Lightmind Extract 028

01Jan08

Jim 1.26.05
I noted the comparison made here (by Jonathan and others) between Adyashanti’s teachings and Atiyoga (Dzogchen) and Lama Surya Das’ Americanized Dzogchen, and then I saw this quote of Adyashanti on a neighboring forum:
The two biggest prongs of what I teach are number one, to abide and number two, to inquire deeply. To abide simply means to let everything be as it already is. … Paradoxically, when we let everything be as it is, even if our experience is very uncomfortable, the first thing that starts to come into our experience is a great peace and calm. When this peace and calm comes into our experience, there is a sense of not being so hemmed in by our experience. There is an experience of more vastness.

It’s from that place of true abidance that we can begin to inquire. Abidance without inquiry usually doesn’t produce much, except a good feeling. But when abidance is coupled with true and authentic inquiry…then inquiry adds a very dynamic quality that simple abidance doesn’t necessarily have in and of itself. It’s the dynamism of simple abidance coupled with a passionate inquiry into the true nature of one’s self or reality that provides the ground for awakening to most likely occur.

In my own teaching, in my retreats, there is quite a lot of meditation just for the reason of being able to abide. If someone cannot sit still, then they find it very difficult to inquire in any concentrated, single-pointed way. They inquire in a very messy, conflicted way.

What Adyashanti says in the above about abidance in great peace and calm and the relationship between abidance and inquiry may be related, while not exactly correlated, with traditional Buddhist meditation teachings.

We may relate what Adyashanti calls the “two prongs” of “abidance” and “inquiry” to what in Tibetan are called zhi gnas and lhag mthong, and in Sanskrit samatha and vipasyana. These terms are typically translated into English as quiescence or calm abiding and insight. While I see a correlation between Buddhist calm abiding and Adyashanti’s abidance with “great peace and calm,” I think we can at best loosely relate Adyashanti’s inquiry with Buddhist insight as methods, though both may lead to the same kind of insight.

Adyashanti says that “Abidance without inquiry usually doesn’t produce much, except a good feeling.” This is exactly what Buddhist teachers say about calm abiding without insight. Adyashanti’s comments about how inquiry adds a dynamic quality to meditation that abiding alone doesn’t provide echoes exactly what Buddhist meditation teachers teach about the relationship between samatha and vipasyana.

Karma Chagme (Kar ma chags med), a 17th century Nyingma Lama and principle lineage holder of Atiyoga, emphasizes that primordial wisdom (ye shes in Tibetan, jnana in Sanskrit) does not arise in the absence of meditative equipoise. Cultivation of quiescence must precede insight.

Alan Wallace, a Buddhist practitioner, scholar, and meditation teacher who has translated a number of books on Atiyoga or Dzogchen, writes:
The ultimate aim of the practice of Samatha…is to realize the ultimate nature of awareness, free of all conceptual mediation and structuring, transcending even the concepts of existence and non-existence. Such primordial awareness, known in this tradition as ‘the Buddha-nature’, is said to be our essential nature, and it is the fathomless well-spring of intuitive wisdom, compassion, and power. For exceptional individuals, the previously described method of settling the mind in its natural state may be sufficient for gaining such realization; but for most people, further training beyond Samatha is required…

To explain why quiescence must precede insight in Mahayana practice in general, Tibetan Buddhist scholar and contemplative Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) offers the example of using an oil lamp to examine a tapestry at night. If the lamp is both radiant and unflickering, you can vividly observe the tapestry. But if the lamp is dim, or – even if it is bright – flickers due to wind, you would not clearly see the tapestry. Samatha, zhi gnas, quiescence, or calm abiding is necessary so that attention will be vivid, bright, high-resolution, focused, and unwavering.

Like Adyashanti, Lama Surya Das has “quite a lot of meditation” in his Dzogchen Center Meditation Retreats. Surya Das refers to the meditation he teaches as “the Dzogchen open-eyed awareness practice of resting in the Natural Great Perfection.”

There is controversy within Buddhism and amongst Buddhist scholars regarding the role of meditative stabilization in Atiyoga. There are passages in the literature of Atiyoga that seem to imply that meditative stabilization is antithetical to the “highest” practice of Atiyoga or Dzogchen. However, characterizations of a state of quiescence that is mentally uncontrived and free of conceptual grasping may be found in the literature of Theravada and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism as well as in descriptions of profound realization of thatness (de kho na nyid in Tibetan, tattva in Sanskrit) in the practice of Mahamudra and Atiyoga. In addition, it can be argued that the concern expressed in Atiyoga literature is not about meditative stabilization or quiescence per se but about attachment to the meditative experience of joy, clarity, and non-conceptuality to which the cultivation of quiescence gives rise. And yet another perspective suggests that the break between Mahamudra and Atiyoga and other Buddhist traditions is not as radical as some authors on Tibetan Buddhism would have one believe (e.g., see Wallace on Guenther, 1998).

Karma Chagme is one of a number of Atiyoga masters who says that only the rarest of individuals can stably abide in rig pa without cultivating insight by following the traditional, sequential path of ethical discipline, quiescence, and insight. Trungpa said that one must begin with Hinayana and go through Mahayana before practicing Vajrayana (Mahamudra is one of the highest teachings of Vajrayana) and Atiyoga.

From a Buddhist perspective, the normal mind of the average Westerner is profoundly dysfunctional as it is scattered, dull, prone to the extremes of excitement and laxity, and subject to conative, attentional, cognitive, and emotional imbalances. It’s as if everyone has AD/HD and this has become the norm, the standard. If your mind is scattered, dull, and imbalanced, you’re normal.

Such a “normal” mind may in rare moments or in extraordinary circumstances (like when in the presence of a wonderful teacher) be capable of “glimpses” and occasional “glimpse after glimpse” of rig pa, but stable realization as realization is understood in Mahayana Buddhism without a foundation of ethical discipline, samadhi, and wisdom is indeed rare.

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