Q. What are the stages of awakening?

Question: So there are two stages in the path to liberation?  (1) Realizing all is one and (2) abiding as the Self until vasanas (egoic habitual tendencies) are rooted out?

Tom: The Vedanta scriptures generally describe 3 or 4 stages in the path to liberation:

1. Sravana (listening to the teachings) – this leads to a theoretical understanding

2. Manana (contemplating the teachings in a relatively quiet mind) – this leads to direct or experiential understanding in the mind/intellect. Many mistake this for full realisation as there is much freedom from suffering here, the truth of no-self is often seen, but unethical behaviour and subtle identification with the body-mind continues, as does the associated suffering. The scriptures warn about mistaking this for full realisation, but of course many never read the actual scriptures themselves.

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3. Nididhyasana (meditation) – this is abiding until the vasanas are rooted out

4. Samadhi – this is the natural culmination of meditation/nididhyasana, also known as Silence/Mauna, in which the most sticky vasanas (habitual egoic tendencies) and the depths of ignorance are rooted out.

Almost everyone apparently goes through these stages and they naturally flow one to another even if you have never heard of them.

Read Vivekachudamani or Advaita Bodha Deepika for more information – it’s all in there.

Interestingly you will find the same stages in Buddhist teachings using almost exactly the same language.

 

 

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The ‘middle way’ between eternalism and nihilism

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Nagarjuna as depicted in Tibetan Buddhism

In Mahayana and Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism, our True Nature (also known as Buddha nature, Reality, Mind, Ground, Knowledge, Awareness, etc.) is said to be beyond all concepts and all definitions. Typically this is expanded upon as follows:

Mind/True Nature is beyond all concepts or philosophical notions:
1. It cannot be said to ‘exist’
2. It cannot be said to ‘not exist’
3. It cannot be said to ‘both exist and not exist’
4. It cannot be said to ‘neither exist or not exist’

As far as I’m aware, the first Buddhist commentator to put it in these terms was Nagarjuna, who wrote a much more comprehensive analysis along these lines in around 200 years BCE in his text Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mula-madhamaka-karika). Since Nagarjuna, countless other Buddhist schools including most of the Tibetan Buddhist schools, have also adopted this phrasing in order to help steer themselves away from the danger or wrong/false conceptual views.

If we adopt this understanding, we are safeguarded against wrong views and the suffering that results from that. Many philosophical or spiritual systems fall into one of more of these traps. For example, by positing some kind of True Nature that definitely exists (ie. point 1), we can fall into the trap of eternalism in which we (the ego) cling to a concept of (belief in) an eternal permanent essence or self. Or we can go to the opposite extreme and say there is no essence of Mind or True Nature (point 2), which is nihilism, saying that there is no ‘me’ or ‘essence of me’ at all.

…we can fall into the trap of Eternalism in which we cling to a concept of an eternal permanent essence or self…Or we can go to the opposite extreme of Nihilism and say there is no True Nature…that there is no ‘me’ or ‘essence of me’ at all.

However, the analysis does not stop there. It goes on to warn about those who cling to the concept that ‘our True Nature/Mind is beyond both existence and non-existence’ (point 3). This is really a belief in a type of transcendence, which is really just believing in another type of existent permanent self, and so we have unwittingly fallen back into eternalism again.

Lastly Nagarjuna says you also cannot cling to the view that the true nature is ‘none of the above’. Basically Nagarjuna leaves us with nowhere to stand at all. The ego-mind is constantly trying to find a conceptual position on which it can lay its hat, but Nagarjuna has removed all the pegs from the hat-stand!

Basically Nagarjuna leaves us with nowhere to stand at all. The ego-mind is constantly trying to find a conceptual position on which it can lay its hat, but Nagarjuna has removed all the pegs from the hat-stand!

Nagarjuna called this the ‘middle way’ between eternalism and nihilism, or Madhamaka, and a new Madhamaka school of Buddhism was founded upon this work. Note this is different from the middle way of the original Buddha whose middle way between extreme asceticism/self-mortification and addiction to indulging in sense pleasures.

Nagarjuna also warns us that this ‘middle way’ itself should not be lent upon as some kind of truth where the ego can safely hang its hat.

Nagarjuna also warns us that this ‘middle way’ itself should not be lent upon as some kind of truth where the ego can safely hang its hat.

The purpose of this exposition is to allow us to see how we cling to concepts and then remove these false views/beliefs. Like all Buddhist teachings, when the job of the teaching is done, in this case when the false beliefs have been seen for what they are, we should also let go of the teaching and not rest on this either: ‘The essence of mind is beyond all concepts and definitions’.

Tibetan Buddhism: The Mind Instructions of Khenpo Gangshar

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Above is an excerpt from a text called ‘The Concise Mind Instructions Called Naturally Liberating Whatever You Meet’ by Khenpo Gangshar, as found in the book Vivid Awareness by Khenchen Thrangu.

In this short text Khenpo Gangshar goes on to say:

Directly, whatever arises, do not change it – rest naturally. This fulfils the essence of all creation stages, completion stages, mantra recitations, and meditations.

This is the heart of the highest Tibetan Buddhist teachings: to rest naturally and be vividly aware. Just be. I would add that in this no sense of self is being created, and this is the practice. To simply be, and not to take yourself as being a ‘self’ or ‘doer’. To use a commonly used phrase in vedanta: do not take yourself to be ‘this or that’.

Khenpo Gangshar goes on to give advice on how to deal with difficulties along the way:

You must take sickness as the path, afflictions as the path, the bardo as the path, and delusion as the path. The heart of all these applications is to rest naturally in the essence.

This advice is very much in line with most of traditional Tibetan Buddhist teachings, but here it is stated in very concise form. When difficulties come along, just rest in your natural being. Don’t identify as being ‘this or that’, don’t start to create or believe in the concept of being a doer. This is the false concept that is rooted out and seen through in this practice.

When life throws us a challenge, don’t simply fall back into your old habits of self-identification. It is from this creation of an imaginary doer/self that all other afflictions and suffering follows. Instead, just rest, just be. Let your awareness shine, let it shine brightly. If the thought ‘I’ arises, let it, notice it, notice that it is empty and does not describe or pertain to any reality. There is no ‘I’, there is no self. Only the bright expanse of phenomena.

One final thought from me, a question:
Does any of this have anything to do with Freedom? Does Freedom depend on any practice? Does Freedom depend on any of this?

Dzogchen: Self-liberation in the fundamental nature

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Here are some more verses from the Kunjed Gyalpo (The Supreme Source), one of the most important texts in Tibetan Buddhism and Dzogchen. These words point the reader directly towards Enlightenment. See my earlier posts on the Kunjed Gyalpo here and here.

In the except below the first section initially directs us to listen to these teachings and realise the inherent liberation that is already present ‘without needing to alter anything’.

The second section indicates there is no need for special practices, or to speak or act in a particular way in order to get this.

In fact, as per the third section below, in trying to find your ‘authentic condition’ (which is self-liberation), you deny it and prevent liberation manifesting itself.

Listen!
As I am in the authentic condition,
all phenomena self-liberate in the fundamental nature.
Without needing to alter anything,
the teacher self-liberates in the fundamental nature.
Without needing to alter anything,
the teacher self-liberates in the fundamental nature.
Without needing to alter anything,
the retinue of disciples, too, self-liberates in the fundamental nature.

Listen!
As all self-liberates,
there is no need to correct the body posture or visualise a deity.
There is no need to correct the voice or speech.
There is no need to correct the mind through meditation.

By correcting oneself,
it is not possible to find the authentic condition,
and without finding the authentic condition,
one cannot self-liberate.
In this way one does not achieve the state of equality of the fundamental nature.

Excerpt from The Supreme Source (Kunjed Gyalpo), Chapter 29

So, what are we to do? We are essentially told that ‘you are already realised’ or ‘you are already whole’, but perhaps we don’t feel realised or whole.

We are told that no practice can take us to where we already are, but then what do we do?

The Kunjed Gyalpo exhorts us to listen to these teachings, absorb them, and see their truth directly!

But how to do this, the spiritual seeker asks.

There is no how, for in asking how you have already posited and given reality to the separate self that is looking for answer, that is looking to get somewhere. By asking how, there is already the implication that this is not it. But this is it!

The Supreme Truth and the way to it cannot be described. Only wrong ways can be described, hence the language is of negation – ‘no need to correct’….’By correcting oneself…one does not achieve’. The scripture tells us what not to do, not what to do.

The ancient method is to first listen (sravana) to the teachings repeatedly, then secondly to contemplate them and think them over (manana). This helps to develop an intellectual understanding of the teachings first, following which meditation and integration of the teachings (nididhyasana) can occur. This can occur gradually, or perhaps suddenly, without warning, a moment of clear seeing arises and the teachings that were once theoretical suddenly spring to life.

Dalai Lama: end suffering by developing insight

(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

The following excerpt is taken from the book “How to see yourself as you really are” by the Dalai Lama:

What makes all this trouble in the world? Our own counterproductive emotions. Once they are generated, they harm us both superficially and deeply. These afflictive emotions accomplish nothing but trouble from beginning to end. If we tried to counteract each and every one individually, we would find ourselves in an endless struggle. So what is the root cause of afflictive emotions that we can address more fruitfully? Continue reading

Maturing in our spiritual search: from experience to knowledge

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Most of the great spiritual traditions claim that there is something eternal and supremely infinite, something that is all-knowing, all-powerful and present everywhere (omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent).

If that is the case, then this Infinite must already be here, right now. If it isn’t already present right now, then it is not omnipresent. This is a vital point to grasp – if there is such a thing as the Infinite, then it must already be fully here, right now, otherwise it is limited and therefore not infinite.

It is not that certain mystical or transcendental experiences are experiences of the Infinite but our normal everyday experiences are not. No, all our experiences must be of Him. We must always be experiencing the Infinite.

This has several ramifications for the spiritual seeker. This means that the problem we face is not that we are apart from God and need to find Him or experience Him. No, the issue is that we are already always experiencing God but do not know it.

The issue is not one of acquiring a special experience or state of mind. It is that we do not correctly understand our current experience as it is right now. Even traditions that do not admit a God such Buddhism acknowledge that understanding, or insight, is what is key:

“If you do not have insight into the way you yourself and all things actually are, you cannot recognize and get rid of the obstacles to liberation from cyclic existence, and, even more important, the obstructions to helping others.”
Dalai Lama (from How to See Yourself as You Really Are)

Armed with this knowledge, we can mature in our spiritual seeking. So-called materialistic or worldly life is characterised by chasing experiences such as pleasure, power, fearlessness, pride and security. Many spiritual seekers just transfer this same pattern of yearning for worldly experiences into their quest for spiritual experiences. However as we mature in our spiritual search we can stop chasing states of mind and experiences – all of which are temporary – and instead start to try and understand our direct experience as it is right now.

This understanding or insight, whilst based upon our direct experience, is not a search for a particular experience, but an understanding of experience itself.

“That is why the insight that can liberate you from these afflictions is the key to happiness…Insight brings love, and love is not possible without insight, understanding. If you do not understand, you cannot love. This insight is direct understanding, and not just a few notions and ideas.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

A rant: kicking spiritual seekers in the balls

“And yet, even as I speak, Subhuti, I must take back my words as soon as they are uttered, for there are no Buddhas and there are no teachings.”

Buddha, Diamond Sutra

I’ve been reading several blogs and other writings aimed at spiritual seekers who have everything laid out so clearly. They have the map to spiritual enlightenment all put together ready for mass consumption. They say things like you are Pure Consciousness or Pure Awareness.

All the concepts are lined up ready to be taught by the bearded guru and gobbled up by the next willing namaste-wielding student greedy for the big E. Here, let the Kunjed Gyalpo metaphorically kick the spiritual-seeker-in-you in the balls (if you’ll forgive my sexism): Continue reading

The Supreme Source 3: Dzogchen ‘instructions’

Instructions from the Supreme Source

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‘Listen! As all self-liberates there is no need to correct the body posture or to visualise a deity. There is no need to correct the voice or speech. There is no need to correct the mind through meditation. By correcting oneself, it is not possible to find the authentic condition, and without finding the authentic condition, one cannot self-liberate’

Chapter 29, p. 166

The Supreme Source 2: Dzogchen teachings

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In my previous post I introduced this book which contains arguably the most important text in Dzogchen, the Kunjed Gyalpo, with Dzogchen itself considered by many to be the height of Buddhist teachings. If true, this would mean that this text is the ‘creme-de-la-creme’ of spiritual instruction.

For me the text is sublime and poignant and complete. Whilst I think many other teachings are just as ‘high’, reading it makes my heart open and sing, and I offer you some extracts, with my thoughts interspersed with the aim of highlighting important aspects of Dzogchen teachings.

Continue reading

The Supreme Source 1: Our True Nature

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‘The aim of Dzogchen is the reawakening of the individual to the primordial state of enlightenment which is naturally found in all beings’

Thus states the first line on the back-cover of this treasure-trove of a book. This book is a comprehensive book on Dzogchen, which some say is the highest teaching of Tibetan Buddhism, and is based upon the translation of one of the most ancient and perhaps most important Dzogchen texts, the Kunjed Gyalpo.

Continue reading