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 we went directly into meditation with no preamble, and had no outro directly pertaining to the meditation. So you can meditate for 24 minutes on your own and then press play! We briefly come back to Malcom's question on the Theravada/Mahayana views of Equanimity, clearning up some generalizations that are sometimes made about Buddhism (specifically about karma and equanimity) in the process. We then go to a question from Mervin about "The Attention Revolution" and the expedition of Shamatha, specifically focusing on the perils and dead ends. Alan also briefly talks about how the practice can go wrong (in rare cases) and how to avoid that, referencing the beautiful Nine Stages of Progressive Mental Development thangka which you probably already know and love (and can be used as an illustration for the nine stages in "Attention Revolution"). Thangka can also be seen at the website for this episode. And you will be wondering why the podcast only lasted 15 minutes. Unfortunately we had some sort of electric surge which triggered a hard drive skip and the audio was corrupted. This podcast is all I could rescue. But the themes covered will probably come up in the Fall retreat =) Sorry about that!
This morning Alan suggested to adopt the attitute of starting a 2-week retreat. He humorously gave some very important points and tips about the practice in order to make the most out of the time we have left. Very recommended! After the practice, Alan throws in 3 minutes about William James' pure experience theory, John Wheeler 's (theoretical physicist) theories, and how they are extremely similar to the core Buddhist teachings of experience. He also relates them to the practice of Shamatha, showing how it is really an outstandingly potent tool to probe into the nature of the universe at large. Yes, in 3 minutes total. Enjoy, along with this beautiful photo from Ale!
In today's lecture, Alan gave a very brief reflection for when we finish this retreat. As we know, the still, sustained focus / samadhi of our attention will naturally diminish within a socially engaged lifestyle. However, the Four Immeasurables have no reason to do so and in fact can even be amplified and practiced all day within the context of our life. We then go into a free Four Immeasurable meditation, and I have a question for you valued listeners: Do you prefer for me to trim the silent meditations out of the podcast? Please comment on the site for this podcast episode. Keep in mind that I always place chapter markers so you can easily skip to after the meditation or just use fast forward. So please comment, I want to see what you all think! I left it in today, also because we had a great meditation-enhancing rainstorm. Unfortunately the tiny wire microphone I use for Alan obviously does not do it justice, but you can at least imagine meditating here with us in the rain :) After the meditation I stripped what will be the second sunday bonus, a continuation from yesterday. I say this again, you should be very excited for this sunday, just as if there was a big sports match or something. I left a brief question from Malcom about the different interpretations of equanimity between the Theravada and Mahayana views, and Alan added some very wise information on sadness and remorse at the very end. Enjoy!
In this episode, Alan talks about something that probably bothers many of us, and he calls it "A Sacred Tension." It is about our decision to either dedicate our time fully to contemplation, to mundane life, or somewhere in between both. This is very valuable for those of us having these types of doubts. I stripped out the silent meditation (so you know the drill: pause, set your own 24 [or more!] minute timer, and then press play again), and left in a brief outro. I would like to say that the stats that Alan mentions are now almost double! I'll share some stats with all of you towards the end of this podcast series. Thank you all for tuning in =)
This afternoon we started with a very practical introduction on how to draw from the 4I throughout the course of a normal day in our life after the retreat if we are not going into full time practice. To use an incorrect (but illustrative) phrase, going back to the "real world." It includes a review on how to identify when and which of the Four Immeasurables are needed and on how to correctly apply them in day-to-day mundane life. The practice itself was silent, but I left it in for coherence. The outro includes a brief summary on the gradient of nuances with which we can practice each of the Four Immeasurables. There is a mode of practice for everyone! There were also two great questions, the first of which I have taken out with the goal of making your Sunday a fun day. The second question deals with the "pulses" of cognition that are described both in Buddhist psychology and in modern scientific research. Alan overviews how they interact, conglomerate, scatter, etc, and how our Shamatha practice "controls" these pulses of attention. An extremely interesting topic. The photo stems from my lack of creativity, this is our great Shamatha manual from which the questions about the attention pulses came from! A must-have.
This morning Alan started by saying that he would like to let us choose our own Shamatha method, for these next few days and perhaps for the rest of the retreat. If so, then I will only be podcasting the long afternoon sessions. But for now I left this one in anyway. Alan also talks about the "gears" of our practice, upshifting and downshifting, and gives a brief outro on the importance of remaining engaged with reality. Enjoy this silent practice with us! This great photo is by Sara.
In this short and sweet sunday bonus, we synthesized the three main methods of Shamatha into one practice. There is an extremely short introduction and then the practice. A great way to combine these different meditative variations! Enjoy as we did! I would also like to let you know that after receiving several emails offering donations, I added some links to donate to the Santa Barbara Institute for Conciousness Studies to help fund future podcasts. For those viewing this on the web click on the big arrow to see the subsite, and for those viewing this in iTunes go here: http://bit.ly/bnxSR5 All of the profits will go to ensure that they can keep running podcasts in the future when I am not around. So don't worry, I don't want to make any money from you (and neither do they!) The photo is of the very photogenic Sombrero Galaxy. That glow in the middle is composed of billions of stars. Credit:Image Credit: NASA/Hubble Heritage Team
This lovely afternoon we went back to the practice of Loving Kindness, using the phrase from T.S. Elliot in the title. We went straight into meditation. After the practice, we had assorted Q&A from several people, on many topics. Alan talked about "practicing well" regardless of how well the practice is going, and there are other pieces of golden information scattered throughout. I would also like to let you know that after receiving several emails offering donations, I added some links to donate to the Santa Barbara Institute for Conciousness Studies to help fund future podcasts. For those viewing this on the web click on the big arrow to see the subsite, and for those viewing this in iTunes go here: http://bit.ly/bnxSR5 All of the profits will go to ensure that they can keep running podcasts in the future when I am not around. So don't worry, I don't want to make any money from you (and neither do they!) This picture of the surrounding jungle was provided by Sangay!
As you can probably tell by the title, today's practice was not you regular 4I practice. Sure, it did start out with a regular equanimity/Tonglen practice but this time we had the option of going deeper, down to pristine awareness. Rather than "Boundless" Compassion or Loving Kindness, today we had the option to cultivate "Great" (Maha) Compassion/Loving Kindness. Although "boundless" sounds quite more grandiloquent, cultivating Mahakarunā or Mahamettā is something that has to be yearned at our deepest level of existance for it not to be just utterly hilarous or megalomaniacal. Alan gives a great introduction on how to see this from a non-megalomaniacal point of view, and explains taking on the task of "making it so" for all sentient beings and arousing our deepest motivation for it. I won't pollute it further with my words, listen to Alan! After the session, Alan spontaneously said one of the classic (beautiful) dedications of merit, and gave an English translation. We then went into some questions about Conciousness, the brain, scientific materialism, the problems with the current status quo, etc. At the very end Alan answered a question about doubt, grasping, noting the grasping, labeling, and commenting in regards to tje practice of Settling the Mind in its Natural State. I just took this photo of a rainbow which was waiting for us across the sky as we left the teaching hall. It doesn't do it much justice since the rainbow covered most of the sky, so someone will probably give me a better picture soon! This is what happens when you practice Mahakaruna ;)
Alan "kickstarted" this morning [because he likes that word so much ;) ] with a healthy dose of Physics. He started talking about the following article from NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/18/science/space/18cosmos.html , which claims to uncover a new clue as to why we exist. Appreciating the enormous scientific value of this article, we realize the truth of the statement "ask a physical question and you'll receive a physical answer." We go back into the analysis of the relationship between the observer and matter, going into a "strange loop" of which came before the other, ending in mutual interdependence. Alan then masterfully creates a seamless link between this introduction and the practice of Awareness of Awareness. While these brilliant scientists at FERMI (and soon CERN!) are deeply investigating why we exist from the material point of view, we brilliant contemplatives are investigating why we exist by probing into the very nature of consciousness (without which there would be no physics and no physical theories, incidentally). Oh, and by the way, this can be done for free! Today's awareness of awareness "sky" picture [I know I cheated a little bit] is called "A Clash of Clusters" and shows striking evidence of Dark Matter (and even maps it in blue). For more info: http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1163.html Credit: Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC, M. Bradac (University of California, Santa Barbara), and S. Allen (Stanford University)
This afternoon Alan starts by quite briefly explaining this balance between fluidity and structure in the equanimity practice, and after the instructions we set off in a pretty much rich but silent session. After the session Alan had two juicy pieces of paper with multi-questions written on them. They cover a lot of practical content, such as the characteristics of the Shamatha stages and how to use them correctly, the characteristics of the different types of exitation and laxity. how to maintain motivation in the practice (dealing with the issue of "progress"), how to be really 100% sure that you are doing "Settling the Mind.." correctly, and more. The next question deals with conceptual designation, and starts with "how were atoms first conceptually designated" and later turns into an analysis of conceptual designation, appearances, and how we can never actually see the referent of appearances (so yes in a way we never see the "real" world, just appearances that arise from our substrate). The talk was filled with physics, history, several jokes, open questions, laughter... Alan really had us cracking up today. However, (as always) he managed to leave us dazed with brilliant insight, so that we all walk out of the meditation hall absorbed in thoughts and bumping into things (ok maybe not the latter). Enjoy as we did! The picture is very much related as we approach the celebrations for the Birth of the Buddha (in several East-Asian countries such as Thailand).
This morning we return to the third phase in the classic Awareness of Awareness teachings of Padmasambhava. In the introduction, Alan explains how this phase helps create a very 3D and spacious quality to our awareness, which is a very good warmup before settling in in tomorrow's practice. Alan clearly explains the practice with his characteristic eloquence and then we dive right in. Following the practice, Alan spices it up with a little bit of cosmology for good measure, relating the practice to a microcosm of how the universe may be operating, and giving a great analogy of breaking through to pristine awareness (rigpa). And today's sky photo was taken by me a few days ago... I hope I hadn't used it before! Duplicates will probably happen.
This afternoon the meditation was 100% silent. Even the introduction lasts around 20 seconds! I cut out the 24 minutes of silence in order to make this a smaller download. You can click pause and do your own Empathetic Joy meditation! For reference, go to the previous podcasts. After the meditation we had a power outage which cut out a chunk of a very interesting question. The power came on and off a few times, and I cut the long parts when the power was out (and thus we had no recording). Among the questions covered in this podcast are: Not fusing mental events with the referent (Alan gave a VERY clear answer, very useful for those practicing Settling the Mind[ ]...), some clarification about the acquired sign in Breath Awareness (and more on this air-element symbol), and then a long question about many aspects of Shamatha, both practical, historic, and theoric, and finally from that question arose Alan's description of his proposal: A Buddhism Renaissance, coming back to the core teachings and not simply "riding the wave" of tradition and losing touch with the true wisdom.
Today's practice, the second out of the four Awareness of Awareness methods that we cover in our cycle, is a very deep penetrating practice, encroaching upon VIpassyana territory. Alan starts with an introduction on the practice and its implications, relating it to the short discourse by the Buddha to the wandering ascetic Bahiya. After this sublime practice, the outro deals with the Buddhist middle way (warning about drawing false conclusions from this practice) and then with "I think, therefore I am" and its shortcomings, which include the reification of ourselves and of all objects (which gets us into tremendous knots and loops). Here is the brief Bahiya sutta, with the invaluable instructions that the Buddha gave Bahiya: http://bit.ly/aalIo8 [as Alan said, perhaps someone will read this and, not unlike popcorn, become free! if you become free, please send us an email! :) ] And this sunset was captured by Sara here at the Mind Centre!
Alan starts this afternoon by detailing some of the possible "side effects" that could happen during intense practice of Shamatha, in the sense that when we are trying to make our mind so focused an unified, it can sometimes become quite small. He also talks about how sometimes we keep hurting ourselves with our own memories of unpleasant events (making them real again) even dozens or hundreds of times after the original event. The Empathetic Joy practice we do afterwards is a remedy to both of the above condition. After the bright and uplifting practice, Alan adds some footnotes from this morning, focusing on Galileo and making a very interesting and sharply plausible hypothesis as to why the start of probing into the mind in the west took 300 years. We then continue yesterday's question of death and continuity of conciousness in the period between lifes (bardo), relating it to dream yoga. We have two more very brief questions afterwards and end with two minutes to spare! This photo (by Malcolm) is of our Buddha statue in the teaching hall, happy to see us undertaking this long overdue adventure into the mind with such a wise and ideal guide (to his left, not in the picture)!