deeply upset physically and mentally in the ways that we label jealousy, anger, attachment, dullness, conceit – all these make it more difficult to experience thought-free wake fulness, and therefore they are called adverse. circumstances. That is also called negative karma. The opposite of that – when we have a benevolent, loving, helpful attitude and we carry it into our words and actions – is called conducive, virtuous, wholesome karma, good karma. Those are helpful circumstances. The person who wants to progress in shamatha and vipashyana, should adopt whatever is helpful, whatever is a conducive circumstance. That is truly intelligent. To understand that whatever interrupts that progress and whatever works against it is not good, and to also avoid whatever prevents or hinders, that is also intelligent. Intelligence doesn’t only involve creating situations of temporary comfort until we die. That is not necessarily complete intelligence. True intelligence means to look a little further and see what facilitates that which is of ultimate benefit – liberation and enlightenment. That is real intelligence.
True freedom means to be free from selfish emotions. All emotional states are basically thoughts. We understand now that thoughts can be of three types: evil, neutral and good. Evil thoughts or negative states of mind are always to be abandoned. They create negative karma and suffering. Neutral thoughts do not help, they do not harm; they are indifferent. They are also to be abandoned. Good thoughts, however, should be adopted. Good thoughts create con ditioned virtue, conditioned goodness, the result of which is rebirth within the higher states of samsara. Experiencing a lovely environ ment and a pleasant situation is called rebirth among gods and humans. Conditioned virtue brings pleasant results. That is not lib eration, however; one is still within a samsaric state. One has not transcended the basis of thought, which is dualistic fixation, the du alistic frame of mind. In order to go beyond that, we need to train in its opposite: we need to first recognize the state of thought-free wakefulness. Recognize that and develop its strength through train ing, and finally attain stability in thought-free wakefulness. That is how to be free of samsaric existence.
Why does the training in present, fresh wakefulness make us free from samsaric states? Because it undermines, eliminates, and com pletely dissolves the very root cause for further samsara, which is fixation on duality. It destroys the conceptual frame of mind that holds on to self and other. Since training in it destroys the cause of samsara, thought-free wakefulness is a primary cause for freedom and liberation. This is the essential training in Buddhism.
To adopt a virtuous frame of mind, a wholesome attitude, is good; it is regarded as a valid method. Similarly, avoiding a negative attitude or an unwholesome frame of mind is good; it is also re garded as a valid method. But neither of these are enough to be free from samsara.
You may be familiar with the ten unvirtuous actions and their opposites, the ten virtuous actions. Imagine that we practice the first nine of these for an incredible long time in an amazingly vast way. For example, instead of killing others, we save their lives. Instead of taking what is not given or stealing, we are generous in a spectacu larly lavish way. Instead of being frivolous, we practice pure ethics in relationships, according to whatever religion we follow or whatever civilization we are in. Those are the three ways of physical virtuous actions.
Similarly, instead of slandering, we reconcile all disagreements. Instead of speaking harshly, we speak gently. Instead of idle gossip and pointless talk, we speak meaningfully and with purpose. In terms of mental virtues, we should give up ill will. The opposite of craving is to rejoice in the happiness of others. To give up ill will, to be loving and kind in all different ways, again and again – all these are good. But the most important of all is the last one, the tenth virtuous action. Without this, something is missing.
Unless we can embrace our activities with the tenth virtuous ac tion, which is holding the correct view – the opposite of harboring wrong views – we may perform the first nine virtuous actions over and over again for a very long time, carrying them out in immense ways. Still, the result of that will be nothing other than in a future life we will be beautiful, wealthy, and have long life, good health, and many agreeable companions. We will experience all sorts of ex cellence in astounding ways, but we are not truly free, because the nine virtues are still only conditioned goodness. Conditioned good ness is good, it is beneficial, and it brings pleasant results. Still, it is not ultimate.
The tenth virtue, however, the true view, is both the most diffi cult to have and the most beneficial. If you have that, it in itself is enough; it is sufficient. Similarly, when you lack this one thing, nothing else ultimately helps. This one factor is to recognize our in trinsic wakefulness, our innate nature. This may seem difficult, because our basic nature is not an object of thought. But it can also be very easy, because it requires no effort.
Most of our trouble is troublesome precisely because it requires effort. Something is hard because you need to apply physical effort: you have to say something, or you have to make a mental effort. When something requires an effort for a long time, we say that it is difficult to do. When something requires only minor effort, we call it easy. When someone says, “Take the day off – today you don’t have to do a thing,” that means we are not required to make any physical, verbal or mental effort. Then we think, “How wonderful! It’s going to be a holiday!”
The difficulty in recognizing our innate nature is our ingrained habit of always trying to so something. When a Buddhist meditation master finally tells us, “Don’t do anything,” it is not easy! From the moment we wake up, we feel that we need to occupy our minds with some thing. We need to think of something. It is a habit. When we do think, it feels uncomfortable; it is like something is not right. We need to think of something, hold on to something, get something, pursue something – either good or bad, it doesn’t really matter. We need to have an attitude about something, and if we do not, we feel uneasy. It makes us feel like, “I lost myself; there is something wrong.” It may feel scary.
We occupy ourselves in numerous ways. We can latch on to things through our eyes, through our ears, through our nose, what ever. All this is merely mind making itself busy, occupying itself in various ways. The moment this mind occupies itself through the eyes, it thinks about what it is going to see. A sound is heard, so we pay attention to it and make thoughts about that. And so on, and so on, chasing and chasing, running and running. In the course of this constant process there is no stability, no steadiness.
Right now, sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures appear to be concrete and real to us. But the mind that chases after them is in concrete and has a hard time catching them – a very hard time! Maybe it’s better that there is a divorce! If the concrete and the in concrete could somehow have a harmonious relationship, well, all right -let them live together. But the concrete seems to haunt the inconcrete mind; it seems to torture it. Of course, we cannot have a permanent split between mind and concrete reality, a real divorce. However, wouldn’t it be a good idea to separate and occasionally have some space? That divorce comes about through the state of shamatha and vipashyana. When one is resting in stillness, the conceptual attitude that grasps is not blatantly present; it has subsided somewhat. And when one practices the vipashyana of thought-free wakefulness, even the subtlest attempt to grasp is totally absent, to tally dissolved.
In this world, don’t we regard intelligence as something impor tant and precious? Intelligence is certainly good. The highest degree of intelligence is the knowledge that realizes egolessness. True intelligence is the intelligence that sees the absence of self.
We also speak of being good, being a gentleman, a nice person, a gentle lady. The highest goodness is to be compassionate. Whether it’s experienced within or expressed outwardly, compassion is always good. Whenever somebody asks you what Buddhism is about, and you want to make it simple, just say these two words: intelligence and compassion. Of course, there is a lot to say about compassion, which is a very vast topic in Buddhism. Briefly, there are two types of compassion: with and without focus, or directed and undirected compassion.
To summarize, freedom means to be free of disturbing selfish emotions. It means to be free of all of samsara. To transcend sam sara is to be free of every conceptual state of mind: free of all thoughts, whether they be good thoughts, neutral thoughts or evil thoughts. It is also to be free of any conceptual attitude that holds onto anything as being or not being permanent, solid, or real. To be totally free of all this is true freedom. The true view is the moment every conceptual attitude dissolves.
This true view is not a philosophical position. To be free from every type of conceptual attitude, does not require taking a mental stance, to claim that something is or is not. When we are free of all that, the innate nature at that moment is no other than what it sim ply is. We are the true nature of mind. At that moment, you can say that the obscurations have dissolved; they are purified, cleared away.
That is called unobscured suchness. To change from experiencing obscured suchness to actuallybeing unobscured suchness, it is nec essary to train. In the beginning, the training is deliberate; it involves effort. The kind of deliberate effort we need – deliberate training – eventually leads to effortlessness. The real training is effortless ness. Being effortless is also a training. It’s rather paradoxical, because there is no thing being trained in, and there is no act of doing anything either. Yet it’s still called training! It can also be called meditation, but there is no meditating on something. To make this effortless training an actuality for ourselves, we need to first apply some effort. Here is how.
Right now, do not follow any memory of the past. Do not plan anything for the future. Whatever appears to you in this present moment through your senses or in your mind, do not conceptualize or judge or evaluate it. Remain totally disengaged. Leave your eyes open. In the practices of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, the eyes are called the gates of wisdom; do not close them. In the general teach ings and specifically in shamatha practice, one closes the eyes in order to avoid being occupied by what is seen, and thus distracted from the state of calm. But from a Vajrayana, Mahayana or Dzogchen perspective, this logic is flawed. If it helps to close the eyes, why only the eyes? You would have to close your ears, nose, skin, and everything else too, in order to be totally shut off.
The instruction is this:
Leave the five senses wide open.
Let awareness be undirected Remain totally open.
Do not get involved in perceived objects.
Do not form thoughts about them.
Be composed in that way.
Empty, awake, wide open.
The Dzogchen teachings on nondual awareness use the word total nakedness. That means that rigpa or self-existing wakefulness, once it is distinguished from dualistic mind, is free of duality and totally laid bare, all by itself.
At the beginning it is a good idea to train in being awake and wide open in our meditation sessions. Otherwise the training is likely to be interrupted by distractions. The whole purpose of having monasteries and retreat centers or hermitages is because our atten tion is so easily carried away. These diversions can be outer distrac tions, the company of the people with us, or simple laziness. There are so many things to do in the city at all times, and good and bad company does influence us. Therefore, compose yourself during for mal meditation periods and practice remaining undistracted.
The view is not a thing to be viewed.
Meditation is not an object to be cultivated.
Train in being unpolluted by conceptual attitude.
In this context, ‘meditation’ means training in being this way, in a state in which dualistic fixation has been suspended. At that moment, there is no samsara. Samsara has dissolved. There is no practice superior to this one, to having dissolved samsara. In this moment, there is no karma or selfish emotion being formed, there is nothing to affirm, nothing to deny, no hope, no fear.
You do not need to solidify the concept that this state is. You do not need to hang on to the concept that something is not. Basically and fundamentally, our mind is utterly empty, sheer bliss, totally naked. We do not need to make it like this; we do not need to culti vate it by meditating, to create this state by meditating. The mind’s nature is primordially free, free of karma and disturbing emotion, free of samsaric deluded experience, free from the conceptual atti tude of holding onto isand is not, free of the need to accept, the need to reject, free of all hope and fear.
To bring this forth in actuality, we need to persevere; we need to apply a lot of effort in being effortless. We need to meditate in a way of not meditating. Nothing to do – that is a big job! Not doing anything at all is something we really have to apply ourselves to. It is okay to not move. That is to be effortless. To move is effort. To speak is also effort. We do not need to speak at all. Similarly, to hold something in mind, to form thoughts about this, that and the other, is also mental effort. Totally drop, completely let go of every mental effort. Give up thinking of anything at all, about the past, the future or the present. Remain thought-free, like an infant.
Not fixating means not forming the thought “This is it.” Remain unpolluted by any notion of holding something in mind. Let go totally. It is often said that recognizing this resembles seeing space. Can you see space? Can you experience space? When you see or ex perience space, do you see it as a presence or an absence? Do you somehow see that absence?
Space is not a thing to see. To see that there is no thing to see we call ‘seeing that there is space.’ If we were somehow seeing it as a thing, it would not be space, it would be an entity like earth, rock or water, some elemental substance like that. Space, however, is not composed of physical form; it is openness. We give a name, we ap ply a label to that which has no form and is wide open: we call it space. Space is utterly unlike concrete things. It is exactly because it is inconcrete that we call it space. When seeing concrete things, we see the presence of something that is. When seeing the inconcrete, we actually see its presence as an absence. Seeing that there is something to see is usually called seeing. Seeing that there is nothing to see is also seeing; it is okay to call it seeing. It is just a different manner of seeing. In the same way, when seeing or experiencing emptiness, empty means that there is no physical form, shape, color and so on to notice – just like space. The -ness in emptiness means cognizance, knowingness. All wisdom experience unfolds out of this cognizance. All the experiences and wisdoms come out of this cognizance.
This empty cognizance is already pre sent as our minds. When anyone asks you to define mind, the an swer “empty cognizance” is quite all right. If someone says define fire, and we say ”hot and burning,” that is okay. To define water as “wet and liquid” is also fine. We can define wind as “light and mov ing.” And we can define space as “vast, open, accommodating, impartial, with no center and no edge, intangible.” That is space. You could say it is nonexistent, because it does not exist as a solid, concrete thing. It is rather an all-pervasive absence. In the same way, defining mind as “empty cognizance” is a good definition. The general definition of mind in Buddhism is cognizant and conscious. Samsara evolves from this empty cognizance that is mind when the cognizant quality fixates and gets involved in clinging. When the cognizant quality remains free of fixation, the immensity of the wis dom experiences and wisdoms unfolds.
The basic ignorance triggers attachment to ‘self’ and aversion to ‘other’ and has been perpetuated in our mind stream for a very long time, in a vast, immense way. We need to dissolve this strong habit ual ignorance, but this is not something that happens from one moment to the next. While dreaming, the dreamer only believes that what is dreamt is real. He is not likely to think, “This is all an illu sion.” Even if he were to think it, it would be very hard to simulta neously experience the dream as unreal. In exactly the same way, all that we experience right now is illusory. But it is very difficult to have that confidence and to actually experience everything as being insubstantial and unreal.
We need to allow our confusion to ‘dawn as wisdom’; we need to let our deluded way of experiencing dawn as original wakefulness. How does this happen? It is only possible through recognizing and realizing the nature of mind.
Innate suchness is unobscured the moment you are not caught up in present thinking. The very moment we acknowledge the real, how reality truly is, any delusory notion about how things are is gone. How do we remain unspoiled by mistakenness? By not being caught up in duality.
According to the tradition of pith instructions, that which obscures in nate suchness is our conceptual attitude. The clinging to things as being real, as being ‘me’, as being permanent, concrete, existing, and so forth – all the different varieties of conceptual fixation – are in short, our present thinking. In this present thinking, a nasty thought certainly obscures, but even a noble thought obscures the innate suchness. An unwholesome thought is a way of holding something in mind. A noble thought is equally a way of holding something in mind. They are equal in the sense that there is still the holding of an attitude; it is that holding which obscures, not the particular content of the thought. You remain bound, fettered, whether it be by a rusty iron chain or a beautiful golden chain studded with diamonds.
Being caught up in present thinking obscures innate suchness. Innate suchness is unobscured the moment you are not caught up in present thinking. How can we be not caught up? During a medita tion session, sit relaxed, with a straight back. The guidance texts say, “Place your body like a bundle of straw where the string tying it to gether has been cut.” You are upright but sitting loosely, not in a rigid, forced way. The more relaxed, the better. ”Your voice should be left to itself like a sitar where the strings have been cut.” Do not speak. Breath in a gentle and unforced way.
“Your mind should be left like a water mill where the water has been diverted.” In the past, in some places in the world, mills were driven by the flow of water. When the water was routed in another direction, the mill stopped spinning, because the mechanism was disengaged. Leave your mind like that. Disengage from following after what has happened in the past. Disengage from thinking of what is going to happen in the future. Do not evaluate or judge anything in the present moment. Remain without the need to react, correct, improve, accept or reject. Simply leave whatever is exactly as it is. Whenever there is a thought, let it come. When there is no thought, let there be no thought. In this way, the buddha mind can be revealed.
Let me paraphrase what Padmasambhava says in one of the verses among the Supplications in Seven Chapters, it is okay to per ceive, but do not cling. Whatever moves in the realm of sight, allow it to happen, but hold onto nothing. Not only what we see, but also what we hear, smell, taste, touch and experience in the realm of mind: let it all happen, but don’t fixate on it.
In other words, what we need is the opposite of conceptual thinking. Leave behind fixating, which is duality. Abandon the normal way of thinking, which is full of disturbing emotions. We need thought-free wakefulness in order to be face to face with our innate nature. To be able to recognize this and sustain it, we need to perfect the accumulations and remove the obscurations.