Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
Vipassana for Beginners: Day 1
Two-day public teaching in Taipei, Taiwan: “Vipassana primarily for beginners and non-Buddhists”
Day 1: December 11, 2020
AM: Talk 1: 56 minutes, Talk 2: 50 minutes
PM: Talk 3: 38 minutes, Talk 4: 45 minutes, Talk 5: 31 minutes
See also: Day 2
Commentaries by Alex Li Trisoglio:
• (1) (introduction to vipassana, view and 3 marks): “Introduction to Buddhism – Week 4: Vipassana“
• (2) (on 4 foundations of mindfulness): “Introduction to Buddhism – Week 5: Meditation“
English / Español
Note 1: This is an edited transcript of a live teaching, and should not be taken as Rinpoche’s final word. Every effort has been made to ensure that this transcript is accurate both in terms of words and meaning, however all errors and misunderstandings are the responsibility of the editors of madhyamaka.com. Please see note.
Note 2: This transcript includes footnotes with clarifications and more information about Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist terms used in the teaching. Please click on the superscript number to read the footnote. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche’s name is abbreviated to “DJKR” throughout.
What is the purpose of vipassana?
Having goals and being objective
Okay, welcome everyone. I guess most of you, all of you hopefully, you’re all human beings. It’s [becoming] a more and more relevant question, because we never know. Probably you are partly a machine. And it’s also an important question, because if you are a human being, [it’s] more likely you that will have a goal. It doesn’t matter [whether] it’s a big goal or a small something, [for example] just to reach Tainan1Tainan is the oldest city on the island of Taiwan. It was the capital of Taiwan for over 200 years under Koxinga and later Qing rule – see wikipedia. tonight. It doesn’t matter.
Some of us will probably have a bigger goal, like success in relationship, success in business, success in leadership etc. Whatever it is, I think you all will agree with me that being objective is probably one of the most important things. I’m sure you pride yourself, saying “I’m being objective”. Being objective is cherished and venerated. This is why people go to MIT for instance. Being objective [and] having a bird’s eyes view towards life. Having a full picture of life. Being a visionary. This is, I guess, something that we’d like to be. Visionary. And I’m sure that some of you, or all of you actually, consider yourselves openminded. I’m sure you also consider yourself [as not having] prejudice.
The aim of vipassana is to see the truth
Well, I’m a Buddhist. I’m sure most of you have figured it out. And many of you probably are not Buddhists, which is fine. But vipassana is a Buddhist technique. Lately it has been used by so-called secular people, non-Buddhists, and so forth. [However] the Buddhist aim of vipassana is probably different from a lot of people who are doing vipassana. A lot of people are not Buddhist but they’re still doing vipassana, but their aim may be different.
Obviously, the Buddhist aim [in doing] vipassana is not to go to heaven. I don’t think Buddhists believe in heaven. The Buddhist aim, the final aim for Buddhists is really to see the truth. And here again, when the word “truth” is used, people get freaked out. Here we are not talking about any exotic, mythical, mystical, magical truth at all. In fact, the truth that Buddhism is trying to see is just so simple. It’s too simple. It can be challenging. As one of the great Buddhist meditators said, it’s like your eyelashes. It’s too close. You don’t see it. You know, simple truths like fire is hot and water is wet. We’re talking about [that kind of] really simple truth.
Now the word vi-2vi- (Sanskrit & Pāli: वि) = a prefix used to intensify an idea, hence “greater”, “special”, etc. – see vi-. in vipassana3vipassana (Pāli: विपस्सना) = special seeing, special insight, greater seeing, clear seeing – see vipassana. has the connotation of seeing insight or seeing the truth. It’s tricky because the moment that words like “insight” are used, then immediately we think “Oh something exotic, something very magical”.
Vipassana is much more than stress reduction
Anyway, some of you may be here just because you have been hearing about so-called mindfulness, vipassana. As a Buddhist, [I feel that] vipassana is dangerously becoming famous. I feel very fishy about it sometimes. But let’s talk about this another time. Anyway, some of you may be here just [because] you want to be free from stress. [Or perhaps] you want to have a good sleep. And [for] all this, [vipassana] could help. Definitely. That’s for sure. Better leadership, better management, better focus. Yes, some of you may be [here] just for this. Which is fine. Why not? You can do that.
But it is a bit like wiping your bottom with gold leaf. It’s such an incredible technique, why use it for something so mundane? But that’s me as a Buddhist. This is how I see [it]. I mean, if you just want to be free from stress [and] free from anxiety there are many other things you can do. Wash a buffalo. It could really make you feel so good. Just the whole process. Just wash and then it will really make you feel good. Yes, massage probably. Some soft music. But the way Buddhists see it is [like] this. As long as you are away from the truth, living a life of deception is either stress itself or it is a cause of stress. So I just wanted to tell you that there is a distinction, and I need to tell you this first.
Mind, the observer
We have mind
Now [there is] one very important fact, one very important agreement between me and you. You and I have to agree that you have a mind. This is why I asked, hopefully everybody here is a human being. Because if you are not, then probably you don’t have mind. If you are just a machine that is functioning based on some algorithm, then vipassana is not necessary. It’s useless. So we have to agree that you and I have a mind. Of course, we will never really define it and say “Yes, you and I have a mind. Here it is”. For sure, [on] that we will not come to some sort of agreement. But vaguely we need to come to a conclusion that you and I have a mind.
The power of observation
You have incredible power, more than all the gods put together. You have one power that’s much more powerful than the gods. And that is, you have the power of observing. This is your power. You are observing. I’m not talking about observing a specific thing. You are constantly observing. You’re hearing. You’re looking. You are seeing. You’re listening. You are hearing, and so forth. You have a power of observing. This is incredible. I don’t know whether you have ever really appreciated this. This table doesn’t have the observing power. Yes, of course, it’s being observed by us. But [this table] cannot observe us.
For about a minute, let’s just look at this observer that you have, which you have never really paid attention to. Let’s pay some attention to this observer. And I don’t want you to sit straight or anything like that. I just want you to just acknowledge that you have an observer and just look at this observer. What is it? That’s maybe the question. What is it?
[DJKR is silent for 90 seconds. He does not sit straight, but shifts his posture and looks around the room]
Observer, mind, brain
Today I’m calling this “observer”. You know, language is pathetic. But we have no choice. We have to use it. Today I’m using the word “observer”. Sometimes, many times, we use the word “mind”. Maybe scientists and science-inclined people might call it “brain”. In our mundane day to day life we call it “Jack” or “Jill” or “Wang” or “Deng” or whatever. You have that [“observer”]. You don’t need to download it [from] somewhere. You have it. It’s always there. It’s the one that’s doing the hearing, listening, cognizing.
Let us again look at that. But try to look at [it] without any influence. Without even my influence. Don’t bring any ideas from the books you have read. Please, none of that. Religious beliefs, please keep them aside. Scientific theories are as useless as religious beliefs. You don’t need them. It’s there with you. An observer.
Can’t you hear the rain drops now? Can’t you hear the humming of the air conditioner?4Ed.: Here DJKR is alluding to one of the most famous and most beautiful quotes from the Dzogchen tradition, capturing the essence of the moment when Patrul Rinpoche introduced the nature of mind to his student Nyoshul Lungtok: “Do you see the stars up there in the sky?” / “Do you hear the dogs barking in Dzogchen Monastery?” For the full quote and commentary see Quotes: Do you see the stars up there in the sky?
Whatever it is. Even [if] some sort of anxiety [is] here, “What is [Rinpoche] talking about [when he says] “Who is this that is thinking?” What is he talking about?” Please, a few moments again. And please no need for sitting straight or anything. However you want. Sitting and all of this will happen later, painfully. So don’t worry about it right now.
[DJKR is silent for 60 seconds. He reads, looks around the room, drinks some coffee]
If there are parents here, I would suggest that sometimes you ask your children this question, “Do you know you have mind?” Just as you ask [do you know you have] your hands, your toes whatever. Do you know you have something called mind?
How can we forget the most important part of you? It’s the most important, the most powerful [part], more powerful than all the gods that existed throughout all the centuries. If one billion Christians don’t have mind, who is God? If millions of Hindus don’t have mind, who is it that is showing devotion? Who is it that is scared of death? Who is it that is getting lonely? Bored? Sad? Happy?
Observing the observer
Since this is important, we will do it one more time. But one thing. As you look at the mind, I don’t want you to find the mind. I mean, I don’t want you to get an answer. I just want you to ask and observe. And I don’t want you to name it. The name that can be given is not a name. [These are] such wonderful words, aren’t they? From the first verse [of the Tao Te Ching]5Tao Te Ching (Chinese: 道德經) = a Chinese classic text that is fundamental to both philosophical and religious Taoism, and is traditionally credited to the 6th century BCE sage Laozi – see Tao Te Ching. Red Pine translates these lines as :
The way that becomes a way
Is not the Immortal Way
The name that becomes a name
Is not the Immortal Name.
As commentary, he offers the Buddha’s words from the Diamond Sutra (21):
He who says I teach the Dharma maligns me.
Who teaches the Dharma teaches nothing.. Let’s not call it anything.
Just observe the observer, for a few moments. This observer is not a theory. It’s not a story. It’s not a fiction. You hear. You feel. Now.
[DJKR is silent for 10 seconds]
Okay, one more [piece of] information. You know, I said that you have something so powerful. That is your ability to observe. Constant cognizance. Constantly knowing, constantly being conscious. But there is something incredible. It’s really interesting. I hope you have noticed. Mind, this observer, can observe itself. It doesn’t need another observer to observe another mind. It just observes itself. And you can’t find [this mind] anywhere else. This one, you [already] have it.
Actually, I can see you. But I cannot see your observer. Only your mind knows the secret of your mind. This is actually a really important aspect or element of Buddhist study. It’s called self-awareness. I just want to throw in the language, just so that you get used to it if you want to study further. So, this is why in many Buddhist writings we hear homage and veneration to the mind, saying that it is the most precious and most wish-fulfilling gem.
Working with our mind
We are stuck with mind
Now, this mind that you have, you cannot not have it. You can cut your hair. You can cut your nails. You can even chop [off] your hand if you want. Mind? No. People try. Like they drink a lot of whiskey. Actually what they’re really trying to do is put a pause button on the mind. That’s what they’re really doing. You can sort of a numb it for a while. You can distract it by watching some episodes. But you can never eject it. Never.
Later during the question and answer [period] if you want, we can talk about what happens to people with Alzheimer’s, people in coma, brain dead people, people in a vegetative state. It’s a very easy subject, but I don’t know whether we even want to go in there. Because I think maybe we should just pay more attention to the vipassana.
I don’t know whether you even understand the stakes of this. The fact that you cannot delete the mind or do without [it], [even] for a day or an hour. This is actually a big issue. Sometimes I wish I were a table. Like now, the table is not jealous because I’m putting my things here [DJKR takes his book off the table and puts it on his lap]. The table doesn’t feel left out. It doesn’t matter [to the table] whether [we] use [it] or don’t use it. Whatever. Table has nothing. The table doesn’t feel ignored if it is not used. The table doesn’t feel disrespected if I put my butt on it. But [when it comes to the] mind, it’s not that easy. It’s so complicated. So these are the facts of the mind. You cannot do without [mind]. We have mind. We are stuck with mind actually.
Many times we feel like we are stuck with mind. If you know how to use the mind, as the Buddhist masters say, mind is like a precious gem. But if you don’t know how to use the mind, and then you’re stuck with the mind, then you have angst. I think the German word is angst. I think a lot of people have that angst. I think this is why there are questions like “What is the purpose of my life?”
We are control freaks, but we cannot control our mind
So then what do we do? We try to distract it, numb it. And we do this a lot. We constantly try to distract this mind. And we learn more ways to get distracted. It’s called education. And then we get hooked by these distractions. And then you become dependent. [And] the worst news that happens to the mind is that the mind becomes dependent on something else. Now, all of you are control freaks, for sure. You all want to control. Definitely the whole world. You want to control everyone, right? We human beings do. But we are not managing to control the real controller, the mind.
So, as I said earlier, we lose objectivity. We have prejudice. We have a narrow mind. We have a partial view, not a bird’s eye view of life. And this narrow angle, this prejudiced mind is what the Buddhists call klesha6klesha (Sanskrit: क्लेश) = afflictive emotions, destructive emotions; defilements, afflictions, mental afflictions, factors which disturb the mind – see klesha.. You know in Buddhism, we don’t have [the concept of] sin. What Buddhists have is klesha. Klesha is prejudiced mind, narrow mind, [a mind that is] not openminded, no bird’s eye view, not objective, all subjective. That’s what klesha is. So Buddhists believe in what we call klesha. It’s [also] called defilement.
And based on that [prejudiced and defiled] mind, we act and react. And this is called nonvirtuous action. So this is why the real or the main goal of vipassana according to Buddhism is really to overcome these prejudices. We need to overcome these partial views. We need to overcome these subjective values. We need to see the truth.
So that’s sort of the general prologue or introduction to vipassana. I’m sorry it has been too long. We will soon have a break. But before the break, we will initiate ourselves with sitting, I mean we will begin, we will just get used to what we call sitting. And in Japanese I think they call it shikantaza7shikantaza (Japanese: 只管打坐) = a meditation practice where one stays intensely focused and aware without focusing on any particular object, and without having any particular goal – see shikantaza. which means “just sit”. I think the word “just” is incredibly profound, vast, and deep.
So we will now do let’s say six minutes of sitting. The most important [element] is sitting straight. That’s like a must, almost. We will add more sort of details as time goes by. But let’s begin by just sitting. And probably [it would be good to] not look around, not scratch or yawn or cough, if you can.
Okay, let’s sit.
[DJKR sits for 6 minutes]
Okay let’s take a break. Ten minutes I think.
[END OF TALK 1]
Mindfulness of the body
So, vipassana is actually really vast. From simply sitting, all the way to mandalas, dance, music, rituals. It can be just infinite. This is why I was saying earlier [that] I feel very cautious when people talk about vipassana, and immediately they’re talking in terms of sitting and being quiet somewhere for nine days. That’s really like thinking that Taiwanese [cuisine] is just beef noodle. That’s really depriving ourselves from the wealth.
Now, we will immediately do two [sessions of] sitting. Firstly, I will do just a sample sitting. This is just to give you the idea, just two or three minutes. And during this time I will be talking, so you just listen and continue sitting. And then after that I will give some more talk. And then we will actually do one serious sitting this morning.
Guided meditation on mindfulness of the body
Okay, so this time please sit straight. Don’t close your eyes. That’s where my tradition comes from. It’s the not closing the eyes tradition, by the way.
[DJKR leads guided meditation on mindfulness of the body] [t = 6M 06S]
You have a body. Have you noticed that? I’m sure you vaguely know that you have a body.
You have small toes.
You have shoulders.
Part of your face is flat.
Tip of fingers.
Now, whole body. Even though it’s very vague and abstract, just whole body.
You have ears.
Observe your eyelids.
if your mind is beginning to travel outside of your body, come back to the body.
Back to the whole body.
It may be a very vague idea, but still just come back to the whole body.
No visualizations. Don’t make anything special.
After the mind, body is one of the most precious things that you have. And you have not observed [it] all this time. Oh, I’m sure you have been to the gym, and you have been to the hair [salon] and you may be constantly doing diets for the look of the body, the appearance of the body. And you must have bought some colorful and fashionable dresses to beautify or to make your body significant. But those have got nothing to do with observing the body. Those are just an act of hope and fear.
Today, simply just watch the body.
Okay, let’s stop here.
So this is just a just a sample. We will do it more properly after I give some talk.
Who are you?
The components of who you are
Who are you, if you really look into yourself? “Who am I?” Please, don’t think that I’m giving you some exotic, mystical, magical, religious [teaching]. [This is] none of that. Who are you? [Buddhism identifies four aspects or components of self and phenomena8These are the four domains to which mindfulness is applied, in the practice known as “the four establishments of mindfulness” (Pāli: चत्तारो सतिपट्ठाना, cattaro satipatthana) that is described in the Satipatthana Sutta – see cattaro satipatthana., which we will talk about] in order. The first one is the most gross but the least important. The last one is the most subtle, but also the most important. I don’t know, maybe “important” is not the right word. But I guess [we can say the last of the four is] your most important component.
What is an Americano9Caffè Americano (also known as Americano) is a type of coffee drink prepared by diluting an espresso with hot water. The term “caffè Americano” is Italian for “American coffee”, and there is a popular, but unconfirmed, belief that the name has its origins in World War II when American G.I.s in Italy would dilute espresso with hot water to approximate the coffee to which they were accustomed – see wikipedia.? It has to at least have coffee beans. It doesn’t matter if you have Colombian [coffee beans]. [But] at least coffee beans and water. And lots of water. That’s why it’s a bad coffee. It’s called Americano. Basically it’s watered down coffee, which marketing people don’t sell as “This is bad watered down coffee”. They call it “Americano”. There’s a musical tone [to that name].
So who are you? Number one: body. Your body is a big part of you. It’s the gross part of you, the most tangible part of you. You know, thirty four inches, six pack, this and that. Basically, the most tangible. This time we are only doing a very introductory kind of vipassana. We are not going to go deeper inside every detail, because we can talk quite a lot [about] body alone. Because when we talk about the body, we’re also talking about the sense organs, let’s say the eyes. But this twinkling thing is not really the eyes. There’s something else behind this, that is performing the main function of seeing things. We are not going to go through that too much this time. Just body.
You have a body which is a big part of you. You’re here. Who went to the toilet just now? Not your mind. Who entered here? Who is getting hungry? Who is getting a little bit sluggish so to speak, all that? Body. I’m not asking you to do prayers, obviously not. I’m not asking you to supplicate for some blessings to this body from an outer source, like some outer heavenly whatever. I’m not asking you to visualize yourself with halos and some magical qualities. I’m not doing that.
Mindfulness of the body
What am I doing? The thing that you do the most, and the most powerful [faculty that you have]. Remember I said earlier? Observe. All I’m asking you [to do] is to observe the body, which is a big part of you. Remember, Americano? This is almost like the water [in an Americano]. You want an Americano? A big part is water. So who are you? A big part of you is the [body]. So all I’m asking you is just observe. That’s it. Actually I’m being very loose here. I’m not being that strict. It’s just because I myself am lazy.
Okay, so at times observe [just a] part [of your body]. I mean, you have a nostril you know? That is just so amazing. Have you ever thought about it? You have eyelids. I mean, gosh, you have incredible stuff with you. But again I’m not asking you to visualize anything. I’m only asking you to observe. So I think maybe it would help [for you to observe your body] from the toes to the tip of your head. From the tip of your head to the toes. From this finger to that finger. You can do it however you want. And sometimes the whole [body].
This time, I want you to be a little bit more disciplined. Of course sitting straight. And you can breathe. And you can blink your eyes if you need, but not deliberately. But maybe don’t move. Sometimes in the middle, you’ll feel like you want to re-sit [i.e. adjust your sitting position]. Don’t do that. No coughing, no scratching if possible.
Please cough, yawn, scratch whatever now [before we start]. This time we will not do a very long [meditation session] like in many traditional vipassana courses, but maybe 20 minutes. So are you ready? Okay, let’s start.
[DJKR sits for 20 minutes]
This afternoon we are going to be more specific about the body. We are going to concentrate on the breathing, [for] many reasons. For instance, if your breathing stops you are finished. And you can’t sort of pause the breathing for a few hours. It’s the most constant [aspect of you]. And it is a very big part of the body.
The four things that comprise who you are
And the breathing is also very related to the other [aspects of self]. You know I was saying, “Who are you?” There are four things that are you:
(1) Your body.
(2) Your feelings, which we will touch on this afternoon.
(3) Of course your mind.
(4) And then the last one, the most easy way to translate it is “phenomena”.
That [fourth one] is the most complex one, but it’s very important. At a time when everybody thinks that tiny feet are the most beautiful thing, if someone says your shoe size is 49, you will be so upset. You have to keep it secret. That’s like so big. At a time when a flat belly is considered beautiful, you see people walking around, breathing in and walking around paranoid that they will forget [to pull in their belly] and [it will] bulge out. Values. Ideas. Democracy. Socialism. Red party. Green party. Yellow party. Trump hater. Trump lover. These are also a big part of you. A big part. [All] that is actually [included in] number four. I don’t think we’ll reach that one too extensively because we only have two days.
Western mindfulness programs don’t pay attention to mind and phenomena
Anyway, most of the time when people talk about vipassana, people are always talking vaguely about the body and the feelings. Nobody cares about mind. Nobody cares about this phenomena business.
So this afternoon, we will do a little bit more on body, more specific. And by the way, they’re also interrelated. Like [a cup of] coffee. Water and coffee mixed. They are also separate, but they are intertwined.
So how about two o’clock? Enough for lunch and to get drowsy? We’ll come back around two o’clock. Yes. And for those who can’t come back again, I just want to say it’s been very good that we have this connection.
And really, in this day and age, please consider really paying some attention to yourself. Your body. And your mind. After all, don’t you want to be objective? Successful? And have good sleep? So please pay attention to these. And I think there are a lot of South Americans, North Americans, Europeans and Far East Asians listening at the moment. Those of you who wish to raise some questions, please write them down and send them.
[END OF TALK 2]
Q & A
Not getting distracted
So, because it’s right after lunch and all that, we will just begin with questions. So you can feel free to be very drowsy and sleepy and whatever.
[Q]: So, is the meditation or reflection on repulsiveness [namely] to meditate on the body as bones, is that an advanced kind of vipassana? What is the meaning of that specific practice?
[DJKR]: Okay, I hope I’m understanding the question. The question indicates that the person is looking for something special. So, this is one mistake that we should not make. It is absolutely ridiculously mundane. It’s just observing the body and that’s it. Why should we do it? What’s the point then? What’s the point of doing something so mundane? Well even though I say it’s mundane, as I said [we still have the question] “Who are you?” And the body happens to be a big part of you.
And usually you don’t notice it. Of course if I ask you, “Do you have a body?” You will all say, “Yes, yes, I do have a body”. But how many of us are really aware of our body? Now having said that, I’m not interested in [things] like the count of how many hairs you have on your body, stuff like that. Of course that’s irrelevant. Actually, I will use the questions to sort of deliver what I wanted to deliver. Especially for beginners, vipassana will always ask you to sit. There is really no preference between the sitting or the walking or the standing body. It’s just your body.
And if you are conscious of your body, [whether you are] sitting straight on a meditation cushion or lying down on a hammock with a mojito in in your hand, [there’s] no difference at all. But this [discipline of sitting] is a discipline that is suggested especially for beginners. I guess we need to describe the word dhyana10dhyana (Sanskrit: ध्यान) = meditative concentration, meditation, concentration, mental focus. According to early Buddhist texts such as the Suttapitaka and the Agamas of the Pali Canon, the aim of dhyana is to withdraw the mind from automatic responses to sense-impressions, thus leading to upekkha-sati-parishuddhi, a meditative “state of perfect equanimity and awareness” – see dhyana. in Sanskrit, gom11gom (Tibetan: སྒོམ་, Wylie: sgom, translation of Sanskrit: भावन, IAST: bhāvana) = development, training, practice, cultivation; meditation, contemplation – see gom. in Tibetan, Chan12chan (Chinese: 禪, pinyin: chán, abbreviation of 禪那, chánnà, a transliteration of the Sanskrit ध्यान, dhyāna “meditation”) = meditation – see chan. in Chinese, which I think came from dhyana. Which ended up becoming Zen13zen (Japanese: 禅, zen) = meditative concentration, meditation, concentration – see zen. [in Japanese]. Which is absolutely badly translated as “meditation”. Actually, meditation is really nothing to do with vipassana.
[DJKR looks up definition of “meditation” on his iPhone]
The English language is killing Buddhism. I’m so upset about this. I’m just looking at the definition of meditation. No, it’s not good basically. Anyway, the word dhyana or chan has this connotation of not getting distracted, not being distracted. So we do everything to make sure that you have a lesser chance to get distracted, so to speak.[Doing] so-called meditation in Taipei 101 behind me, or up in Yangmingshan, or somewhere right in the middle of the forest in Alishan, it really doesn’t matter. But maybe inside the forest, [with] nobody there, especially no phone network, [there’s a] better chance for you to be not distracted. So, this is why between standing and walking and dancing, sitting probably gives you [a greater] chance to not be distracted. Even concepts such as retreat are like this.
So you could be doing a retreat. For instance, if you are from Taipei and you go to Taichung, you [might] check into an Airbnb to which you have never been. Let’s say Friday night you check in. And Sunday you check out. So for this time you just stay in the Airbnb and really [spend] as much time as possible observing the body. Yes, [then] you have done a good job of vipassana. I’m serious.
Part of that may include sitting and really observing the body. Part of that may be making toast and really [being] aware of the whole procedure. Body is moving, right? Toast. And actually if you have moved up to the next level of vipassana, [you may] even [observe] the crispness of the toast as you bite the toast, that crunchy sound, all of that. So it’s very, very mundane.
Eyes open or eyes closed?
[Q]: This is a question from Bhutan. So in some vipassana traditions they advise people to keep eyes open and some [other traditions] advise people to close the eyes. What’s the difference between the two traditions?
[DKJR]: I think most of the Theravada traditions tend to close the eyes. And for the tantric traditions, they don’t really talk about closing the eyes. Some people think you close your eyes so that you’ll be less distracted. Well, then you will have to block your ears and block your nose and all kinds of things, so we don’t want to go there too much, right? And for the tantric practitioners there are tantric vipassana [practices] that have things to do with visions and stuff like that. So, I guess you also have to be prepared for that.
The four establishments of mindfulness are like a base
[Q]: The vipassana you taught this time, is this similar to the so-called four bases or four applications of mindfulness? And if I have trained in other types of meditation, can I modify those into this teaching’s way of doing it?
[DJKR]: In the Mahayana sutras, there are actually 37 points [that are] indispensable [aspects] of the bodhisattva path14sattatimsa bodhipakkhiya dhamma (Pali: सत्ततिंस बोधिपक्खिया धम्मा) = the 37 qualities conducive to awakening (also “37 factors of enlightenment”) – see 37 factors of enlightenment.. And the 37 points include these four [establishments of] mindfulness15cattaro satipatthana (Pāli: चत्तारो सतिपट्ठाना) – see 4 establishments of mindfulness.. Sadly, nobody is even interested in the rest. Actually, I don’t understand why people are not interested in [them], because they’re so beautiful. [For example], there’s the practice of the four miracle powers16cattaro iddhipada (Pali: चत्तारो इद्धिपादा) = the four bases of magical / supernatural power – see cattaro iddhipada.. I think this is something that 21st century people should really look for. And when we talk about miracles, we are not talking about some sort of fairy tale kind of miracles here17Ed.: the four “miracle powers” are (1) intention/purpose, (2) diligence/effort, (3) thought/attention/reflection and (4) discernment. These would not be out of place as advice on personal effectiveness in a contemporary book on leadership or self-help.. So basically these four [establishments of] mindfulness are like a base. I’m sure there are many different nuances and different little different ways [that different meditation traditions have developed based on these four establishments of mindfulness]. Coming back to coffee, there are different coffees [such as] iced coffee. You go to Starbucks, and you get so confused. When you ask for a coffee, they say what do you want? They ask you like ten questions.
Seeing the truth: the three truths
When you glimpse that your husband or wife has a tail
Okay. So now I’m going to continue from this morning. Just to recap. Vipassana is about seeing the truth. Vipassana is actually about seeing the real deal. Seeing the truth.
Why do you need that? Don’t you want to be objective? Don’t you want to see things from the bird’s eye view? Don’t you want to be openminded? Don’t you want to get rid of prejudice? Well, if you want to, then you had better see the truth. Because once you see the truth, even a glimpse, your attitude will change.
[Imagine that] you once see, maybe one day or one night, that your husband or a wife has a tail growing. Just a glimpse. Just for a moment. That’s it. You will always think “Who is this? Who am I married to? I saw it”. When your husband or the wife comes back, the way you say “Hi” will be changed, because the tail is in your head. Next time you cook his or her favorite dish, you will [wonder] “Does he really like this food?” Once you see even a little glimpse of this truth, you [will] change your attitude. To the world, to life, everything.
Since we are talking about the truth, I will tell you what truth are we talking [about] here. This morning we did observation of the body. We will do a little bit more. And this is a big part of you, remember? Just keep on remembering this. This morning we only did it for 20 minutes. If you keep on doing that, three kinds of truth will be revealed.
Three truths: anicca, dukkha and anatta
(1) Anicca (impermanence): First, the truth of passing passing passing passing passing, rising, rising, rising, rising18Ed. DJKR uses the words “rising” and “arising” interchangeably in this teaching.. That’s one truth. I think this is also one of the reasons why the breathing practice has been done. So you breathe out. That’s gone forever. Farewell. Forever. You breathe in, but this is a new one. And you breathe out. Gone again. Forever. You are not going to breathe in the air that you breathed yesterday, or even this morning or even a minute before. Passing, passing, passing, passing, passing.
But the beautiful thing is the rising, rising rising, rising. I don’t know. I just have to tell you this. See, in Buddhism, the passing and the rising are a such a beautiful flow of life. Now, have I told you anything magical or mythical? Something supernatural? I haven’t. This is the raw truth. Whether you accept it or not, it is the raw truth. This is probably the easiest of the truths to understand.
(2) Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness): The second one, the second truth. As you as you keep on doing the vipassana observation, observation, the second truth [that will be revealed] is that there is actually nothing that you can call an ultimate satisfaction. Yes, of course, I just had a really good ice cream. I forgot the name of this ice cream. You should try this. Milk cheese something something. I don’t know. Life is a bit like licking an ice cream. Yes, you have some sort of satisfaction, but it’s not really satisfaction, is it? It also leads to different things.
Just briefly to give you the classic terms, the first truth is called anicca, and the second one is called dukkha.
(3) Anatta (nonself): And as you keep on observing the body, you will begin to realize there is no such thing as a “fat” body or a “thin” body. Or a six pack. All these appearances are all deception. There’s no truly existing, externally existing entity called “beautiful body” or “ugly body” or whatever . You will realize that everything is just some causes and conditions put together, and there is a phantasmagoria19phantasmagoria = a sequence of real or imaginary images like those seen in a dream., a matrix of phenomena. Now we are going to the deeper Buddhist philosophy. We will soon get out, don’t worry.
It’s like the table. Because I put all these things here [DJKR places his coffee and water on the table in front of him], then it’s a table. If my butt is on it, you would all think “Wow he’s sitting in a very cool chair”. Suddenly the table has become a chair. So nothing really is what we call it.
When you glimpse the truth, your attitude will change
Now coming back to the husband and wife having a tail. You saw your husband or wife has a tail, just a glimpse. So next time, your attitude has changed. So then, as we observe our body, as we see these three truths, you should never think that I mean you will not exercise. In other words, [do not think] that because you have seen the truth of anicca, dukkha and anatta that you will suddenly stop exercising, you will start dressing sloppily and so on. None of these. You will still go ahead with all your norms.
You will just do it differently. Suddenly when your pants don’t fit, [you will have an] “Okay, it doesn’t matter” kind of [attitude]. If suddenly your wife or husband begins to eat breakfast without using a fork or spoon, just straight from the plate to the mouth, you will think “It’s okay, I have seen that. I sort of expected that”.
Okay, I know this is going to be a little tough. But let’s do this one more time, the sitting. But this time we are going to use breathing. Yes, in the future, if you are interested and if we meet again, probably we should do this somewhere in a place where we can also walk, because it’s also good to do walking meditation and so forth.
We are not going to do it long, because it’s probably a little difficult [after lunch]. So, what do you do is again, the same thing, sitting straight and all of that, as we talked this morning. But this time, instead of going from your toes to your head, please just concentrate on breathing in and out. Just that. And we will just do three minutes.
Okay, let’s start.
[DJKR sits for 3 minutes]
Our body is like a ring of fire
You see, right now it’s like a ring of fire. When [a firebrand or torch] is moved [round in a circle] so fast, you see a ring of fire20The ring of fire (Sanskrit: अलातचक्र, IAST: alātacakra) that is produced by a whirling firebrand is one of the classic metaphors or examples of illusion (Sanskrit: मायोपाम, IAST: māyopāma) found in the Prajñaparamita sutras and Madhyamaka teachings – see mayopama.. But [with] close observation, you see there is no ring. There is only [a single] torch [that is moving quickly]. Likewise, our life at the moment [appears as] a long big ring. I should say our body [is like a ring of fire]. Life in general, but the body also. And actually, even though there are signs of our body changing and falling apart or whatever, we just refuse to see the truth. Okay, we’ll take a break. Ten minutes.
[END OF TALK 3]
[Note: There is no audio track for approximately the first 80 seconds of the video for Talk 4. The transcript begins when the audio track resumes]
We make ourselves busy
I think one of the big challenges for Alzheimer’s patients is loss of memory. Well, that is kind of happening already in our lives. And we make it like this. We make ourselves busy. We are proud of being busy. But it’s okay, being busy. It really doesn’t matter. Please fill up your days. I just don’t see modern people really not doing anything for more than [something] like half an hour. It’s just not possible.
Even if you want to do it, the system that we live in today has made sure you can’t do it. Mark Zuckerberg alone will not be happy if every human being does observation of the body for half an hour a day. He will lose millions. Just imagine. How many billions [of people] are there in the world? [Imagine] each one of them [observing the body] every day [for] half an hour. The stock market will crash. Amazon will go down the hill. I just don’t see it. But individually, even though you will not cancel any of these [things you do to make yourself busy], please make time to observe your body.
Imagination and reality
Now there is an interesting question. Bella was telling me that someone was asking “When we say observing the body, are we observing the body or are we just imagining the body?” Wow. If this person is somebody who is really new, who just walked into this room this morning, and if the vipassana system had some kind of medal system, I would give this person a medal. Because already this person cannot really differentiate between the imagination body and the real body. There’s not not so much difference. Imagination is a very strong.
Actually, Buddhists will say everything is just your imagination. But we are not going to be too Buddhist here. Everything. Job. Career. I don’t know, democracy, human rights. All of this is just an imagination. Some imaginations are very successfully marketed. The others are not that successful. That’s about all. So that’s a very good question, which is already an answer. Think about your body. Okay, forget your whole body. Just think about your finger. Just choose one. A big part is just your imagination. So that’s good. I’m not going to answer this. The next question?
Who am I? I don’t know. What should I do next?
[Q]: So, when you ask “Who are you?“ I thought of the answer “I don’t know.” And then what should I do next?
[DJKR]: For now, just know that you are your body, your feelings, your mind, and phenomena. Just that. For now. And this is not my statement. It’s what you do. Somebody stepped on your toes? You say, “You stepped on me. You hurt my feelings”. You are body, feelings, mind, and [phenomena]. “Phenomena” is not the right [word]. The Sanskrit word [for the fourth aspect of self] is dharma.
Since we don’t have much time, maybe we’ll have to go forward. I mean, we should move on.
How you see things determines your attitude and behavior
I’ve just done [the introduction to mindfulness of body in a] very generalized [way]. Very rough. We can really go [into this] in detail. When you become so good at observing, I think your way of looking at the body will become really different. Remember, I was giving this example [of how] I used to have a secretary, a Japanese biochemist. She’s very highly trained. Bacteria. So just imagine. Japanese. A PhD on some bacteria science. And she’s my secretary. So she travels around with a few rolls of toilet paper. Hand sanitizers. Soaps. Because I’m so dirty, I guess. It’s not just that. In her trained mind, she sees bacteria everywhere. Many times I would catch her cleaning something that is so clean already.
[Whole-parts]: Yes, observe your body. Observe your body. Then you [will] begin to see the three realities [of your body]. You and I, and ordinary people generally, don’t see the body as parts. We always see the body as a unit, one unit. Just one big lump. Unit. If you go to Burma and Sri Lanka, they have these great vipassana practitioners. They are very good at it, very advanced. They see body in parts. Remember, husband and wife with tails? Now you begin to see the body in parts. Now imagine what kind of attitude you will have.
[Permanent-impermanent]: That’s one. And then [these great vipassana practitioners] also begin to see the body as passing, passing, passing, passing.
[Independent-dependent]: And then the third one. You and I, ordinary people, we see the body as independent. The [great vipassana practitioners] see the body as totally dependent. The fact that you can sit there and I can sit here is dependent so much on the guy who built Taiwan 10121The Taipei 101 (Chinese: 台北101; pinyin: Táiběi yī líng yī), is a supertall skyscraper with a height of 1,671 feet. It was officially classified as the world’s tallest building from its opening in 2004 until the 2010 completion of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE at 2,717 feet – see wikipedia.. Because Taiwan 101 is still intact. It’s not falling on us22Ed.: The teachings are being held in a building facing West across the Xinyi Plaza park towards Taipei 101.. I’m exaggerating a little bit, but it’s still the truth. [We are] so dependent on everything. So dependent. The aubergine that you ate this morning, aubergine or avocado, whatever. That could kill you. Something like this.
But I think all this may be creating an idea that “Oh my goodness, vipassana practitioners will always be freaked out all the time”. No, not at all. Why? Because people only get freaked out when they don’t look at [things] from the bird’s eye view. It’s possible that right on the next corner, somebody is waiting for you to give you a diamond ring. You never know. Stuff like this exists.
So let’s just wrap up with the body, even though all of these [four aspects] are connected as I told you.
Mindfulness of feelings
Feelings and sensations
Now what is the next one? Very important. Feelings23Ed.: DJKR used “feeling” rather than “feelings” throughout this part of the teaching. The word has been changed to “feelings” to reflect common usage.. Wow. That is a very big part of you. Just imagine how much Americans spend just to have good feelings. Or [when] your feelings get hurt, “You yelled at me”. All that. The lawsuits. Feelings.
Someone says sorry to you and it fixes [things]. You know? Sometimes someone just says sorry, and sometimes it’s magical. This is how ridiculous the feelings are, also. Feelings are very big. I don’t know how to begin to even talk about these feelings. Anyway, [they are] a big part [of self]. And sensations that are related to the body, they should [also] be [included] in the category of feelings.
Guided meditation on mindfulness of feelings
So that’s what we are going to do now. What we are going to do next, is we’re going to catch [feelings]. Let’s begin with the gross ones. Okay, so let’s begin catching, I should say observing, sensations in your body. If you have no particular sensations, at least when you breathe in and out there must be a sensation somewhere in the middle of your nostrils. If not, [there may be] itchiness, dullness, sleepiness. Feelings are a big part of you. Okay, let’s observe the feelings. Okay, so we will do [this in] the same way [as before]. Let’s sit straight.[DJKR sits straight and waits for a moment for the audience to sit straight]
Okay, let’s start. And this time, sometimes I will speak and guide.
[DJKR leads guided meditation on mindfulness of feelings] [7 minutes]
It could be some sensation in your body.
It could be some sort of anxiety somewhere, which you cannot really point out, but it’s there.
You’re not asking any questions like “Why am I anxious?” You’re just observing it.
And as you observe it, the feeling might disappear.
If it disappears, that’s okay. If it doesn’t disappear, that’s also okay. All you need to do is just observe.
As you observe, your mind will fly here and there. Try to always come back to feeling.
Q & A
If my mind is disturbed rather than calmed by practice, is this vipassana?
[Q]: Shamatha practice seems to be pacifying our mind, while vipassana seems to awake our mind or even disturb our mind sometimes. So can I consider these disturbing feelings as part of vipassana?
[DJKR]: Shamatha and vipassana are two kinds of technique. Ideally shamatha is often taught as the foundation for vipassana. What shamatha does is it is supposed to make the mind flexible. Now these days, often shamatha is overlooked. But then again, these days when we talk about vipassana, we’re not really talking about the whole picture of vipassana. Anyway, this is just very big technical jargon. Probably it’s too boring for many of you.
I’ll give you an example. This [is from] one of the Buddhist masters. Let’s say there’s muddy water. You want to see clear water. So what do you do? You do not stir [it]. Let it calm. This is sort of the shamatha principle. But the problem is that the mud settles beneath, and it’s waiting there any time to come out. So if you really don’t want the mud once and for all, it’s good to also be messy and get rid of the mud sometimes.
This is probably what we should be pursuing, shamatha and vipassana together. So you see, even earlier when I was guiding you [in vipassana], I was talking about how every time your mind is flying here and there, come back. [When I did that, I was using] more of the shamatha language.
Because vipassana is actually [much more than just meditation]. Actually, vipassana can even [include] talking. Talking about the subject matter of the truth. So hearing and contemplation can very well be vipassana. So if I’m telling you, “Look [at your] hand” [DJKR looks at his hand] “You may think it’s just one unit, but it’s actually not. There’s skin, there are bones, there’s blood and all kinds of things”. And [if you do that] then [you might think] “Oh yes, that’s right”. There’s a little bit of awakening there.
And then [if] I further say, “You know, this hand that I was waving just a moment ago, that’s gone. Finished forever. This is the present moment hand. And that’s already gone again”. You know? And [you might say], “Oh yes, that makes sense”. And that’s a bit of awakening.
And [I might say] “My hand is very dependent on a lot of things. Like Nivea cream and so many other things. It depends on lots of other things”. And then you get [a little bit] awakened, “Oh yes, it’s a very dependent phenomenon”. So even this kind of discussion and hearing and analysis can sort of poke holes in your deception, these wrong ideas. Vipassana is basically seeing the truth.
But shamatha is important. Seeing the truth [is one thing], but then again maintaining that seeing the truth is difficult.
It’s like watching Game of Thrones. You know those dragons are totally fake. But with the music and with the dragons coming, you will just get into that. I heard that millions of people are sad because the dragon queen never got to be a queen, or something like this. She never existed, but somehow millions [of people] are sad that she never got to be a queen.
But you see, this is the thing. [Each of us has a] different projection, right? Different projection. I sort of watched it, not thoroughly but kind of fast forward a lot. For me, when the dragon picked her up and went away, I thought “Oh, the next episode is coming. In about five years we will have a new season [and we will learn that] she was taken by the dragon to a dragon land and got healed, and now she’s coming back with more retinue”. Things like this. Projection. It’s like this. What to do? That’s how the human mind works.
So maintaining that awareness is difficult, right? This is where shamatha can help you. Shamatha makes you habituate to that awareness. Okay, any questions?
Which kind of meditation practice should I choose?
[Q]: In the Shravakayana they talk a lot about meditation with the breath, anapanasmirti24anapanasmirti (Sanskrit: आनापानस्मृति, IAST: ānāpānasmṛti) = mindfulness of breathing – see anapanasmirti.. What you taught here seems to be more like the Zen tradition of sitting. So how do we choose which way of meditation is most suitable for oneself? Do we choose just the one we feel more connected to?
[DJKR]: Yes. Exactly. That one, the last one. Connected [i.e. you should choose the practice you feel more connected to].
It’s like this. If you ask me, what do I do for vipassana? [My answer] will annoy the Shravakayana and many Zen people. So how do I do my vipassana? This is it. [DJKR takes out his mala] “OM AH HUM VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM”25Ed.: DJKR used the Tibetan pronunciation of the mantra, OM AH HUNG BENZA GURU PEMA SIDDHI HUNG. He has suggested that his students chant mantras with their original Sanskrit pronunciation. The Sanskrit is used here.. This is how I do it. And I convince myself [that this is vipassana]. My hand is occupied, so since this hand is occupied, there’s much less chance to go for Facebook. And my mouth is occupied by chanting [the mantra]. [So} I will most likely not be lying to people, so people [will be] saved from me.
And when I chant something like “OM AH HUM VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUM”, I’m praying to Guru Rinpoche26Guru Rinpoche (Tibetan: གུ་རུ་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་, literally “precious master”) = the Tibetan name for Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism in the 8th or 9th century (also known as Padmakara). According to tradition, Padmasambhava was incarnated as an eight-year-old child appearing in a lotus blossom floating in Lake Dhanakosha, in the kingdom of Oddiyana. He helped to construct the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet at Samye, at the behest of King Trisong Deutsen – see Padmasambhava.. And when I pray to Guru Rinpoche, my main purpose of praying is “May I see the truth”. And that praying, there is nothing scientific [about it]. Scientists, they hate this. Those New Yorkers like this [DJKR sits upright in meditation posture]. They think this is really scientific. [Whereas] they think this [DJKR chants mantras while using his mala] is Tibetan mumbo jumbo.
But when I pray to Guru Rinpoche to understand the truth, the way I think is that I’m longing for the truth. And this longing is absolutely important. Fundamental. You need to long for the truth. This is not going to happen easily [i.e. seeing the truth]. Because there are 100 million things that are all there waiting for you, saying “Hey, long for me. Long for me”. And you will long for them. So longing to see the truth is all that I’m counting on.
So I tell my so-called students, who are basically not more than victims, I tell them that if they feel regret in their day, like “Oh, I wish I meditated more. I wish I practiced more. I wish I did more vipassana”. If they keep on wishing that, [even without] ever really doing it, to me that’s really good enough. I like the students who really feel that they haven’t done enough. I prefer those practitioners, much more than those who come [after] nine days of vipassana saying “I have done something. I’ve done nine days of vipassana”. Then I feel very suspicious.
So this longing for the truth is so important. But as I said, it doesn’t belong to the scientific world, so I’m going to put it in my pocket [DJKR puts his mala in his jacket pocket]. Okay. We will have another short break, and then we will have the last session.
[END OF TALK 4]
Q & A
A technical question
[Q]: There are two related questions. Rinpoche, you mentioned that the mind is constantly observing, but does the mind stop when the mind observes itself? And when the mind is doing this so-called self awareness, is the sixth consciousness observing the seventh consciousness?
[DJKR]: I will pass on that question because it’s too technical. Because I would have to talk about the Abhidharma theory here.
How does observation of the body relate to visualization in the Vajrayana?
[Q]: When we observe our bodies we can only rely on a vague feeling, feeling our eyelashes and so on. And it might not be exactly [as we] look in the mirror. So why does the tantrayana require that we do all these details [as part of] visualization [practice]? We cannot even think of [how we] ourselves look exactly.
[DJKR]: To put it very simply, the tantrayana is the biggest path of irony. It is very difficult to communicate with a mind that is so contradictory. I don’t think the tantrayana actually really cares about [perfectly correct visualization of eyelashes]. There is no tantric concept called “perfect eyelashes”. And the [Vajrayana masters] know this very well. And because they know that, they stretch [your ordinary habitual way of visualizing the body]. They go out of the zone, out of the box. [For example] they make you visualize eyes under the soles of your feet. But let’s not go into the Tantra today.
To overcome dullness, practice many times but in short sessions
[Q]: How do we overcome this very subtle dullness and sleepiness when we are doing the sitting meditation? If we strive to energize and refresh ourselves, would it be too much of a fabrication? So how to do this “Introducing directly the face of rigpa itself” from “The Three Statements that Strike The Vital Points” from Garab Dorje?
[DJKR]: Again, let’s excuse ourselves from Garab Dorje.
[Q]: The dullness part?
[DJKR]: The dullness is very interesting. It’s very complicated. Because people do complain about being dull and sleepy the moment they begin to meditate. This is actually a good thing, because it means somebody is at last beginning to be relaxed. But one is supposed to aim higher, right? So the great meditators of the past have advised us to do it short [i.e. to do our meditation practice in short sessions].
So actually I know some of you may not come back. You have sort of briefly been introduced to the body and the feeling. There’s still a little more to go on the feeling. We may not be able to finish it today. Today we did six minutes, 20 minutes and so on. But probably for the very beginners that’s too long. So I would suggest that you do six minutes. That is okay. Three minutes, four minutes, five minutes is good.
Do five minutes. [Then] get up, do something. Don’t continue sitting there. Five minutes meditation. Watch five minutes video. Go back. Three minutes [meditation]. Ten minutes Facebook. Go back. Three minutes. Five minutes WhatsApp or WeChat or Line or whatever. That’s how I would suggest [you practice]. Many times, but short time [i.e. in short sessions]. Because the technique needs to become your habit.
And the best way to form a habit is [to do something] many times but [each time for a] short time. Like two or three sips of alcohol every day. In two or three months, you’ll be a perfect alcoholic. [Whereas if on the] first day [you drink] one bottle, you will be sick of alcohol.
What is the relationship between modern values such as freedom and the distracted mind?
[Q]: Can you talk about this so-called freedom that modern people are pursuing. What is its relationship with the distracted mind
[DJKR]: I’ve been thinking about this actually. I’ve been really contemplating on how much there is a relationship between the freedom that modern people are seeking and the selfishness that there is. Yes, the self-cherishing. Self. Myself, the center of the world. That, and the “Freedom of this, freedom of that”, probably there’s some relationship.
I’ve been asking myself these questions. Things like, which one would I choose? Which one is more important for me, transparency or privacy? I don’t know. Somehow, I always feel that I want to keep everything that is mine very private, and I want you all to be transparent. And also stuff like competition. Competition is the backbone of modern society. You know, you need competition for everything, especially in the business world. So I’m thinking, things like competition and human rights. Do they get along well? Probably not.
So when I’m looking at all these modern values like freedom of speech, freedom of this, and then competition and all of this, there are a lot of hollows I see. Big holes.
If truth is an illusion, how do we make choices in everyday life?
[Q]: If the truth is an illusion, but in our daily life we need to make a choice or make a decision such as [what to do when we see] hunger and sickness or [when we have to make] some sort of value judgment, how do we choose or act?
[DJKR]: This question sounds like you only know that truth is an illusion intellectually. If you know it practically, I don’t think you will struggle trying to [make] any of these [everyday choices].
But here I’m talking about a very ideal world. It’s like our society is designed to [trap us] into a certain system. [For example], there’s something called retirement. Even that is becoming a very big project. I always thought the Indian life strategy is quite a profound one. But the Indians have forgotten those [ancient teachings]. They don’t do this any more. It’s all in the ancient times that they would do this. I always thought it’s something quite good. There’s this thing called the student’s period of life. Then there’s the householder’s period of life. And then they have forest-dwelling. Now the fourth one is the most interesting. The renunciant. But I think we are talking [about something that is rare in today’s world]. I don’t know.
Individually, yes, we can do it. Individually. There is a hope that people would go there, I think [i.e. to practice forest-dwelling or the life of a renunciant]. I mean, it’s in our hands in a way. It’s in our hands. We don’t really have to have New Zealand kiwi juice fresh from Auckland every day, do we? We don’t really have to eat beef that has been massaged somewhere in Hokkaido. That is really going [beyond what we need]. For example [in ancient] Rome there was a decadent period when the Roman people had too many things to eat. So what did they do? They would eat and then vomit, and then eat and vomit, just because they want to eat.
But this is how it is. We get caught up in certain values. The values that are dictated by people like Amazon. It’s just the whole ritual, the ordering online. That ritual is kind of nice I guess. And then the day of the arrival of the parcel. Oh my goodness, there’s complete bliss there. So yes, I guess we get caught up in these kinds of things. But I have a hope for the younger generation. The young people really worry so much about ecology. And stuff like that is really very complementary towards what we are talking about here, vipassana. Because vipassana is really seeing the truth. It’s really so much to do with truth.
Mindfulness of feelings (contd.)
Feelings are vast
Okay, now, I will just [continue] a little bit with feelings. So feelings are really big. They are much broader than the body. Because the body is very limited in many ways. Feelings are like a bridge between the body and the mind. So if your mind is very attached to something else [i.e. something that is not your own body], [for example] something like your bonsai tree, and if someone just steps on your bonsai tree, you could really get hurt. Physically even.
Again, you have feelings. You don’t need to download this one. You don’t have to buy this one. You have them. Probably right now, you are not feeling anything exciting or anything that is very significant, but you do have feelings.
And feelings can be very conditioned by lots of things. Like for me, afternoon sunlight is the worst. It just makes me depressed. [There is] no good logic, but that’s how it is. Causes and conditions are like this. But when the afternoon light is slowly becoming twilight, then [I feel] fine again. Dawn for me is very special. There’s a calmness. And especially when I’m awake and experiencing dawn, there are all kinds of feelings going through my mind. Just the idea that half the world is sleeping and I’m actually awake. Stuff like that.
I’m just giving you a picture of feelings. And then of course there are gross feelings. [For example the] acute, blatant feeling of swallowing wasabi. You cannot escape that one. [From gross feelings] to very subtle feelings of anxiety. And probably it also depends on your age. When you are like eight or nine or ten years old, everything is just beginning. By the time you reach 46 or 49 or 55, then you feel like the end is beginning.
Pleasant feelings, unpleasant feelings and neutral feelings are all dukkha
And the sadness and the happiness. There are [three] categories of what we call pleasant feeling, unpleasant feeling and neutral feeling. Unpleasant feelings such as you just heard that you lost your job or something like that. You know that.
So there’s unpleasant feeling, pleasant feeling, and neutral feeling. Now, let’s ask the Buddhists. How do they look at this? They are looking at these three feelings with the technique of vipassana. Observe observe, observe, observe. And when they look at these three feelings through pure simple observation, [they see that] all three of them are dukkha.
The first, unpleasant, is obviously dukkha. No satisfaction is there.
Even the second, what we call pleasant feeling, is actually [also] dukkha because it’s actually [subject to] what we call the suffering of change. No excitement or happiness lasts, even though that’s what we wish. It just doesn’t last. Sipping a cup of oolong tea is very good. But you can’t just keep on doing that a thousand times. It would be suffering. It has to end. So that’s why Buddhists see it as dukkha.
More interestingly, even the neutral feelings, Buddhists see them as dukkha. Because [even a neutral feeling] is uncertain. It cannot be trusted. It has no truly existing substance. You cannot rely on that.
So actually, that is the outcome of observing feeling.
I think we will end here today. If you are coming back [tomorrow], we will continue a little bit on feeling.
And before we end, for the people here, we will just sit here for a few minutes. And goodbye to those who are participating on Zoom and all that. And while we sit, please try not to talk or anything, we’ll just listen to some music.
[END OF TALK 5]
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Transcribed and edited by Alex Li Trisoglio