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 !
If you have been subscribing to the podcast, you are probably very familiar with today's meditation. We practiced Settling the Mind in its Natural State by first coming in through different domains of experience, following to the instructions that the Buddha gave to the wandering ascetic Bahiya. I have linked to them directly in the past so I won't do so here, however Alan paraphrases them very clearly in the introduction. Alan also gives a brief recap on a point about non-conceptual experience from a few days ago, and details a "smooth gradient" from being fully-fledged psychotic to being a Buddha. Shortly thereafter, we go into the practice with the prospect of becoming sane, first with respect to our own minds, then in our dreams, and then in all experience, thus becoming lucid in the waking state. Enjoy! This beautiful local photo is from Daniela!
The introduction to today's practice was tailored to us here in Phuket in the sense that we are coming out of retreat soon, but it can be applied by everyone. Alan talks about including the people we are going to see soon into our Loving Kindness meditation, and talks about the quite palpable effects that this can have on our relationships with such people in the (near) future. He includes his experience of this when dealing with Indian customs officers in Delhi, and if you feel skeptic about the effects of doing this meditation the best thing you can do is try it!(And then keep your eyes open). For what it counts, I can also vouch for this. After the meditation, which consisted of brief instructions followed by silence, we had a question from... Noah! So you probably know where this is going. The question contains several parts, all dealing with Bodhicitta, and actually becoming a Bodhisattva. Alan talks about the path to bodhicitta, including the importance of cultivating the Four Immeasurables, first at their "boundless level" and then going Maha (Great). The question not only deals with the achievement of bodhicitta (which in itself is radically profound), but also explains the process of sealing this bodhicitta (making it gold-like) with great wisdom. Alan includes very valuable tips that can help us orient ourselves towards this great aspiration of bodhicitta starting today, and the episode magestically culminates in the achievement of Rigpa (pristine awareness). By the way, for clarification on any of the above points (including Maha-4I) you might want to check several of the previous episodes where they were covered in detail! And by now I don't think I need to give much explanation regarding why this picture is so relevant.
In today's mindfulness of breathing practice, Alan started by talking about the causes and solutions for the all too popular phenomenon of the "energy going up to the head," and proceeded by applying the glass half empty / glass half full example in our practice. He emphasizes taking delight in the periods (as brief as they may be) when we recognize we are no longer distracted and have a little glimpse of being clear in the present. Before jumping into the practice, Alan shares a story from his early days in Dharamsala (60s, early 70s) in which he he was asked why it was that he was there practicing Dharma. After the practice, Alan gives a brilliant short talk relating mindfulness of breathing to going "cold turkey" from our mental addictions, and culminates in how we really can develop deep, underlying motivation to drive and hold practices like this one with inspiration and enthusiasm. This photo by Daniela illustrates this concept of motivation... This gigantic (will be the world's largest) Buddha statue being built here in Phuket is almost 50 meters high and will be covered in heavy white jade marble. The construction is an ardous process relying only on donations, and working under a powerful sun and relentless heat. The motivation of seing this statue completed, overlooking Phuket from the top of a hill as well as the religious implications no doubt help the people involved see the “big picture.” More info: http://www.mingmongkolphuket.com/index-en.php
This afternoon we started with a reflection on how many times we see people as just "flat images" or appearances arising to our minds. In the supermarket, subway, etc, we see them as obstacles or merely objects in our way. Today’s intro deals with seeing through those images and realizing that a real person is there, looking back, with their own hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. Alan also emphasizes the importance of starting with ourselves, and describes these Four Immeasurable practices as digging in search of water. At first, the practices can be very conceptual and we actually feel like we have to pour water on the ground to soften it and allow us to dig. But eventually, just following the practice, we break into the "ground water," which just flows out unimpededly and plentifully. With this metaphor in mind, we go into the practice thinking of tapping into our hearts, and opening the floodgates of our virtue and well-being. After the practice, we had several very interesting questions. The first one deals with the concept of "symmetry breaking," and Alan goes into a marvelous cosmological explanation o f what this means, and describes all configurations of mass-energy as space/vacuum just frozen by grasping (coming from both the Kalachakra and from quantum field theory). He then beautifully relates this to Buddhism, culminating in the Dzogchen view. After that, we had a very interesting question from Ana Lorena on the topic of hypnagogic imagery, and Alan gave his interpretation of this phenomenon. There was then a very interesting "unanswerable" question by Elizabeth which I cut out to use for this Sunday's bonus, and we finished this afternoon with some questions from Adeline mostly focusing on the "Four Modes of Enlightened Activity" (for more on this topic view some of the April/Early may podcasts). As you can probably tell my creativity dwindled today and all I could think of was a picture of an actual floodgate. This can give you a rough idea of what it is like when you permanently and fully break into your inner virtues and happiness, but I think a better picture would be the entire walls just shattering into smithereens and a gargantuan flow of water bursting out. Unfortunately I couldn't find a suitable picture for that :(
This morning, Alan started by reading two short verses from the Dhammapada, (freshly translated by him last night) which are a very strong metaphor with the mind training we are doing here. He then talks about the importance of having a base in relaxation and training the mind from the ground up rather than tensing up and forcing it to quiet down. However, pure relaxaton will not simply cause stability to arise on its own, so Alan explains how a delicate balance is needed between effort and relaxation, and gives one of the core, indispensable teachings for Shamatha practice. After a breath awareness session, Alan further shows the relationship between the Dhammapada verses and our own mind training, and it's amazing how spot-on they are considering the fact that they have been around for 2500 years! This photo was taken by Sanjay just around the corner from the mind centre. The plants on the ground are the same pineapple plants from yesterday's photo!
The beginning of this afternoon's lecture is a stunning, wisdom-packed reflection on the analysis of our own world view. Alan starts by giving an overview of some of the predominant world views, from the individual vantage points of physics, biology, Abrahamic religions (Christianism, Judaism, Islam), and contemplative practices, ultimately culminating in an explanation of the Buddhist view. He gives a brief but very precise reflection on Karma, Theravada, and Mahayana views, and then proposes a profound hypothesis, probably the most profound hypothesis that we can test personally: In Buddhism it has been observed throught millenia that as we orient ourselves with reality, with genuine happiness and liberation/enlightenment of both ourselves and others, reality rises up to help out. In other words, reality seems to align itself so that the conditions necessary for finding genuine happiness (a.k.a: finding reality as it is) present themselves to us when our motivation is clear and we develop a sincere and profound yearning for this (as opposed to having yearning for hedonic, materialist success and pleasure where we literally are dominated mostly by luck, chance and doing our best). With the very real posibility of testing this hypothesis in our lifes by using simple observation, we glide into a profound Loving Kindness practice, yearning to achieve our most meaningful aspirations. Post-practice, we have a few very interesting questions on the topics of "getting real" and what that means on all stages (from deep sleep to waking life), non conceptuality, and the relationship between Shamatha practice and sleep. I took this photo right as we were exiting the teaching hall. I know we are not in Awareness of Awareness yet but hey, by now you probably know that I can't resist amazing sunsets!
I'll try not to title all of the Shamatha episodes from today onwards with the phrase "for the last time," although we have come to the final cycle of the teachings! My descriptions for these morning practices will really not be very verbose since it's the fourth time (or so) I podcast the full-body awareness practice. So if you are new to the podcast, I really suggest listening to the first practices back from April. The descriptions and the practices themselves are much more throughly explained. But I'll keep uploading this cycle just so you have more practices to choose from in your Shamatha podcast arsenal! This mostly unrelated photo of a nearby pineapple-to-be was provided by Sanjay. If you have never seen pineapples growing I must say it's quite a sight to behold! Here is another example of a more matured pineapple: http://i.imgur.com/Ho9Zg.jpg . There are fields and fields of those around the mind centre...
A number of the past bonus podcasts had been geared towards the physicists, but this weekend we have some juice for psychologists! In this bonus podcast, we have some extremely interesting points about attention training and the cognitive sciences from a more professional psychology standpoint. However, this is also very relevant for all meditators wishing to gain a better understanding of attention. Adeline asked several questions, mostly pertaining to the "pulse-like" quality of our attention, and to the 600 or so pulses of attention that we have per second (according to both Buddhist psychology and modern psychology). I wont go much into the details of the answers, but in a brief overview the podcast first goes into the need for actual contemplative scientists (a hybrid profession of both professional science and professional meditation) in modern psychology, followed by a discussion on the "clustering" of these pulse-like moments of cognition. Alan also relates this clustering is also related with Samadhi and with two different types of vividness, and presents a valid scientific, testable hypothesis on this topic. Towards the end of the podcast, Alan also analyses how most of the research is now focused on the negative. How many people are depressed, how many people are unhappy, how many people have no empathy... The list goes on. He talks a bit about the Milgram torture experiment (wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment) and how nobody cared to study the 20% (aprox.)of people who did not agree to torture others. Instead of studying what it was about these 20% that caused them to be more compassionate, and how to integrate this into education systems, the result was "80% tortured, 20% did not." Alan further talks about these "ideological blinkers" in modern psychology, and highlights the urgent need for cognitive science, to scientifically show that the human mind can evolve in extraordinary ways, unveiling levels of compassion, altruism, and ethics that are sometimes thought impossible in modernity.
In this bonus episode we cover some very interesting cognitive science/brain science questions from Noah. The first question asks if meditation researchers have been able to isolate the EEG correlates of meditative experiences such as staying on the object, excitation, laxity, etc. The second question asks whether it is possible to "augment" Shamatha practice, perhaps speed up the earlier stages, for example, with the use of neurofeedback training. Alan starts by talking about the short/medium term plans for the scientific investigations here in Phuket. If everything goes well, the plan to have around 20-40 people fully focusing on achieving Shamatha (while being scientifically studied with state of the art, non-intrusive equipment) could be a reality very soon. Alan talks about the ideal situation, where these people start achieving Shamatha (even having the actual achievement inside an MRI tube) and then very rigurous scientific studies could be published, in order to turn this attention training into real, mainstream, rock-solid scientific fact. This method of starting the attention revolution would be pretty much failsafe, and the modern scientific community would have no choice but to break their denial and understand and accept the results. Alan then connects this answer to the second one, going into a discussion analyzing all of the consequences that could arise as a result of using artificial augmentation for Shamatha practice. The discussions covers technology, science, ethics, psychology, and more. The end of the podcast deals with the drug industry, including the fact that (according to some studies) all of the anti-depressant drugs are either not at all better or negligibly better than the placebo for people with mild to moderate depression, but what they do bring is a huge range of side effects including suicidal thoughts. Yet people still take them, and doctors won't admit they are wrong. A very thought provoking episode! The photo shows Yongey Mingur Rinpoche undergoing EEG testing. Source: http://www.mingyur.org
In this afternoon's marvelous introduction, Alan talks about The Great Path of the Bodhisattvas, comparing it to a Freeway (using the American term). Using this very accurate analogy he talks about getting on the fast lane, and never getting off (until we reach the common destination). A very inspiring introduction! After a thirty minute silent session, we go into some very interesting Q&A. Among the topics covered we have a quick question about the breath as the body settles during the practice, and then a very interesting question about Merit. If you have any doubts or would like a refresh on this topic, I really recommend this part of the lecture. Alan covers all of the bases, from the basic act of helping someone with any little thing, to realizing emptiness. He talks about how it can be gained, lost, and how it can be used for many things, incorporating the story of Śāriputra (how he realized Nirvana after hearing a short phrase) and what role Merit played in it. Throughout the entire lecture and up to the ending, Alan goes back to his original example about this Great Path, highway, freeway, autopista, carretera, autobahn, autostrada, autosnelweg, ทางหลวง, 高速道路, 公路, हाइवे, автострада, of the Bodhisattvaas. As I was writing this description I realized that my laptop's desktop background, which I have had for months, seemed to fit this podcast perfectly. Granted, it's not an autobahn, and it's not as full of Bodhisattva's as we'd like it to be, but it certainly gives the feeling "the road is all yours.” Go for it! Credit: Trey Ratcliff (amazing photogapher, uses the HDR technique!) http://www.stuckincustoms.com/
This afternoon we started with a special guided meditation to commemorate the Buddha's Enlightenment, not specifically centered on Shamatha or the Four Immeasurables. After the meditation, Alan gave us a short recap on the night/morning of the Buddha Gautama's enlightemnent, up to the moment when he went back to his five companions and they also achieved Enlightenment. He ends the story on a heartwarming reflection about the day we are commemorating, which set this whole sequence of events flowing (up to our retreat here and this podcast), which have given rise to so much goodness in the world. Alan then spontaneously adds a very beautiful and inspirating note on what it means to be a Buddhist, saying it's simply a matter of trust. After we silently recovered from the powerful emotions that were generated in many of us, we went to a much lighter tone and Alan read a poem submitted by an anonymous member of our Sangha here. I must say it was very good and quite impressive, expanding Alan's "3Rs" into "33Rs"! After the nice poem, we went into an interesting question about the prana system, why it has not been studied scientifically despite the staggering evidence about its existance, and its relationship to the mind. Enjoy, and continue meditating in commemoration of this day! I took this photo of our Teaching Hall Buddha just minutes ago after we finished some chanting in Pali masterfully led by Malcolm. May all sentient beings have genuine happiness and its causes, May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes, May all sentient beings never be separated from bliss without suffering, May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger. May the benefit spread in all directions so that all sentient beings realize full awakening.
Happy Vesak Day! This morning we conmemorated the celebration of Buddha Śākyamuni's birth, enlightment, and parinirvana with a guided Shamatha meditation. After the session, Alan talks a little bit about Vesak and concludes by saying that the best way to celebrate the Buddha's day is to practice all day, so I hope you can all join us around the world!
I extracted this practical gem from this afternoon's lecture. It is a clear example of how the instructions to a practice can be profoundly meaningful, stunning, transformative, and just utterly inspiring when given correctly by a sharply prepared, more than qualified, and immensely skilled teacher. In this short episode, Alan sublimely describes the practice of Awareness of Awareness in response to a question from Malcolm, specifically focusing on resting in the pure luminosity and cognizance of experience. I really won't contaminate this with my words, so I'll just say it's an absolutely must-listen for those who really enjoy the practice, for those with a few doubts about it, for those who don't quite understand the practice, for those in between, and for everyone else. That probably includes you! Alan sometimes uses the example of "shafts of light" from the substrate filtering through all our grasping, and I think this picture gives some sort of an idea of what is left over when we just rest in the simplicity of awareness, revealing what always is and always has been there all along.
Today we went directly into practice, which I removed from the recording to make it easier to listen to. As you know by now, just do your own practice and then press play! Alan suggests that if we are just feeling "ordinary" or with no specific need to balance emotions, then Loving Kindness or Tonglen are always magnificent go-to practices. After the meditation (and where this recording starts), we had an extremely juicy lecture. I usually say "juicy" when Alan gives marvelous scientific explanations but this time it was pure heart-food, with no physics attached. The first minutes have a lot of short answers on different topics, such as a very brief recap on yesterday's eating meat discussion (which did not make it to the podcast), some of the possible benefits (for some people, or for a period in our lifes) of celibacy and monastic ordnation, highlighting the simplicity that both bring. We also had a wonderful question from Ilse about beauty, which started with "Does a Bodhisattva enjoy flowers?" and the role of beauty and joy, followed by a very practical question from Ivan on the topic of Organ Donation and after-death awareness, to which Alan gives very practical points to reflect upon. All this in 15 minutes! Then comes a question which might be extremely useful for all of us. It deals with how to acquire self-confidence and remedy problems such as low self worth and self esteem while avoiding pride completely. In addition to Alan's brilliant answers, the question made him recall his first encounter with H.H. the Dalai Lama and the question he asked him back in 1971, which he was kind enough to share with us (and all of our worldwide listeners!) once again. It is a very touching and extremely meaningful story, in which H.H. The Dalai Lama's words and actions serve to really overcome pride of any kind. The photo is of a red lotus, both in reference to Ilse's question and because of it's connection to Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion (and I really don't need to tell you why he is relevant to this episode... HINT: 1971)
This morning we had a silent meditation followed by a few brief tips. The tips cover a bit of posture, and then Alan talks about how the benefits of the practices can be retained in a non-contemplative lifestyle, linking this to losing as little ground in between sessions by using one of several strategies. Enjoy! (Local photo from Daniela)