His Holiness The Drikung Kyabgön, Chetsang Rinpoche on mind nature.
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: Which are the movement of the mind?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche: Third, we investigate whether mind is something which abides and exists in one spot, or whether it is something that goes out and moves around from one thing to another. Now, we can see that when we cultivate mental quiescence, mind becomes focused one-pointedly on its object. It does not waver from that object and abides stably over a period of time on that object. So at that time, it would appear that mind is unmoving and stable.
However, when we practice vipashyana, in which we cultivate perfect insight, mind is going from one object to another, it’s moving around to objects nearby and far away. So here it seems most clear that mind is moving a great deal.
What we have to determine at this point is how mind can do both. What is the nature of mind such that it seems to move around but is sometimes stable? Or is it actually stable and this movement is an illusion? At this point we focus more and more on mind and its functions, particularly its movement.
If we assume that mind itself is still and that it’s just the contents that seem to be moving, then we focus on the mind and look for an explanation.If we assume that mind is a very dynamic thing that never stays still, then we can investigate to see how it can become perfectly still and stable. So, we look more and more minutely into these subtle changes from one moment to the next in the contents and the function of mind. We ask all these questions and analyse mind and look for things like the arising of the kalpana to see whether they are produced. If they are produced, do they abide? If they abide, do they disappear? Are they destroyed? When we investigate this, we cannot find any point of birth or arising nor any point of destruction, and yet there is the impression that they are coming into existence and passing out again.
Question: Which is the essential nature of the mind?
So, from here we observe more carefully the essential nature of mind. Mind has the quality of clarity which seems to be a defining characteristic. Another defining characteristic is its emptiness. Mind has an emptiness like space which can contain things like the kalpana. So, is mind then clarity or is it emptiness? Is it some combination of these two? When we initially hear these questions, we can arrive at some sort of an understanding of the purpose of asking them.
We can form some preliminary determinations about some of them: which way we would think things actually exist and, through that, arrive at some level of understanding. But we should remind ourselves that understanding, simply understanding, is not what we are aiming at. Mere understanding is not adequate to overcome these very basic and long-held assumptions about the nature of mind and reality What we need is an absolutely firm, unhesitating determination that arises only out of direct realization of the truth revealed through these questions.
In order to achieve this, we need to set about this process in a very systematic and thorough way one that is characterized by great diligence and hard work. That is why it is preceded by the development of mental quiescence. It is practised in a condition of isolation in which one removes oneself from all of the concerns and busyness of the world and goes off into a retreat where these questions can be investigated thoroughly without distraction. Then, if we really work at each point for maybe a week or so, we can arrive at some clear determination and understand in the most profound way what the answer is. It is only this most profound understanding, or realization, that has the ability to bring about the transformation that is the goal of the practice.
Question: Which suggestions do you have on meditation exercise?
Visualize all things in the form of the syllable HUNG while chanting the syllable. Whatever arises, whether internal or external, becomes HUNG. All thoughts become HUNG. All things become HUNG; a small stone becomes a little HUNG, a big tree becomes a big HUNG. When we practice chanting HUNG, we do so by making the sound in our mouths without closing our teeth. There should always be a space there. In this practice three things are Limited in this syllable HUNG: the wind (dynamic internal energies), consciousness, and appearances. Do this practice for approximately ten minutes. Chant the syllable HUNG while doing the following visualization. Visualize the entire universe, both near and far off, all elements of it, in the form of the syllable HUNG. Imagine the large objects as being large HUNG, the small, tiny ones as tiny HUNG. Visualize all of these syllables coming from every corner of the universe and entering into your body through the doors of the senses. As they enter the body they transform all of one’s internal elements into the syllable HUNG. Again, their sizes depend upon the element and the size of the element they replace, until the entire body is filled with nothing but the syllable HUNG. Do this exercise for approximately ten minutes.
Here is another way in which to chant the syllable HUNG.
Say it very strongly very quickly and very powerfully. As you say it, the syllables within us go outward, radiating out from our centre in all directions. Each syllable projects out in all directions like bullets being sprayed by a machine gum, going extremely fast, extremely powerfully. Each one is like a bullet that is so strong and fast that it penetrates through everything. Nothing can obstruct it, not trees, rocks, not even mountains. Nothing can oppose it. The syllable HUNG in all its forms and all its sizes within us, radiates outward in all directions like this. Visualize it going out with nothing obstructing it. Practice this method for approximately ten minutes. Now meditate on just one syllable HUNG in the space in front of you, or if you prefer, in your heart or throat or head.
If you prefer having the actual shape there in front of you, you can set out a book or page with the syllable HUNG on it and just look at that. In any case, meditate on just this one syllable with your eyes open or closed, however you like.
Let your mind relax into the syllable. Practice this for approximately ten minutes.
Now meditate on breathing. Here, it is important to keep in mind that your awareness should be only on the breathing, on merely watching the flow of the breath out of the nose and back in. One’s awareness can be focused somewhere in the area right in front of the nose so as to experience the flow of the breath inward and outward. It is important not to think about it, not to conceptualize it, not to think, “Now the breath is flowing out. Now the breath is flowing in.” Rather, merely observe it. Practice this for approximately ten minutes. Now focus on just relaxing your body from the inside so that the entire area inside your chest is very relaxed and comfortable. Especially the area around the navel should be very relaxed and open. Practice this silent meditation for approximately ten minutes.
In all the various types of meditation, there are certain problems that generally arise when you meditate. These problems can be summed up into two tendencies which harm one’s meditation:
(1) A sinking of mind, which is associated with drowsiness and lethargy. Mind and the attention sink, sort of collapse, or fall inward, so that one becomes drowsy.
(2) A scattering tendency where one’s attention goes this way and that to all sorts of different things, so that one becomes highly distracted.
These are the two tendencies which must be dealt with in the process of meditation.
With the sinking of mind, you feel heavy and sort of fuzzy focus falls into the centre, you become tired, your eyes start to close, and you lose the object of your meditation. The antidote is to open the doors of the senses, for example, open the eyes a bit further. When mind sinks the eyelids begin to get heavy and the eyes tend to close more and more. It is as if the eyes were focusing in a more inward than outward direction. So the antidote is to open the eyes more, almost like you are trying to extend your eyeballs. You’re pushing energy outward and opening your eyes rather than letting it all come inward and the eyes close.
You do the same with the other sense powers, like your ears. By doing this the ears become very sensitive and you pick up external sounds. Now this practice isn’t, of course, to get you distracted by those sounds but rather to make mind more clear, make it extend outward so the level of attention to everything that is going on is greater.
Because this fault is one of losing attention and getting drowsy you increase the attention by focusing on the sense powers and opening up more. Here the mind is likened to an eagle who is going fishing, scanning the waters and paying very close attention to what is going on out there in the water. At the very first sign of a fish coming near the surface, the eagle is ready to dive down and catch it. Meditation requires just such a state of mind, very alert and very aware of what is going on.
Question: What is the antidote to scattering of mind?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche – This was not discussed, but that’s what we actually do in the “HUNG” exercises. The antidote to sinking is to open the eyes more, open the senses and increase the attention. Then we apply an antidote to scattering, the tendency of mind to get out of control, by relaxing the body from the inside. The posture is not relaxed, but the attention is gathered to the center and relaxed. That brings mind back under control.
Question: What do I do about distractions?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche – There are two types of distractions: external sounds and internal sensations, such as warmth or whatever you are feeling inside. These function as distractions if you allow mind to focus on them. The best thing to do is not pay attention to them. Return to the object of concentration, whatever that is and just ignore the external sounds or internal sensations. Simply ignore them and return mind to its proper object of focus.
Question: If the nature of mind can be realized with shamatha and vipashyana meditation, why do we need Vajrayana practices, like visualization, saying prayers, and so forth?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche – Shamatha and vipashyana hold a very important place in practice. In the context of the development of an overall practice, they are what make it useful, what make it able to achieve its goal. Without the context of practice, the development of the different types of realization is not so useful. So, if the prayers, visualizations-things which appear to have a ritual aspect to them-are practised correctly and are understood properly they are absolutely necessary. They are what build up merit and get rid of defilements, and that is precisely what allows shamatha and vipashyana to actually be developed.
Without building up merit and getting rid of defilements, these will not take place.
Lord Jigten Sumgon specified that one’s practice has to be inclusive, sort of a holistic approach that takes into account the practitioner’s entire situation and the world or the environment. It cannot separate out certain things to emphasize and neglect others. Rather, it is a comprehensive path of development which allows the disciple to develop completely and proceed along the stages of development. Otherwise, if one just tries to practice the most advanced method without doing anything to build up to it, then there is no possibility of success.
Now, when we speak of shamatha and vipashyana, these two elements are present at every stage of practice. Shamatha is anything which focuses mind and eliminates all the extraneous mental activities. Vipashyana is anything that develops insight. These exist at all times with any religious practice, when done properly.
For instance, when focusing on a visualization in the generation stage of any Tantra, one is necessarily practising shamatha, mental quiescence, without which there is no way to hold the object of visualization. So, the object of visualization in the generation stage functions in the same way as the simple object in the most basic stages of our practice of mental quiescence. So you should understand that the same is true with vipashyana. As we go through these practices, if we are really paying attention to what we are doing, to what the verses that we recite are saying, they are helping us to develop insight into the nature of reality.
Question: What is the difference between focusing on internal sensation and relaxing, as an antidote to scattering?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche – The antidote meditation is sort of a releasing, a letting go, a relaxing. It is not a focusing. You are not focusing one-pointedly on some sensation; rather, it’s just a sort of letting go. You just relax rather than taking up that sensation as an object of meditation.
Some Western scientists believe that the mind consists only of chemical reactions and electrical impulses that reside in the brain and can be measured with very elaborate equipment. Can that view be reconciled with the Buddhist view of mind?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche –
The Buddhist view of mind has three characteristics:
(1) the essential substance of mind, which is said to be emptiness;
(2) the nature of mind, which is said to be clarity; and
(3) the aspect or quality of mind, which is said to be unobstructed, in the sense that it does not arise, abide, or cease.
Of these distinguishing traits of mind, the first one seems to go along with what you’re saying about Westem science.
The reason is, when we say emptiness, that means that something does not exist by way of its own nature. Rather, it arises only in dependence upon causes and conditions. That seems to be the one characteristic from these three that is held in common. From what you say of the Western view, mind arises only when you have all the causes and conditions of the gray matter and the chemical and electrical functions. If any of these were absent, then you wouldn’t have mind. So that much is in common-that mind, like all phenomena, arises not by way of its own nature, but through the arising of proper causes and conditions.
Question: How about Western atomic theories of matter and energy: what do the Buddhists think of them?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche – This is an interesting subject. To do it justice would take a lot of time, especially because you have in Western philosophy a number of very different viewpoints on this question of subject and object. Now in Buddhism, philosophy is divided into four different schools of philosophical views and tenets. The first two are called Vaibhashika and Sautrantika.
Both of them accept an external world composed of truly existent objects, which are formed out of substances like atomic particles. They accept the existence of partless particles. The smallest units of matter build up a truly existent external world. Both these schools are associated most closely with Hinayana Buddhism.
Then you have the third school, the Vijnanavada. In the Vijnanavada you do not have an external world whose entity is different than mind itself. (Here, when we say “external,”it refers to the object or to the objective world; “internal” means mind or the subject.) They do not say that external objects do not exist, but rather that the essential substance of the external world is not different from that of mind itself.
In the fourth, the Madhyamika school, there is a refutation of the very idea of existence, of subject and object, so to say that either subject or object exists would be a mistake. To say that they do not exist is also a mistake. That is why it is called the Middle Way or Madhyamika. It refutes both of the extremes – existence and non-existence – being ultimately different from each other. Of course, conventionally they are different. While appearing to be different, ultimately they are not. That is why it is said that they have one taste. At their very essence, they are the same.
Question: How does meditation work? Why does it lead to Buddhahood?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche – Again, this is a deep question, but we will try to approach an answer to it. The Buddhist understanding of the function of mind is that it’s very complex and has many layers. Among these, there are so-called latencies, or propensities, of mind. This seems to roughly correspond with the conception of the subconscious, that mind has the ability to hold the latencies, or propensities, which are based upon former experiences, especially former experiences which were very influential.
These are held in mind as a potential and then arise at a later point. So, what we are doing in the process of meditation is dealing with the subconscious by allowing those propensities to arise and disappear. In other words, they arise in meditation as the kalpana and, if one is able to release them, they disappear.
By meditating, using all these processes for generating oneself as a deity and focusing the mind one—pointedly on an object, one is also establishing propensities for the future. All this is sort of rebuilding the subconscious along a new pattern so that, in the future, the latencies we are planting now will eventually manifest in the form of Buddhahood. We will become Buddhas on the basis of what we do now in our meditation practice.
Question: If there is no inherent existence, what use is compassion?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche – When we speak of a lack of inherent existence, we must understand it as a universal characteristic of all phenomena.
If you focus on just that and realize the non-inherent existence of all phenomena but do not have any other aspect to your practice, this will block your progress. You come up against a wall, and can’t progress farther. If you really perfect this, if you really see the ultimate nature of things in their lack of inherent existence, then you are no longer bound to anything in samsara, and you attain nirvana. But that functions as a sort of stopping point, a blank wall. You can’t go any farther; you can’t achieve the benefits of living beings. You can’t even achieve your own ultimate benefit. You’re stuck! You have to go back and develop compassion in order to achieve Buddhahood because compassion cuts the other extreme view, clinging to the concept of non-inherent existence, or nihilism. Wisdom and compassion are developed separately and joined together in the practice so as to obtain Buddhahood. It happens only through joining these together. So it’s important not to emphasize the absence of inherent existence too much. One has to always develop compassion and join those two together. Then there is no problem in attaining Buddhahood.
Question: Why was the syllable HUNG selected for the meditation exercise? How is it special or different from other syllables?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche – The syllable HUNG is rich with symbolism and can be interpreted in many ways. For instance, five distinct components make up the syllable, and these symbolize the five wisdoms. There are many other ways in which it could be interpreted as well. However, the usage of the syllable HUNG in the meditations described above does not depend upon any symbolic meaning. In general, you could say it’s used because it has very important symbolic meaning included in other practices and is, therefore, a good thing to use. But it has no specific import in this meditation. You don’t have to know any of its meanings to perform the meditation. Its usage in this meditation is more to mediate between the subject and the object—you dissolve the external world into HUNG syllables of various sizes and then bring these in and dissolve the internal world into it also. Working with that method is very useful, but you could use some other image also.
Question: Where the mind is karma?
His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche – Simply put, what holds the propensities that carry the karma, what holds the kleshas and all these things, is a subtle consciousness which goes on from one moment to the next. You could think of it as a continuum from one moment to the next, that goes on from one life to another.