Alan Wallace Live from Phuket!
Summary: Welcome! This is now an archive page for Dr. Alan Wallace’s teachings from the Spring 2010 Shamatha Retreat in the wonderful Phuket International Academy Mind Centre!This podcast feed was 100% created and updated by us (his students here in Phuket) so we can share Alan’s diamond-sharp teachings! This podcast was created live every day during the retreat in 2010. We will still maintain this site because the teachings are timeless. For more information, please contact the great people at firstname.lastname@example.org !
This afternoon may be the last podcast episode of Alan's lectures for this retreat. He started by returning to the hypothesis of saying that if we align ourselves with reality, reality will rise up to meet us. That is, if we devote ourselves with our heart and might to the path of Dharma (the word Dharma means reality, by the way), with a clear and strong motivation, all that we truly need rises up to meet us in a friendly way. He also talks about really understanding Dharma, and about transmuting everything that comes up in life into part of the path. Alan uses an analogy back from Dharamsala in '72, with the Dalai Lama's physician, to support the point that everything can be transformed into medicine with enough wisdom. He then talks about his personal experience with this radical hypothesis and way of viewing the world, showing that it has held true for him. It is important to note that you need to have the wisdom to see this, and it does not mean that your life will become nice and fluffy. Before going into the practice, he explains how we can integrate Equanimity and Loving Kindness into a non dual meditation, and explains a beautiful method which we then practice. After the meditation, Alan goes back briefly to the subject of Karma and its intricate mysteries. He relates this to the case of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, and then goes to explain in what way "blessings" can enter our stream of conciousness and transmute karma. All of this is from the Buddhist point of view. We also get the remainder of Milarepa's story from yesterday, which shows a clear example of transforming Karma. To further illustrate this point we go into a story of one of Atisha's top diciples. Before ending, we have a question from Ricardo et al., simply stating "Has Anyone from the Shamatha Projects Achieved Shamatha?" Alan talks about his students, their status, the problems they have encountered, and like a master weaver manages to integrate this with the topic of Karma and clearing obscurations. All in all a very motivating answer if you were having these doubts. Well, I guess this may be it! I may upload one more episode from the retreat, but if not I will send some other things in a few weeks. I have some audio from Klaus, but I am simply out of time right now and the next weeks will be crazy. In any case, thank you for joining us so far. It has been a pleasure providing these podcasts for you, and my heart's motivation is that you will benefit from them and therefore benefit others around you. May all sentient beings flourish!
I know, I am quite the dramatic with my titles :) With a bittersweet feeling we have come to the last group practice of Shamatha for this retreat. To end majestically, we practiced the fourth method of Shamatha without a sign as taught by Padmasambhava. Preceding the practice, Alan shared some tips of what we can do to practice and ground ourselves in the midst of a flurry of activity around us. He first returned to his analogy of Schooner (Boat)/ Submarine/Jet Plane in relationship with the Shamatha practices, and then he shared one more drop of wisdom in the form of a brand new practice for us, combining Breath Awareness with Awareness of Awareness to create a deeply soothing yet vivid and engaged practice. After the meditation, Alan suggests keeping the attention engaged with something real in between thoughts and everyday, and finished by sharing a brilliant Tibetan aphorism to keep us out of trouble: "When you are alone, watch your mind. When you are with others, watch your mouth." This beautiful starry picture is a still from David.
This afternoon Alan started by sharing a story about his first meditation counsel with Geshe Rabten, and the two topics that he suggested for meditation: Precious Human Rebirth and Equanimity. He emphasizes the importance of Equanimity and seeing through the "I-It" relationship with others (for more on this topic refer to previous episodes), and also highlights the importance of balancing the urgency that can arise from meditating on the precious human rebirth. He suggests not being shortsighted, and taking the time to develop the Four Immeasurables correctly, however long that may take, knowing it is the path. Alan then very poetically goes into the instructions for the practice, talking about ending one phase (retreat) but starting a new one afterwards, and to symbolize this the retreat will end on a new moon, a new start. For the practice, Alan instructs "seeing through" appearances and like a metallurgist separating the positive feelings from the negative feelings, looking towards the people we may encounter in the near future as we finish the retreat. After the practice, Alan shares a very encouraging story from his wife about attending a lecture at Oxford in which Prince Charles spoke magnificently, stressing the importance of spiritual vision and saying that science alone will not save us. Following that, there are a few great questions from Adeline, starting from the phrase "nothing can harm the mind" and relating this to practices like Voodoo. Alan shares a relevant story about Voodoo from Dharamsala, a part of the life of Milarepa, and another story about Virupa and some protector deities, all to illustrate his points. Then he explains how to protect the mind, emphasising the benefits of metta. For example: http://www.sota.dhamma.org/metta.htm Then we have a question about the difference between Awareness and Attention, to which Alan gives the scientific answer, the regular Buddhist answer, and the Dzogchen answer. Finally, we have a question from Kathleen about "disclosure" in our practice, to which Alan responds with great information about how we can share our experiences with wisdom and with tact, if we choose to do so at all. This very artistic photo is from Malcolm.
This morning Alan starts by giving instructions on how to watch the opening game of the World Cup (Mexico-South Africa) on Friday, after being asked for permission to do so. He has a very interesting football-watching technique! On a slightly more profound tone, Alan is asked what to do with the whole topic of devotion when teaching Shamatha in a scientific context. He gives a very good explanation of how Shamatha can be practiced with no religious devition at all, with some devotion, and with immense devotion, and talks about each of these alternatives. He also talks about the relationship between devotion and trust, and relates this to how the Buddha never asked for postrations or any other act of devotion before giving teachings. A sense of trust is something that arises differently for everyone, and the point is to have this flourish from firsthand experience, rather than just believing everything you are told. This is very useful for anyone who might be having these sorts of doubts. We then go into the third method in our cycle Awareness of Awareness, this time spending less time shifting the visual gaze and more time just sustaining a non-conceptual, non-discursive thought of mindfulness of resting Awareness in its own nature of luminosity. This episode is only recommended if you have already done the last three repetitions of this method of practice in the previous weeks, where it had more words and explanation. The familiar photogenic trees and moon by Malcolm.
As we approach the end of the retreat, the lectures are getting more and more information packed and so are these summaries. I will say as I always do; if you are new to the podcast go back to the first episodes! This morning we started by covering the importance and the difficulty, even for Tibetans now and in the past, of calming the mind through Shamatha practice. Alan speaks about the sad state of the modern view that reduces human beings into biological machines, where the brain does everything and we do nothing. From here, he mentions the popular but very incorrect belief that Buddhism arrived to the west "dead on arrival," and that achieving realizations or even Shamatha in modernity is impossible. It all boils down to your belief in yourself, motivation, and diligence. As HH. Dalai Lama said, practice like Milarepa and you will achieve like Milarepa. Too often we look for the "quick fix," and Alan emphazises that there is simply no substitute for cultivating real stability. Keeping our minds concentrated by keeping them in motion will not achieve lasting transformation. Alan also explains why throughout this retreat he has always given an entire worldview with elaborate answers rather than just "keeping it to practice," and I will vouch that his technique has really worked for me and other fellow retreatants, giving us a deep understanding of the context and gently but firmly turning our minds towards the pursuit of genuine happiness. Towards the end of this introduction, Alan gives several practical tips on what to do if our mind just won't cooperate when we try to meditate, emphasising and giving instructions on breathing out correctly. He then starts this Awareness of Awareness practice, which he later mentions can be excellent medicine to heal ourselves from the sad belief that we are only matter, organic computers with no control over ourselves. No materialist investigation into "ourselves" and reality can compete against these practices unless a radical shift takes place in the modern way of viewing reality.
The story Alan narrates at the very start of this episode comes because there was a dog outside the teaching hall, and as we were coming in for the lecture he would try to get in between our legs, or at least just stick his head in. He clearly looked very determined and excited to learn about Mudita, and it was hard to get Alan inside the teaching hall sans-dog. Moving to the actual lecture, Alan explains today's practice, in which we cultivate empathetic joy towards others both in terms of hedonic pleasure and then of genuine happiness. Alan gives several examples of each, and notes, also with great examples, that we can learn to use the mind just like we learn to drive a vehicle. It can go from our worst enemy to our best friend. After the fairly silent practice [again, if you want more verbose practices refer to the beginning of the podcast series], we went into very interesting questions. The first ones were by Enrique, based on The Vajra Essence and returning to yesterday's point on achieving Shamatha through the union of Shamatha and Vipassana. Alan talks about close Vipassana-style insights that can arise through the Shamatha practice of Settling the Mind, and quotes another mysterious (you'll see why) passage from (possibly) the Vajra Essence. In the last half of the session, we have a very meaningful question about how to distinguish between true love (or loving kindness) and attachment, and the relationship that grief from loss has to attachment. Alan starts by talking about the delicate and difficult act of throwing out attachment while retaining love, and we learn the origins of the phrase "throwing out the baby with the bathwater." Who said we only learn Dharma? Alan also covers the examination of a relationship both from the coarse and subtle levels, and the delicate interplay and entanglement of feelings, highlighting the toxicity of attachment even in happy relationships, and proposing a "reality check." He also integrates a question from Tsapel, and shows how to cultivate Loving Kindness both from the monastic perspective and within ordinary society. We reflect that if you were "incomplete" and your relationship with "your other half" makes you "complete" then you are bound to suffer, and end on the importance of recognizing the difference between genuine Loving Kindness (or Love) and attachment and not mistake one for the other. Enjoy these very profound reflections. This quite artistic photo from Malcolm shows our friends and silent (or sometimes not so silent) fellow sentient beings :) I had to include them in the podcast before sending out more sky photos!
This morning, Alan said he would squeeze out every drop of knowledge he had left about this first method of Awareness of Awareness, so if you listen to the previous episodes on this stage of practice you will be extremely well rounded! Alan starts by detailing an all to common problem: thinking that we are doing the practice incorrectly when we are actually doing it correctly, and reacting by tightening up our attention and trying harder, resulting in fatigue. This is followed by explaining how to gain satisfaction from stability, relating it to visualization practice, and setting our expectations correctly. From there, we briefly explore the possibility of achieving Shamatha within Vajrayana instad of using the practices that we have covered in this retreat, and while it is certainly possible, the difficulty is quite high and there are many pitfalls. As a final point before the meditation, Alan shows how this practice is a very smooth transition from the Settling the Mind practice from yesterday (Monday), talking about visual space as nothing other than mental space, and showing how to glide from attending to space to attending to awareness itself. He briefly gives some different ways of doing the oscillation (which by now you should be very familiar with, refer to the first episodes otherwise), which are suited for different people, and then we jump in! After the meditation, Alan talks about his first Shamatha retreat back in 1980 and squeezes a few more drops out of using too much strength without relaxation and stability. Enjoy! This sky picture is a part of a great set taken by Malcolm.
This afternoon Alan started by pointing out the modern tendency of being very harsh and strict with ourselves, and the need for Compassion. He then proceeds by diving down to the very root of suffering, considering the hypothesis that all mental afflictions stem from the grasping and reification of "self" as separate, autonomous, and self-existant. He aludes to the Vajra essence, showing how the symmetry of the substrate is broken and the sense of "self" coagulates and differentiates itself from the space, followed by the arising of appearances also as "other" and finally as the mind activates it conceptually imputes objects from those appearances we directly see. Using a few other examples, we see that it is pretty evident that all suffering comes from the reification and grasping of self, me and mine. The only thing left for us to do is investigate this hypothesis, bringing wisdom and compassion together into practice. After the meditation, we have a brief comment by Alan about the Vajra Essence (Dudjom Lingpa) and the relative "simplicity" of the path, followed by some interesting questions from Malcolm. He built on on an earlier question about being a Bodhisattva without knowing it, now extending it to "Is it possible for a Sotāpanna (stream enterer) to be one with out knowing it." Alan said yes, but then really unpacked the question, focusing on the importance of not taking things out of context. He highlights his skepticism of many modern ways in which people are practicing Dharma, and talks a little about debunking false claims of realization. He also talks about how these new Dharma experiments can cause you to fool yourself into thinking you have genuine realization, uniquely combining a story from the suttas with Mark Twain. Along the explanation he comes upon the debate of "momentary Samadhi" being enough for Vipassana practice and the problems with this allegation, pointing to the following debate: http://www.mahasi.org.mm/discourse/E24/E24ch01.htm There is also a part where Alan speaks about a connection between Mahayana and Christianity, and Elizabeth explains how the Christian Saint Josaphat is actually a mistranslation of Arhat, and reveals the fact the The Buddha was actually canonized! She says there is an article on her website, which is here: http://buddhist-christian.org/ Well, I think this description has gotten out of hand with the length. So I'll leave you with this still from David Cherniack, representing the distortion that occurs when taking Dharma out of context!
This practice got separated from the previous episode for continuity purposes. As you might expect, we return for the final time to the practice of Settling the Mind in its Natural State. Spefically, we start by attending to the spaces in between mental events, and after a while we go deeper and without breaking the continuity we observe the space from which mental events arise, in which they are present, and into which they dissolve. Alan briefly reflects on achieving Shamatha by observing the substrate, by observing space, and explains his reasons behind breaking this Shamatha practice into parts (attending to the foreground, and today to the background). As you probably expect, his reasons make a lot of sense. So enjoy this Settling the Mind practice, for the last time in this podcast series! By the way, if you want some practices with more explanation behind them, you might want to check the meditations from the first week. This is the fourth time we come to this phase in the Shamatha cycle so Alan is using very few words compared to seven weeks ago. This spectacular photo was taken by Malcolm, and this is straight from his camera! I promise I did not even modify the colors, the skies here are just stunning. Prepare for more breathtaking sky photos in these last episodes (although they get scaled down to 300 sq pixels for the podcast...)
In this morning session, Alan really woke us up (interpret that as you will) by making an addendum to this Sunday's bonus episode where we had a "speed drive" through different ways of viewing reality from the Buddhist point of view. Alan only had two minutes left for Dzogchen, so this morning he went deeper into an explanation of this culminating Great Perfection. This episode is crucial to understanding the Dzogchen view. Alan first briefly recapitulates on the path to Arhathood from the point of view of the coarse and subtle mind, and then using a strong metaphor from dreaming he explains what Dzogchen has to add to that view. I would feel dirty trying to summarize the beauty of this explanation because I really don't want to mess with Dzogchen teachings. You will notice that I edited the meditation on Compassion out of the podcast and skipped straight to Alan's words after the meditation. This is because he picks off right where he left off, talking about the dangers of taking Dzogchen practice (and any other practice such as Vipassana) and how this is sadly becoming more and more common. Alan uses an analogy from his days in Dharamsala to ilustrate the futility of Dzogchen without context, so please share this episode with anybody you might know is attempting this. We don't want them to waste their time. If you are keen-eyed you will recognize the palms in the photo from many other photos in this podcast. This was a nighttime still provided by David Cherniack, slightly modified by me to make it more relevant :) To see David's original footage wait for more details on his movie!
Yes, this is an ambitious title but as always the podcast episode does not fail to deliver the goods. However, I really won't even try to summarize all of Buddhist Philosophy in two paragraphs. I know I always say that but really, this time there is just no point and not enough space for me to do that. However, I will give you a few things :) The lecture started with what to do when we encounter strong negative emotions, attitudes, and mental states after the retreat, and this was weaved with a question about the relationship of Chitamattra and Dzogchen. Instead of giving a brief conceptual comparison, Alan rolls back and looks at a sequence of ways of viewing reality, fully engaged with a way of practice. He works with Sanskrit-language based schools: Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Chittamatra, and Madhyamaka, and ends with a brief overview of The Great Perfection (Dzogchen). Alan makes this very relevant regardless of personal interest in Buddhism, and clearly explains the ways of viewing the physical, appearances, systems of measurement, qualia, references, perception, the mind, awareness, "what do you really know," and just all of reality from evolving points of view. Somewhere in the middle, there is a brief detour into the "lack of competition" that resulted in materialism taking over the mind sciences. I will honestly say that I do not consider myself well-versed in Buddhist philosophy, and this episode was extremely enlightening and helped me clearly understand the different views of the Indian Buddhist schools, culminating in the beauty of the Dzogchen view. So that's all you'll get from me! I very highly recommend this episode.
For this short bonus episode, I extracted a question that Elizabeth said was maybe unanswerable, about the very beginning of ignorance and delusion (and samsara for that matter). But we all know by now that Alan always has something up his sleeve. He starts by talking about the problems that can arise when we misniterpret the Buddhist view that "samsara is beginningless". Infinite past lifes would mean infinite chances to achieve Bodhicitta, to go into meditation retreat for 60 years, to achieve enlightenment, etc, which would mean that we probably failed an infinite number of times. Not very motivating! So Alan gives a very sharp and amazing answer to this "unanswerable" question, which is both completely aligned with the Buddhist notion of a beginningless samsara and extremely logical, drawing from everyday examples such as thinking and dreaming. To illustrate his explanation, Alan draws on a short parable from the book "Naked Awareness" by Karma Chagme (although in the recording you will hear him say it was from "A Spacious Path to Freedom," which is actually the prequel... He made the correction later in the day). In the last 5 minutes, we go into the question of the "end of samsara," where Alan quotes H.H. Dalai Lama and then he ends by sharing a laughter-filled question he made back in Dharamsala about how the last sentient being can achieve enlightenment. I just laughed out loud again listening to it to write the desription. This much more flattering picture of last week's rainbow was provided by Rosa - thank you!
In this afternoon practice, we focused not so much on the blatant form of suffering as we did yesterday, but on the underlying causes. In the introduction, Alan reflects on how little we really know about suffering in modernity, and how we build our hapiness on very weak foundations of delusion, attachment, and craving. Even if we have good luck and we are hedonically happy, the foundation of that happiness is just a time bomb, and sooner or later it will go off and we will suffer. In this meditation, we experiment with cultivating compassion first for ourselves, freeing ourselves of attachment and craving. These afflictions are terribly deceiving, because they seem pleasant, get us hooked, and never fail to dissapoint. As always, we then expand this yearning to include all beings, and keep breaking down the barriers for our Four Immesaurables. After the meditation Alan pulled one of his amazing acts and and brilliantly summarized pretty much all of Buddhist philosophy in 45 minutes. I took this out and it will be the seasoning for tomorrow's sunday Bonus. This still was given to me by David Cherniack (expect more great stills from him in this last week), and it sort of looks like the mirages that appear on pavement sometimes. They look like water, but when you get closer they never fail to dissapear. (Yes I know that the still is actually real water from our monsoon here, just trying to be imaginative!)
This morning we returned to Settling the Mind in its Natural state, this time observing the foreground of events arising within the domain of the mind. Alan quotes two plays from Shakespeare ("The Tempest" and "As You Like It") which relate with uncanny precision to what we have been covering in this retreat. Enjoy the mostly silent practice! Some of you may recognize today's image as the painting "Miranda," (by John William Waterhouse in 1916), depicting a scene from "The Tempest."
This afternoon we went into a very practical and powerful practice on Compassion, focusing on the blatant, glaring, obvious pain that can arise in both the physical and mental domains of experience. Alan starts by giving a brief overview of this blatant suffering, and what can be done to cure it mentally, including praise for the pharmaceutical industry in relieving the symptoms. He then highlights how this blatant suffering is something we have all experienced, and how it really can take posession of our entire (untrained) minds and not let us focus on anything else. After this very useful meditation, we followed up yesterday's topic of Bodhicitta. First, Alan answered that it may in fact be possible to be a Bodhisattva without knowing it, and even be a Bodhisattva while preaching another religion or having almost all types of jobs. He also makes a reference to a study which suggests that babies may be undergoing past life recall sometime during their third trimester of gestation. This time Alan covers a different way to develop Bodhicitta, with more of a "discovery" approach. For this, Alan draws on the magnificent text, "The Vajra Essence," and talks about Dzogchen. We also go into a brief, fun, and very enlightening tangent about monastic debating, complete with authentic sound effects from Alan dating back to his debating days. After the discussion of Bodhicitta, we have a brief question from Enrique about overcoming coarse laxity and stages 4-5 in Shamatha practice, and a final anonymous question about etiquette issues which sadly got cut off due to an electrical problem, but this time it was only 1 minute before Alan ended anyway so not much was lost! So read up on some gompa etiquette if you are interested. At first I thought of using a picture of some debating monks, but then I decided on this NASA picture. For the first time instead of using a distant galaxy I am using our planet, where we can immediately see the enormous ammount of blatant suffering in order to inspire us to realize Bodhicitta and achieve perfect Enlightenment to be able to liberate every single sentient being from suffering.