2 – H.H. The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche on Mahamudra

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche: cultivate mental quiescence by focusing on breathing.

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche: cultivate mental quiescence by focusing on breathing.

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche: Channeling the breath and body posture.

Notes and questions by Dr. Luciano Villa and Eng. Alessandro Tenzin Villa within the project “Free Dharma Teachings” for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Question: What is the practice of channelling the breath?

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche.

The special practice of channelling the breath involves a meditation with three sets of three inhalations and exhalations from each nostril; that is, from each nostril separately and then with both nostrils together. Each of the three sets is the same except that its source is different. The first set is three inhalations through one nostril and three exhalations through the other; the second set is three inhalations through the second nostril and three exhalations through the first nostril; and the third set is three inhalations and exhalations using both nostrils together.

The first exhalation of each set is forceful and also very long and drawn out. The second is also forceful but it is short.

The third is gentle and drawn out, natural, without any force or special exertion behind it. Do this three times from the one nostril, then repeat it with the other nostril, then once again with both.

Now, when the breathing is forceful, you don’t just force it out all at once. You begin very gently very slowly increasing it more and more; making it very strong in the middle, and trail off with it again gently These breaths are said to be like the quill of a porcupine. The porcupine quill is very sharp and fine at either end and big in the middle. So that’s how these breaths should be-start out gently quickly get stronger and stronger, and then trail off. The reason for this is that there are many very small, fine channels for the breath. Rather than strain them all at once, which wouldn’t be effective, you follow their subtlety by starting off gently so they will open i up. If you force the breath out all at once there is a danger that they will not open or that these fine, subtle channels could be harmed. As you inhale, your lungs fill up completely. Once they are completely filled, pause, and then do the exhalation.

As you inhale, you visualize all of the Buddhas of the three times in the ten directions sending their blessings in the form of rays of light. As you inhale, you are taking in all of these rays of blessings till you are completely filled with them. As you exhale, you breathe out the darkness of all of the defilements accumulated over many lifetimes from beginningless time. You breathe these out completely.

Now the breathing, the inhalation and exhalation, should be from very deep, from the bottom of the diaphragm so that you’re filling your lungs completely Then you expel it from the top down. At the end, the lower diaphragm forces out the last of the air.

To close the nostrils, hold your thumb at the base of your third finger. That blocks the channel through which harmful forces or destructive demons would enter. With your thumb at the base of that finger, extend your forefinger and fold your other three fingers over the thumb. Use the forefinger to block the opening of the nostril. Don’t push the side of your nostril, but rather block the opening of the nostril from below.

This is recommended for when you first get up in the morning before you say any other prayers or do any other meditation. At least one complete sequence should be done; two sequences is very good.

First set

  1. Block the left nostril, inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril.

Block the right nostril, exhale long and hard through the left nostril.

2. Block the left nostril, inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril.

Block the right nostril, exhale short and hard through the left nostril.

3. Block the left nostril, inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril.

Block the right nostril, exhale long and gently through the left nostril.

Second set

1. Block the right nostril, inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril.

Block the left nostril, exhale long and hard through the right nostril.

2. Block the right nostril, inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril.

Block the left nostril, exhale short and hard through the right nostril.

3. Block the right nostril, inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril.

Block the left nostril, exhale long and gently through the right nostril.

Third set

1. Without blocking, inhale slowly and deeply.

Without blocking, exhale long and hard.

2. Without blocking, inhale slowly and deeply.

Without blocking, exhale short and hard.

3. Without blocking, inhale slowly and deeply.

Without blocking, exhale long and gently.

Question: What is the correct body posture in this path?

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche.

Generally the focus of teachings on Mahamudra and other dharmas is on the disposition of mind; that is, what to do with mind, how to focus mind, how to analyse phenomena, and so forth. Very little discussion is centred on the disposition of the body; however, this is very important. You will find in descriptions of practices like the Six Yogas of Naropa that there is significant discussion of this, although it doesn’t take as much space as the discussion of mind. So, it is very important to know what to do with the body while engaging in various types of meditation.

First, there is the teaching on the sevenfold posture of Buddha Vairochana. The first of the seven aspects is the placement of the legs. In this posture, the legs are crossed in the lotus position, also called the vajra position. This position has many benefits. The benefit discussed in this context is that of redirecting one of the five winds. There are five main winds in the body One is called the downward-clearing wind.

Normally this wind is involved in all of the processes of evacuating things from the body like the bowels, the urine, and so forth. It is responsible for anything that is pushed downward and out the lower orifices.

Regarding its function for the mind, it is engaged in the activity of the kleshas (poisons): greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and pride. Of these five, the downward-clearing wind is most connected with the klesha of jealousy. Placing the legs in the vajra position inhibits, or blocks, the function of jealousy and in general redirects the force of the downward-clearing wind to the central channel, thereby clarifying mind and inhibiting the klesha of jealousy.

Next, the hands are folded together, palm upward, right on top of the left. The thumbs are held over the palms. The position of the right palm should be four finger-widths below the navel. This hand position redirects the force of the wind which is associated with the water element. By inhibiting its movement, by redirecting it to the central channel, the klesha of anger is inhibited.

Next, the spine is set very straight, not leaning one way or the other, forward or back, but completely straight up and down. You should visualize it as a stack of coins one on top of the other, all the way up the length of the spine such that it would fall over if it leaned one way or the other. The shoulders should be held back a bit, opening up the chest. This is said to be like a soaring bird with its wings stretched back, but don’t hold them too far back, just a little. Another way to think of this posture is that you are holding your chest outward and shoulders slightly back. This causes the wind associated with the earth element to enter the central channel, thereby inhibiting the klesha of delusion.

The chin is held slightly downward and the tongue is held up towards the palate near the base of the upper front teeth.

The teeth are held slightly open so air can pass between the upper and lower teeth, so don’t clench the jaw. All of this influences the wind associated with the fire element, causing it to enter the central channel and inhibit the klesha of desire.

The eyes should be generally directed at a spot four finger-widths in front of the tip of the nose and slightly downward. Gently softly focus at that spot about an arm’s length in front of your nose. The eyes should not be wide open, just gently look in that direction. This influences the wind associated with the space element, causing it to enter the central channel and inhibit the klesha of pride.

This position of the body is very important because the channels within the body will follow the external disposition of the body The way the body is placed will set the channels; and the winds, of course, flow inside the channels, so if they are properly set, the winds will flow properly. Mind follows the wind. To focus the mind properly the winds must also be functioning properly. The closest association between the mind and the winds comes through the eyes. The focus, or disposition, of the eyes is influenced by the winds, which in turn influence mind, so it is very important how the eyes are focused. For the beginner, it’s easiest for the gaze to be directed somewhat downward and in front of you. A more advanced practice takes place with the eyes focused more straight ahead, and some highly advanced practices involve looking somewhat upward. There is also an association between the various practices and various goals or attainments. The manifestation body, nirmanakaya, is associated with the gaze directed downward, sambhogakaya straight ahead, and dharmakaya with the gaze directed slightly upward. The direction and focus of the eyes is important depending on one’s disposition and the relative predominance of the elements.

The four elements are of different strengths in different individuals. Some individuals are said to have a relatively greater amount of the earth element, for instance. Such a person will tend to relax and easily fall asleep, get drowsy very easily For that type of person, it’s good to focus the eyes somewhat upward which will help keep them from falling into lethargy and sleep. Others, whose minds are constantly disturbed by random thoughts or excited thoughts, should look downward to help gain control over that process.

Following the gradual, or the ordered, course of the teachings, after the disposition of the body come the discussions of shamatha and vipashyana.


Energy redirected to the central channel

Afflictive emotion inhibited

Legs folded in lotus position

Downward clearing wind


Hands placed right over left and held four finger widths below the navel

Wind associated with the water element


Straight spine

Wind associated with the earth element


Chin down, tongue against the palate, and jaw relaxed

Wind associated with the fire element


Eyes set downward

Wind associated with the space element


Question: What is mental quiescence, or shamatha, meditation?

His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche.

In this text, shamatha and vipashyana are discussed in order of their cultivation. First there will be a discussion of how to cultivate shamatha. Once that is mastered, you go on to cultivate vipashyana.

Shamatha is the Sanskrit term; shinay is the Tibetan. What is the meaning of these words? Shinay has two syllables, each with a meaning. Shi comes from the word shiwa, which means to pacify Nay means to abide, or to stay What is being pacified here is the tendency of mind to act in an uncontrolled, wild manner, to go this way and that. Of course, all things follow the mind. To gain control of mind is of primary importance in the practice of meditation and the practice of Dharma in general. So first we gain control of mind, pacify it, then stabilize it—that’s what nay means. So the mind is stabilized in this state of pacification, or control, called shinay.

In English, one could say “mental quiescence.”

There are two general types of mental quiescence meditation. The first has an object of, or support for, meditative focus. The second is meditation without an object of meditative focus.

Support” refers to an actual object, a visual object, so it is called “meditation which has an object.” Any type of physical object could be used for focus. It can be made of wood or stone or even be a spot on the rug or wall. The physical object in this type of mediation should not be something very bright or very light in colour. Something subdued or in a darker colour is better. If it’s too light, the object can strain the eyes and cause them to tear. The focus should be with the eyes half closed, not wide open, not shut. It should be something one can look at comfortably without blinking very much. Too much blinking causes one’s mind to lose its focus.

In this shamatha, or mental quiescence, meditation, it’s very important to understand that you are seeking to cut off the kalpana (in Tibetan, tok ba). Kalpana are any type of thoughts, any type of concepts. Technically they are called dichotomizing thoughts, something which creates a division between one thing and another, usually between oneself and another thing. All such conceptual mental fictions are to be cut off. This mental quiescence meditation is just simple awareness, focused and calm, on an object. As thoughts and concepts arise, they should be abandoned, cut off—never taken up or followed.

With regard to the object, there are two dangers—one, that mind will go out to the object and, the other, that mind will take the object in. If you choose an object, for example a stone, and meditate on it, you may start to notice that the stone has very interesting lines on it. You find that the colours of the stone are very pleasing. Then your mind has gone out to the object, into thoughts about the object, and you have lost your concentration. One must avoid these thoughts about the object. If one’s mind starts getting distracted by the object itself, thinking about the qualities, the colour, the position, the workmanship, all of these things, this is no good. It has to be a mere awareness of the object whereby the object is taken as a whole and not analysed or evaluated. Just focus on it, purely and simply. Attention can also turn inward, so that you’re really not focusing on the object at all. You’re just thinking, “Oh, I have this object which is a stone, and I’m meditating on it, and I’m cultivating this shamatha meditation.” This is called taking the object inward; it occurs when you are thinking more about yourself or about the process. This is incorrect meditation because it is just a kalpana, a mental process which causes a dichotomy between oneself and the object. Likewise, any thoughts that are analytical, such as, “Am I the same as the stone or am I different? Is my mind the same as the stone or different? Is the stone in my mind or is my mind in the stone?” are just more kalpana which should be cut off.

There are many strategies one can adopt regarding the object of meditative focus. In different teachings, different objects are mentioned, things like a butter lamp or a candle. These are okay but there is no need to be concerned about the type of object. The point of this type of meditation is to train the mind to hold one object single-pointedly and undistractedly to gain the power of one-pointed concentration which excludes all the kalpana. It doesn’t matter so much what the object is, so long as you avoid an object that will distract your mind by its very nature. If one is involved in the generation stage of tantric practice, then it’s good to use the yidam as the object of focus but only if one can do so without being distracted by it. Evaluating it and thinking about it so much that concepts arise will cause you to lose meditative focus. One should take in the yidam, the image of Buddha, without thinking about it.

Take in the whole image just as it is, without focusing on one part of it to the exclusion of others. That way you’re really doing more than one thing at once. You’re not simply cultivating mental quiescence, you are also gaining proximity or connectedness, with the tantric yidam. This can be very helpful to the process of the generation stage, but you should always remember that the cultivation of mental quiescence does not depend on which object you choose. It is a process of training the mind to focus single-pointedly on any object. We have explained the meditation with a visual support.

The next step is the development of mental quiescence without a visual support. This, too, is divided into two categories.

The first is the meditation which cultivates mental quiescence by focusing on breathing.

Breathing is not a visual support; however, it is an object of focus. As before, the point is to avoid all dichotomizing thoughts, all kalpanas, and focus merely on the breath, on the flow of the breath outward and inward. It’s important to be careful to not allow thoughts to arise, even about the object. For instance, focusing on the sensation around the nostrils that comes from the movement of the air is fine. But, it’s important not to allow this to give rise to thoughts such as, “Now the breath is leaving, now the breath in coming back in.” These are conceptual thoughts. So, it should be simply a focusing on the actual breath itself.

Lord Jigten Sumgon said that this type of meditation, focusing on the breath, can lead to a very powerful state of one-pointed concentration called the vajra-like samadhi. He said this is true because this type of meditative focus can easily or expediently free mind from all conceptual thought, making it an extremely powerful type of meditation. So, there are these two varieties of focusing meditation without visual support—the first is with a physical support, the breath. The second is without even a focus on the breath. It is a focusing meditation which allows mind to stay focused without any type of visual or physical object. In this type of meditation, the aim is to cut off any thoughts or conceptions, kalpana, that arise. Immediately cut them off and let the mind return to the focused state without any support or object.

The next discussion concerns what is called “meditation without signs.” This is about the nature of the meditation itself, rather than about the focus, or ”sign,” of the meditation. Here, one can find that there are two different tendencies or two different extremes. One is too tight and the other is too loose. When concentration is too loose, it is necessary to tighten it up, and when it’s too tight, one must loosen it. Sensory objects, such as auditory stimulation, can distract the mind and cause it to lose focus and become very loose, or lax. Even when one is sitting in a focused meditation cultivating mental quiescence, hearing a sound or seeing something can disturb the mind. If that occurs, it’s necessary to cut it off and return your attention to mind itself. In this case, it is not so much the kalpana which are to be cut off, but rather one’s reaction to a sensory object.

Next are the flaws associated with laxity and tightness in meditation. We are not necessarily referring to a physical laxity The body might be held in a very proper posture, but internal laxity may arise anyway This is said to be like a softness inside, a sort of relaxation whereby mind wanders in a more subtle way rather than in the gross way of thinking about different kalpana as discussed before. This is a very subtle conceptualization which does not take the form of actual thoughts, but rather is associated with the sensation of internal relaxation. One can get caught up in it without conceptualizing. This fault disturbs one-pointed mental focus. Just as the mind can become relaxed while in the proper posture and subtle interferences or conceptualizations can arise, likewise subtle disturbances take place when the mind is held too tightly In other words, if mind is held too alertly, too strenuously then, even if the gross conceptions do not arise, subtle ones do and a subtle disturbance of the mind takes place. So, the practice of mental quiescence, or shamatha, meditation depends upon this near-perfect balance of tightness and laxity of mind.

The correct balance can be compared to spinning thread from cotton. There, it is very important not to make it too tight or the string will break; if it is too loose, the thread will not be formed properly Another example is someone playing a stringed instrument. To get the right tone, the string mustn’t be too tight or too loose, it has to be right in between.

Concentration is critical in keeping mind in this proper aspect of not being strained too much, not trying too hard to keep the focus, and not letting the focus become too relaxed.

At the beginning, this is not going to come naturally. One should expect to spend a great amount of effort in keeping mind focused in this balanced way. Because of this, the beginner is always advised to keep meditation sessions very brief. Six minutes is about the proper time for a meditative session. Then you should take a break, and again enter into the meditation. You can do that ten times (that would be ten six minute sessions, with a break between each one.) Otherwise, if you try to hold it too long in the beginning, these subtle and gross forms of distraction are inevitable. It’s not good to force it and remain meditating even though your mind is overcome with these distractions.

This, then, is a brief description of mental quiescence, or shamatha, meditation.