Forms of Awareness

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Mark E Defrates, modified 15 Years ago at 6/17/09 7:43 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/17/09 7:43 AM

Forms of Awareness

Posts: 4 Join Date: 9/7/09 Recent Posts
Forum: Practical Dharma

I have had forty plus years of different types of mediation, but only a few weeks of this Theraveda form of samadhic meditation. Because of my background in ritual, altered states, vajrayana and vedantic methods of meditating I need some help trying to understand my states of mind with the vocabulary and techniques Daniel Ingram has ably outlined.

In anapanasati...

My awareness follows my breath, but this awareness is of various types. I am aware of the physical sensation of the breath: as I breathe through my nose I feel the breath at the tip of my nose; as I breathe deeper I feel my chest rise and then fall; at the turn of my breath I scan the sensations of the rest of my body - air on my face, my robe on my skin, my legs where they cross, the tips of my thumbs, the small of my back, tingling sensations across my skin. Most of these sensations I become flickeringly aware of, but they immediately, too fast to define in words by noting, subside. But this form of awareness, which is pre-verbal but limited to direct sensory stimulus, is different from another, which is verbal and frequent.

I am aware of what I call my discursive mind. This faculty I associate with self-definition. It is the posturing, chattering monkey mind. This faculty is pretty much continuous, although after 30 minutes or so this discursive mind does settle down and the stream of thought is much slower and quieter. This is James Joyce's stream of consciousness, a series of postures, opinions, memories, and regurgitated emotions. It is characteristically verbal, easy to stop (in terms of the extinction of a thought pattern), and feels to me as if it was concentrated in the front of my head. On occasion the stream can be ordered into a productive flow of concepts but I rarely do this since it removes me from following the breath and I don't trust it anyway.

(Continued in next post)
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Mark E Defrates, modified 15 Years ago at 6/17/09 7:45 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/17/09 7:45 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Analogous with the discursive mind is a faculty very similar for images. These images, to be distinguished from the type of involuntary light show that often develops are both volitional and random but also clearly thoughts. They happen to manifest as images. Sometimes they are images produced to illustrate a verbal thought sequence. I am a custom jeweler and a particularly persistent problem involves thinking about jewelry projects, a thought stream that is both verbal and visual, and hence very seductive (it really is important to think about this now)!

After about twenty minutes I frequently experience cascades, spirals, and moving waves of light, mostly yellow, green, blue and red which are involuntary although they sometimes follow the breathing. Every now and then these may crystallize, again involuntarily, into full fledged 3d hallucinations, first of energy systems overlaying my body, then of my body being replaced with a buddha body, and very frequently of bodhisattvas and pure lands.

These sensation, thought and image streams are observed by another, larger type of awareness. This awareness, which is neither verbal nor pre-verbal is distinguished by its equanimity, large scale, non judgmental and inclusive quality. It is quiet, apparently present everywhere (it doesn't seem to have a location), calm, and I emphasize, non-verbal. It does not participate in the thought stream. All the above and self referential faculties of awareness reside within it but since there is no attachment to these other faculties it can hardly be said that they are of it, that is it does not appear to have a generative function. It is just there. Moreover it is not just there to the limits of my senses,
(Continued in next post)
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Mark E Defrates, modified 15 Years ago at 6/17/09 7:53 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/17/09 7:53 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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although certainly a distant car horn is included in this awareness. There is a sense that this awareness is much larger, that it extends far beyond the body's senses. Since it is not part of my self definition, in the way my discursive mind obviously is, it isn't really attached to me. It is just there. inclusive and limitless. My discursive mind can comment on it (it just did) but IT does not comment.

In fact, this last and largest form of awareness is my ground state, in that I am far more often in this state of awareness than I am in any other. Even asleep in dreams I am aware in this way, although I am also aware as both the dreamer and the actor in the dream. I am certainly aware this way much of the rest of my waking life. I just don't use my discursive and verbal mind to note this, since that seems a bit silly. Obviously I do use this inclusive awareness to remove myself from the box in which my discursive mind habitually places me, as a way of extending my perception of any issue out from a concentrated awareness of self (in which I can become like a raw nerve waiting to be rubbed) to a relaxed and more accepting state.

What is this larger awareness called? Is there a name for what I call the discursive mind? I'd always used sem and rigpa to distinguish between the two, but this is dzogchen terminology.

I assume what I should do is just continue to sit and observe the movement of the breath, paying close attention and letting the mind settle, not attaching myself even to the depictions of the buddhaverses, but watching as it all presents and falls away. Am I on the right track for this meditative technology?

Thanks for your patience, those of you who did make it this far, in wading through this long and self referential description.

Mark
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 15 Years ago at 6/18/09 4:41 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/18/09 4:41 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Hello kunzangshenpen,

In my understanding, conscious awareness is very much like light; it is both wave and particle.

The particle-like awareness is consciousness that comes and goes with sensory phenomena. The abhidhamma teaches that for each of the six sense doors (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch, and mind), there is a corresponding consciousness (eye consciousness, ear consciousness, etc.). The awareness of the "discursive mind" is consciousness of mind objects. When the thoughts or images vanish, so does the particle-like awareness of them.

The other kind of consciousness you mentioned -- the kind that is stable, unchanging -- is awareness as wave. It is seamless. It is what the late Ajahn Chah called "The One Who Knows". In my understanding, it is first experienced as a Watcher, or as "I AM", and occurs when awareness takes itself as object. And since awareness-as-subject takes takes on awareness-as-object, dualism persists. This is what our friend Kenneth calls "No-Dog" -- as in, "There's no dog in this fight." The subject-object split eventually dissolves into pure non-local, non-dual awareness, which is rigpa, the clear light, emptiness, or Buddha Nature. In an existential sense, it is home.

To summarize, the particle-consciousness is momentary, fleeting, conditioned, and phenomena/sensation specific. The seamless, wave-like awareness is at one level "The One Who Knows", and at a deeper level it is pure non-local awareness -- knowing without the sense of a knower.

Helpful?
~Jackson

EDIT: Improved description of no-dog. The first one didn't quite fit the bill.
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Mark E Defrates, modified 15 Years ago at 6/19/09 2:21 PM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/19/09 2:21 PM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Thanks, Jackson, that was helpful.

I liked Hokai's statement on another thread

"So we speak of (1) relative and sliding-scale notion of "silence", serving as tool to noticing and harnessing ever finer discursive abilities, and on the other hand (2) ground silence of the "relative vacuum states" wherein only discursive potential remains without elaboration whatsoever, and (3) ultimate, non-dual silence obvious in primordial awareness, undisturbed by and pervading every discursive thought, voice and sound, intentional or otherwise, revealing the diaphanous speech, a tacit testament to itself."

This could with small modification be descriptions of the different qualities of awareness that you describe.

Mark
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 15 Years ago at 6/21/09 9:41 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/21/09 9:41 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Dear Mark,

Thanks for your descriptions and analysis. They are interesting and relevant.

I think of it this way, from a very high but still vipassana point of view, as you are framing this question in a vipassana context:

First, the breath is nice, but at that level of manifesting sensations, some other points of view are helpful:

Assume something really simple about sensations and awareness: they are exactly the same. In fact, make it more simple: there are sensations, and this includes all sensations that make up space, thought, image, body, anything you can imagine being mind, and all qualities that are experienced, meaning the sum total of the world.

In this very simple framework, rigpa is all sensations, but there can be this subtle attachment and lack of investigation when high terms are used that we want there to be this super-rigpa, this awareness that is other. You mention that you feel there is a larger awareness, an awareness that is not just there the limits of your senses. I would claim otherwise: that the whole sensate universe by definition can't arise without the quality of awareness by definition, and so some very subtle sensations are tricking you into thinking they are bigger than the rest of the sensate field and are actually the awareness that is aware of other sensations.

Awareness is simply manifestation. All sensations are simply present.

Thus, be wary of anything that wants to be a super-awareness, a rigpa that is larger than everything else, as it can't be, by definition. Investigate at the level of bare sensate experience just what arises and see that it can't possibly be different from awareness, as this is actually an extraneous concept and there are actually just sensations as the first and final basis of reality.
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 15 Years ago at 6/21/09 9:42 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/21/09 9:42 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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As you like the Tibetan stuff, and to quote Padmasambhava in the root text of the book The Light of Wisdom:

"The mind that observes is also devoid of an ego or self-entity.
It is neither seen as something different from the aggregates
Nor as identical with these five aggregates.
If the first were true, there would exist some other substance.

This is not the case, so were the second true,
That would contradict a permanent self, since the aggregates are impermanent.
Therefore, based on the five aggregates,
The self is a mere imputation based on the power of the ego-clinging.

As to that which imputes, the past thought has vanished and is nonexistent.
The future thought has not occurred, and the present thought does not withstand scrutiny."

I really found this little block of tight philosophy helpful. It is also very vipassana at its core, but it is no surprise the wisdom traditions converge.
Thus, if you want to crack the nut, notice that everything is 5 aggregates, including everything you think is super-awareness, and be less concerned with what every little type of consciousness is than with just perceiving them directly and noticing the gaps that section off this from that, such as rigpa from thought stream, or awareness from sensations, as these are golden chains.
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tarin greco, modified 15 Years ago at 6/21/09 10:35 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/21/09 10:35 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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just wanted to quote that and highlight it for all the anagamis out there. as really that could not have been better said.
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 15 Years ago at 6/21/09 11:23 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/21/09 11:23 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Well, one thing is for certain: rigpa cannot be made in to an object. Herein lies the rub. Looking for super-awareness outside of one's sensate experience (i.e. looking for Nibbana, or the Source, or the Ground of Being, or whatever) is a futile exercise. Even after one truly discovers the simplicity of rigpa, they can try to solidify it in to something it is not. Hence, rigpa no more.

In other words, you cannot observe rigpa. You can only be rigpa. As you said, "Awareness is simply manifestation. All sensations are simply present." Rigpa = cognizant emptiness. Discovering this is the key, whether via vipassana or pointing out instructions or koan training. Once discovered, one needs only to remember to be it. All else is duality.

~Jackson
Hokai Sobol, modified 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 1:31 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 1:31 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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The "larger awareness" discussed is a tricky starting point for a conversation, as we are forced to pretend we know what is being referred to, although it's difficult to know for certain without additional specific details. It could as easily be a vestige and recess of self-contraction, a subtle pervading sensation itself that *can* be taken as an object (a resting place for awareness) and penetrated to the point of disappearing.

It could also be a covertly dualistic - displaced and dislodged, hence distorted - perception of natural awareness, abiding always and everywhere, perceived artificially as another (an other) awareness, with the actual vantage point remaining (or returning) as a yet subtle recoiled experiencing.

As far as awareness *itself* is concerned, the tradition uses special technical terms - here "rigpa" has been mentioned (used in dzogpa chenpo), while essence mahamudra vocabulary also has "simultaneous mind", pointing to the simultaneous, inseparable presencing of awareness-and-appearance, i.e. openness and luminosity, that, though being non-dual, are nonetheless not the same, and can indeed be distinguished, but never found separate. Hence talk of non-meditation (and "amanasikara" and "asmrti").

Because of such perplexity, arising from the difference between natural and artificial awareness, the tradition has developed the notion of gross, subtle and very subtle levels/perspectives, and the inconsistencies that arise may easily be the result of inadvertently conflating these levels of practice and interpretation so that a description fitting a certain level becomes quite confusing on another level. Anyway, the beginner can begin to make such distinctions intuitively, or at least bear in mind that such distinctions exist.
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triple think, modified 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 8:05 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 8:05 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Yeah, that was well put. So, do you guys figure this is it then? Maybe I'm done then, I feel done most of the time, except, of course, with the laundry thing. I just stopped worrying about it one way or the other quite a while back. But I've seen all this quite clearly so many times that it is all very familiar, which is why I just attend it all and maybe why anomalous phenomena is about all that makes me sit up and wonder, wtf is that now?

Maybe I should start a thread on phenomenological/perceptual/cognitive anomalies. Perhaps we can get them all sorted out as well. I'll give it some thought.... (anyone else ever find themselves in a full blown but non-sequential space and time?)
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tarin greco, modified 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 8:39 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 8:39 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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yup nathan, thats what i figure, that this is it. but i'd rather get my laundry done than explore anomalous phenomena. that could be a matter of taste though. how is it for you?
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triple think, modified 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 9:16 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 9:16 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Well, yeah, laundry is fairly straightforward, especially if most of your clothing is plain white to begin with, although it rarely stays entirely that way for long does it?

I don't think it is a matter of taste, just circumstances or kamma or something. It has complicated things a lot for me, I wouldn't recommend anyone purposefully setting out to have one weird experience after another, but if you do, then you do. So, I'm just curious if I am alone in that (probably not) or if others who have been paying close attention to internal and external phenomena and the media which presents it occasionally run into something that just doesn't jive with everything else.
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tarin greco, modified 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 9:25 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/22/09 9:25 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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man, constantly run into that strange stuff, and its funny, and fun, for sure, but at the same time there is something that keeps getting laundry dirty that doesn't have to, and now that i've washed them all AT THE SAME TIME and they're still kinda dirty, i know its not the laundry (me) that's the problem, its the machine (I), so im settin about to fixin the machine up, and maybe just junkin it when the time comes right. i like my life on auto-pilot so i'll go naked at times, but really, i'd rather just wear getting-cleaner clothes for now. that is my kamma and those are my tastes.
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Mark E Defrates, modified 15 Years ago at 6/28/09 12:15 PM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/28/09 12:15 PM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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I just wanted to thank everyone who responded to my question, especially Jackson, Daniel and Hokai. The specificity of detail and clarity of your answers is extremely useful. After a few more days of meditation I see that I was, in fact, attempting to generate a super-awareness, perhaps as Hokai suggests in an attempt to objectify awareness. I note that since I relaxed this attempt and returned to perceiving both physical sensations and all mental phenomena as just the same the quality of equanimity has strengthened while the sense of awareness as a something (other than a skandha) has diminished. You'd think I'd have recited the Heart Sutra enough times by now to recognize that! Very useful advice, guys, thanks again. Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!
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triple think, modified 15 Years ago at 6/28/09 8:15 PM
Created 15 Years ago at 6/28/09 8:15 PM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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I don't think there is any harm in just floating if the far shore is securely within reach. I tend to drift to God only knows where very easily so I have to be a lot more cautious. That's why I take a more proactive full spectrum approach to renovating this heap.

If you make some investments in other aspects of the Dhamma [ meditation can only take one so far ] "enlightened" or not you should be able to continue noting the impact of that. Then you can continue to evaluate the map. Consider it like adding elevations and climate overlays to the other maps.
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Mark E Defrates, modified 14 Years ago at 7/19/09 3:39 AM
Created 14 Years ago at 7/19/09 3:39 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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After a few more weeks of 45 minute daily meditation, preferentially favoring the breath (as Richard Shankman says) I find that within a few minute of meditation I am in a state I call The Big Room, or the Vastness. Mental phenomena, the thought stream, visualizations, abiding light and flooding color, appear and disappear within this larger field. I am aware of my body, and also of the mental image of my body seated within this field. I note without words the physical sensations of the breath, rising and falling, tingling, pain, etc. Most of these occur extremely fast. Both mental and physical phenomena clearly appear and disappear against this very large field (The Big Room). Nothing truly abides. These phenomena are also clearly empty of any substance, and as clearly unsatisfactory in the sense that they couldn't possibly provide any satisfaction being transitory and empty (there's nothing there beyond awareness of sensation). I note that this is even true for my perception of my body which is manufactured from fleeting sensations and a mental sensation of spurious continuity. Sounds distant and close also are appearing and disappearing within this larger field. If I examine the field closely it appears overlaid, at the limits of my perception (proprioception, sound and vision - the telescoping senses) )with a fine granularity composed of shimmering sands of yellow and red light. I am sure this is also pierceable and just another, though more abiding, sensation. The sensation of vastness, however, continues to indicate a larger presence or at least awareness that includes me but isn't actually identifiable as me in the terms of a personal identity. In fact it doesn't appear to have an identity. It just appears to be a ground state, what's there when everything else is seen to be transitory, unsatisfactory and empty of a separate self..
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Mark E Defrates, modified 14 Years ago at 7/19/09 3:41 AM
Created 14 Years ago at 7/19/09 3:41 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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And a very useful state it is. I have been tormented for 18 years by TMJ, following some dental work, and have tried every treatment short of surgery. I have medicated the pain with often disastrous effect for many years. Within a month of doing samadhic and vipassana meditation (and reading Shinzen Young on pain) I have been able to stop medicating most of the time by deploying mediative awareness on the pain, which then usually extinguishes. Most important the suffering of suffering has mostly disappeared and more aggressive gain is always extinguished by entering the Big Room. I note also that I can release from anger, obsession, anxiety, fear and other destructive emotions by deploying this awareness, which I can do much faster than ever before.

So my question is how do I examine the Vastness for anicca, dukkha, and anatta when it doesn't seem to have any characteristics? Just keep sitting until the other phenomena subside (as they tend to now and then)? My problem seems to be that when this happens I just blank out and then the timer rings or I come to with something of a jolt. I am quite willing to recognize this Vastness as a super self or no different than any other sensation. But it looks like a state of fundamental awareness. How does awareness examine awareness?
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triple think, modified 14 Years ago at 7/19/09 5:12 AM
Created 14 Years ago at 7/19/09 5:12 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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That's exactly what I do with pain, I totally merge with the sensation and soak up every last bit. If I have time for that I won't even scar from, say, a really nasty ripping slash in my flesh or what have you. It is very cool and the pain just vaporizes as it emerges right into that accepting void.

As for the ongoing investigation, I've already had my ocd philosophy session for the day but, I would recommend more time in the day on concentration practice. I would double or triple the time invested in it. More of that should help with understanding where you seem to be describing being at. If the torpor doesn't back of from that effort then I'd try some kind of moving concentration exercise like Tai Chi or even walking with attention on the breath and eyes on the ground ahead just like sitting kasina practice.
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 14 Years ago at 7/19/09 6:36 PM
Created 14 Years ago at 7/19/09 6:36 PM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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How to examine Vastness and Equanimity and Boundless Space and Boundless Consciousness and all sorts of other wondrous mind states is a great question, one that you have to figure out for yourself, but perhaps this will help.

Imagine that you were in a great space, such that everywhere you looked, that was what you found. You looked up and it was Vast, you looked down and found the same thing, you noticed things as individual sensations and also noticed that it was in a Vast field of awareness. All seems well. However, you will notice that Vastness is a quality, and as such, is implied by sensations, and while investigating such wonderful things as that Vastness seems to be the last thing you would want do to, it is actually also made up of sensations. Each time you look up and find Vastness, that is a new stream of sensations, transient, luminous, etc. The looking is also made up of a stream of sensations, as are the things in the Vastness, but looking more closely, or broadly, or completely, or evenly perhaps, you will find Formations.

Formations include space, include object, include looking and the sensations that seem to make up attention. As you find your attention moving around the to the objects in the Vastness, realize that actually that space is arising and vanishing in great volumetric swaths, like great 3D blobs, and attention is part of that, so notice all the way through the center, through the objects, in a way that includes all that and space as well, realizing that even space, consciousness, and equanimity all are just a part of the formations, and the formations change every instant, and arise and vanish completely. What happens when all this synchronizes is very good, so look for that. Everything has the Three Characteristics, even Vastness.
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Wet Paint, modified 14 Years ago at 7/20/09 9:33 PM
Created 14 Years ago at 7/20/09 9:33 PM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Author: AlexWeith

Dear All,

I am new on this great forum and thank you all for your interesting posts.

Getting back to our subject from a Zen point of view, I agree that the problem with awareness based practices is that we tend to reify awareness, solidifying the Vijnana Skandha. Another danger is to mistake formless Jhanas for pure Citta (Rigpa, Buddha-nature, Alayavijnana). That’s the reason why Zen master Da-hui strongly criticized “silent illumination” or “just sitting” Zazen.

Nevertheless, Chinese Zen master Sheng-yen presents what seems to be a correct interpretation of Hongzhi’s “silent illumination” Zazen. It starts like traditional Vipassana focusing on the posture first (Samatha) in order to investigate the true nature (three characteristics) of the five aggregates (Vipassana). As we start to cut through solidity, awareness gradually expends beyond the body to include the whole room, which becomes our new “body”. As it goes on, we find ourselves in great space. Our job is then to realize that, as Daniel put it, “even space, consciousness, and equanimity all are just a part of the formations, and the formations change every instant”.

From a Zen point of view, everything that comes and goes is a Guest. Even the silent watcher or radiant awareness is still a function of the true mind and is therefore also a Guest. So we keep investigating using Manjushri’s sharp sword to cut through solidity (which is also the meaning of Trekchö, the main practice of Dzogchen). Ultimately the true Host shows its tail.

Alex
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Mark E Defrates, modified 14 Years ago at 7/21/09 2:01 AM
Created 14 Years ago at 7/21/09 2:01 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Thanks Alex, Daniel and Nathan for your precise and useful replies. This is exactly the type of practice oriented direction I need and at which DhO excels. Your contextualizing the question within Zen and dzogchen terms is also very useful Alex, since I am new to Vipassana and trying to integrate my prior practice with the (to me) surprisingly powerful practice of jhana. Nathan, I agree the blanking out is a form of torpor. I'll restart my moribund Tai Chi practice. Your advice, Daniel, will keep me working for many sits to come. Even conceptually, since I don't recall ever experiencing this, the idea of regarding Vastness/Awareness as a sensation, or in Alex's felicitous Zen terminology, a Guest, is revolutionary to me. I note some internal resistance to it, a result, no doubt, of bad habits developed in prior and more muddied practice of other forms of meditation and inquiry.

-Mark
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Wet Paint, modified 14 Years ago at 7/21/09 3:17 AM
Created 14 Years ago at 7/21/09 3:17 AM

RE: Forms of Awareness

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Author: AlexWeith

Glad it help Kunzangshenpen. To integrate Vipassana with Dzogchen, I would recommend reading Dudjom Lingpa's "Buddhahood Without Meditation". As far as Zen is concerned, best would be Nan huai-chin's "The Story of Chinese Zen".

Here is a link to Zen master Nan huai-chin's Vipassana method (from the above mentioned book) to understand Hui-neng's Plateform Sutra:

http://buddhism.sgforums.com/forums/1728/topics/351575