Comments on “The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 12”

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Thomas Garnett 2019-06-24

Wish to take a very mild exception to this passage, viz. “ This intensely concentrated ‘time-reduction’ method associated with mindfulness is alien to Vajrayana. Rather than breaking time into smaller and smaller pieces, with minute attention to the detail of passing moments, Vajrayana leans into an expansive experience of continuity. Tantra, ‘rGyüd’ in Tibetan, means ‘continuity’. The Sutric path perfects the mind moment technique, possibly at the expense of a wider view. Vajrayana, particularly in the inner paths of Anuyoga and Dzogchen, emphasizes ‘all-seeing’ awareness, possibly at the expense of relevant detail. In Sutra, awareness is slowed to encourage conscientious response. In Tantra, awareness is expanded to encourage congruent activity. “

I would claim that at least some Vajrayana teachings do emphasize the momentariness.
Specifically, Trungpa’s early teachings about “the gap” and later teachings of (ordinary mind) emphasize DIScontinuity, not continuity. In fact, he once spoke of tantra as being the “continuity of discontinuity.” Also, Namkhai Norbu often used the phrase “instant presence” to translate rigpa. Also practices such as “Distinguishing Mind (sems) and Rigpa” (Khenpo Gangshar in Crystal Cave) only work if you are….well… distinguishing, which is moment by moment by moment.

Arise, abide, cease. The closer we look, the quicker it gets. That direct presence that in a non-spatial manner encompasses the act of experience and its contents (qualia or not) is rigpa translated variously as awareness, instant presence, direct insight. Initially, on it being pointed out to us, we experience it as a flash, a discontinuity in our solid world. This is like a flash or “instant presence” because the flimsy stage drop of ego-laden experience is cut. Not cut by an intentional act but by finding ourselves released. However, it is only a flash because we habitually bracket it by a before and an after. Instant presence did not begin a second ago and will not cease a second later because positioning between a before and an after is a clunky misstep not the direct contact of naked awareness. Absent the futile imposition of these brackets, like trying to dam and contain the ocean with pieces of string, instant presence encompasses no less than space and time. Is this an ontological or an experiential claim? Not sure.

A “ moment” is a slippery construct - not that you were building any castles on it. There is nowhere in the continuum to anchor and nothing other than the continuum itself to separate out. We chop them into manageable chunks such as subject and object, this and that. We have a series of moments that blur in our confused perception to become something solid, perpetuated by tenacious, fear-based clinging. This blur is not the continuum of totality. The concatenation of moments that creates the seeming solidity and regularity of our world can be cut. In fact that concatenation is in a state of “already cut.” This is khregs.chod.

So sometimes it works to “expand” as you write, sometimes to “cut.”

Nowhere in what you have written in this series do I detect a valorization of the moment. That’s good.

Rin’dzin Pamo 2019-06-26

Y’know, I did feel a bit squeamish writing that paragraph. In retrospect I think it overgeneralizes too much. What I wrote doesn’t always hold true: there are some Vajrayana practices that involve meticulous detail. I’ll add a post-edit pointing to your comment.

Specifically, Trungpa’s early teachings about “the gap”

Yes, there’s a similarity to the mindfulness method of paying attention to moments ever decreasing in length in the Tibetan teachings on bardo (which Trungpa’s gap teachings are connected to). A bardo practice of noticing each passing ‘phase’ in terms of its changing qualities is taught in the Aro gTér.

and later teachings of (ordinary mind) emphasize DIScontinuity, not continuity.

Yes, agreed, there the experience of ‘timelessness in each moment’ is connected to discontinuity.

In fact, he once spoke of tantra as being the “continuity of discontinuity.” Also, Namkhai Norbu often used the phrase “instant presence” to translate rigpa. Also practices such as “Distinguishing Mind (sems) and Rigpa” (Khenpo Gangshar in Crystal Cave) only work if you are….well… distinguishing, which is moment by moment by moment.

I appreciate you picking up on the similarities. I was contemplating just this at the time of writing.

I think there’s a significantly different feel to the Vajrayana practices, due to their expansive, rather than concentrative, methodological direction, which fits with the emphasis on continuity in the overall framework. At least, that’s been my experience so far. I can’t comment on whether those distinct experiences would converge in the long-run​ because my Sutrayana-style shamatha-vipassana experience is still limited. I suspect they may not. Everything I’ve heard about where deep Abidhamma-style mind-moment practice leads sounded quite different to the continuity of discontinuity, and to the spontaneous presence of rigpa.

Thomas Garnett 2019-06-27

Thank you for your response. Good points. IMHO, or should I write, “in my humble experience” the “overall framework” in either of the two domains you indicate wears pretty thin as one deeply engages. Yes, in some sense, it’s accurate to talk of the “methodological direction” to Vajrayana or Sutric practices. OTOH, there’s no direction and any felt sense of direction is just more stuff. Ro.gcig BTW, I am not implying valuation and judgement are bad and their absence is good. If I understand what you are doing in your “experiment,” you are comparing two different methods of cultivation. You are noting similarities, differences, etc. Really good, juicy, honest stuff. But both methods of cultivation, if sincerely trod, will see through/bring into question/deconstruct/drop the “overall framework” and their “methodological direction.” That’s a feature, not a bug. So, perhaps, at one point in time, one point in the cultivation of the yogini, there’s a difference between what you are calling Vajrayana and Sutric cultivation. And, at another point in the cultivation of the yogini, there’s not so much difference. Does that make sense?

When I write, “there’s no direction,” I am not sure if I am making an ontological claim (you know how some dharma folks say “well, ulimately xyz.) or a cultivation/experiential claim. A lot of conceptual mischief gets done with the weasel word “ultimate.” I guess my statement is bringing into question “stages of the path” or developmental landmarks, etc. Stuff/nyams/shit happens. Threading it into a progression is subsequent - both in a temporal and logical sense and should be questioned.

srconstantin 2019-11-05

This sounds like what I was doing the last time I had an hour-a-day meditation practice; take up the center of attention with the breath sensations, peripheral awareness is still a thing but confined to the periphery, you start to feel the “vibrations” of sensation and thought, as in, you perceive a periodic flicker in some sensations or mental phenomena that I’d guess is the actual speed of one of the perception levels in the brain.

I’m kind of confused by how this is different from shi-ne – how do you get to a state of “no thinking” without the forced-attention-on-sensations thing?

Rin’dzin Pamo 2019-11-05

The method is to remain uninvolved with whatever arises: thought, sensation, visual stuff, internal narratives, whatever, without losing awareness. Attention is a kind of mental involvement – it’s not a synonym for awareness, though it can seem that way! The practice of shi-ne is to remain aware without any particular focus, so it’s quite different from shamatha in that respect. That’s often difficult to start with so you begin with some intentional attention, for example on the breath, but once you’re stable in that practice you lighten the attention, let go of it. You’re not concentrating more and more on the detail of the sensations of the breath, you’re doing that decrementally, as soon and as little as you can without losing presence of awareness.

I responded to a similar question in a tweet thread recently:

The questions I’m most frequently asked are about differences between shamatha and shi-ne practice. I’ve decided to set up a FAQ page and to include this question on it. I’ll put a short, generic reply there with the intention of expanding the question into a page too.

It’s quite difficult to describe the experiential difference between these two practices. Because Shamatha relies on attention, focus and precision, descriptions can be fairly clearly defined. Shi-ne requires maintaining conscious presence while releasing reliance on clear definitions, so describing the experience is always nebulous and might sound a bit vague in comparison. Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that the more precise and prescriptive my explanation, the more liable it is to get re-configured as Shamatha. Saying that presence of awareness can be experientially clear and sharp but without focus sounds paradoxical, because it’s qualitatively different to our habitual, polarizing experience. Normal human experience distinguishes focus, concentration and conscious awareness from lack of focus and unconscious involvement. Shi-ne ruptures the membrane of that particular duality.

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