December 2009-January 2010
I rarely have time to look out the window these days, as I sometimes did earlier in retreat. Looking at the mind turns out to be much more compelling anyway. But I do occasionally have a chance to rest my mind in the winter view of the Hudson River. My favorite time is sunrise.
The first sign of sunrise via my west-facing window is the gradually lightening sky, and then a faint, rosy glow just above the tops of the hills on the western bank. A few minutes later, sunlight strikes, one by one or in clusters, the windows of scattered buildings, very tiny from this distance, turning them into bright orange-gold mini-suns, like sparkling jewels. The unseen sun’s warm glow gradually brightens the hills farther and farther down, until it finally reaches the Hudson.
With any luck, a freight train passes while the water is illuminated, and its colorful cars are reflected, like a second identical train running alongside in the river. If there are a few clouds in the sky, they pick up the sun’s color too, and on rare occasions, a turkey vulture will circle over the river at the same time, its underwings the same brilliant gold. My description doesn’t begin to do justice to this show that comes and goes on schedule each sunny morning, whether I see it or not. It’s very relaxing to watch it unfold, while reciting mantras or just letting the mind rest.
This scene often brings to mind the wonderful teacher Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s advice, in his book as it is, not to get so caught up in the sun’s reflection that we forget to look at its source. “Our enlightened essence, the buddha nature, is like the sun itself, present as our very nature. Its reflection can be compared to our thoughts—all our plans, memories, our attachment, our anger, our closed-mindedness, and so on. One thought arises after the other, one movement of mind occurs after the other, just like one reflection after another appears. If you control this one sun in the sky, don’t you automatically control all its reflections in various ponds of water in the whole world? Why pay attention to all the different reflections? Instead of circling endlessly in samsara, recognize the one sun. If you recognize the nature of your mind, the buddha nature, that is sufficient.” (as it is, volume 1, page 77)
October 29, 2009, marked the 29th anniversary of my taking refuge with Lama Norlha Rinpoche. To celebrate this, I would like to share, with permission, a slightly condensed and edited excerpt from a teaching on the Seven Points of Mind Training that he gave at PTC Monastery in 1991. In it he explains how to begin to look at the mind.
From Lama Norlha Rinpoche:
“The next instruction is the actual method for placing the mind, the way we just place the mind or settle the mind in meditation. That instruction is, “Rest in the nature of all, the basis of everything.” Then it’s explained: when there is no involvement with the [sense consciousnesses], there is still the nature of all phenomena, the natural state, which is the basis of everything. If there’s no involvement with any of one’s [senses], that does not somehow exhaust our experience; there is still the nature of all phenomena, which is the natural state, which is the basis of everything. And this is pointed out by the term “the noble Buddha nature.
“To experience that, you just rest without conceptuality in an uncomplicated luminosity of mind. It says here, ‘Let go and rest without the slightest idea of a nature existing as something, with absolutely no mental clinging, in a state of nonconceptuality, which is clarity and pure simplicity.’ In summary, for as long as you are able, do not follow thoughts but rest evenly in a state in which the mind is clear in itself and free of conceptuality. This is called placement meditation.
“What happens is that when we’re constantly following our [sense] consciousnesses, then that is what causes us to spin in samsara, because we’re just involved in the objects of those consciousnesses. And it basically means that we’re just following our thoughts, whatever thoughts arise in connection with our senses. In connection with what’s going on in our minds, we’re following thoughts and we are in samsara. And the way to meditate then is to let go of thought, do not follow thought, but just let the mind settle naturally, rest evenly. That is meditation. So when we’re just thinking, then we’re ordinary sentient beings, just a sentient being in samsara following our own confusion. Meditation is not about following our own confusion but rather letting the mind rest naturally in its own state.
“The reason it’s just our nature to follow thoughts is because that’s our habitual tendency. The three main mental afflictions of ignorance, desire and anger have caused us to continually wander in samsara, following our thoughts and suffering, experiencing sickness in our body and problems in our mind, all because of just following and believing in our thoughts, in our conceptuality. That’s our habit. Our habit is to pay attention to our thoughts and follow our thoughts. Meditation is different from that. Meditation is not following thoughts, but learning to rest within the mind’s natural state in which one does not follow thoughts.
“So let’s meditate a little together. The instruction is to rest in the essence of whatever arises. ‘Whatever arises’ refers to whatever appears to our various senses—sights, sounds, thoughts that arise in the mind. So whatever arises, instead of being involved in the content of those experiences, we look directly through what is arising and just rest within the essence of the mind’s nature.
“So we’ll do that for a short time.”