Being Spiritually Confused For Years!

It is very important to understand
that there are different approaches.

Different approaches can create conflicts, giving rise to spiritual confusion that can actually turn people off, sending them back to sleep. This needn’t happen if we understand where the text is coming from and how it being used. This is why it is difficult to be eclectic – all-embracing of all traditions – and not mingle them into one, which is a New Age idea. Once we understand however, we can easily see the connections and be all-embracing – and hopefully stop arguing! 😀

Below is a short description by Thrangu Rinpoche explaining that there are differences in meaning; Thrangu Rinpoche is a Karma Kagyu master of the Mahamudra tradition.

Tranquility & Insight Meditation.

When we start to practise meditation, we often doubt the possibility of transcending all of the problems and defects which we experience. And we also doubt the possibility of achieving what seems to be unlimited good qualities.

There are two main aspects to meditation: tranquility (or Shamatha) and insight (or Vipashyana) meditation. These terms are used in several spiritual traditions, but mean different things in each of these traditions.

In fact, we could say that any spiritual tradition that has emerged from India will at some point use these terms to describe their practice of meditation. For example, in the Hindu tradition, the terms Shamatha and Vipashyana are used, but they are different from the meditation techniques which are described in the Mahamudra tradition.

The reason these same terms are used by different traditions is simply that both Hinduism and the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism arose in India, and therefore both used Sanskrit words for the types of meditation.

Similar terms are also used in both the Buddhist Theravada and Zen traditions, but again, these refer to slightly different techniques or instructions. In the Theravadan tradition, the terms “Shamatha” and “Vipashyana” in Sanskrit mean ‘tranquility’ and ‘insight’. Because of that, we may think that the Theravadan approach, the Zen approach, and the Mahamudra approach are identical.

Nevertheless, the instructions given by each of these traditions, and the methods, are somewhat different. The particular value of the Mahamudra approach to Shamatha and Vipashyana is that it is an approach which is easy to understand, and therefore appropriate to practice in daily life. In essence, the basis of all practice of Buddha-dharma is taking hold of your mind, and by doing so, clearing away the problems which afflict your mind, thereby allowing your good qualities to develop.

The result of Mahamudra is the same as that of Dzogchen and Maha Ati yoga.
Shamata is concentration to become aware of what is going on in the mind, in which we generally use “watching the breath” meditation to stop circling thoughts.
Vipashyana (Vipassana) is looking at the nature of mind where we realise that it is empty and clear, and has a knowing quality: this is in-sight meditation – looking in!
The result of experience is that we realise that we are this empty, clear, knowing quality.

That is Mahamudra.
We are Mahamudra.
That is Dzogchen.
We are Dzogchen.

It is beyond terminology and description.

This brings us to mindfulness.
In Mahamudra, we use mindfulness – Shamata – which is being aware of what we are doing, and what the mind is doing. We are not aware of awareness itself, which is the next stage of being introduced to Vipashyana – the realisation of the nature of mind itself. In realising Mahamudra, we realise that we are this empty knowingness.

Once Mahamudra is realised, then shamata is not something different.

From a Dzogchen perspective, once we are introduced to the essence of mind – empty knowingness – mindfulness is remembering to be aware. Once we are aware of awareness, then mindfulness is dropped, as this would interfere with the pure experience of emptiness.

Once Dzogchen is realised then shamata is not something different.

The journey between Shamata, Vipashyana, Mahmudra/Dzogchen/Maha Ati/Zen may take years – or it may be instantaneous.

When we join a meditation centre, they don’t always explain these differences, and so we might have the right intention, but be in the wrong place. I was confused for years and had the right intention, but I was in the wrong place because my temperament – my mixture – was more inclined to the Dzogchen approach (even though, at that time, I knew nothing about it) and no one could explain the differences to me. This made me confrontational. It transpired, however, that it was actually the right place because, when I found Dzogchen, I found home, and really understood and appreciated it much more. It was like living in hell, and suddenly finding heaven 🙂

It all depends on our temperament – the mixture that makes us tick until enlightenment.

May confusion dawn as wisdom.

This reply by Thrangu Rinpoche may help to clarify Shamata and Vipashyana:

Would it be correct to say that the insight known as Vipashyana have to be induced. Does the questioner have to ask the question and look at the mind in the why you spoke of?”

No matter how long we persist exclusively in practising Shamata, it will not become Vipashyana. No matter how much we develop the principle Shamata qualities of stability and clarity, it will not bring about Vipashyana. Shamata is very good, important, beneficial, and necessary to do but techniques of Shamata will not bring about Vipashyana.

Vipashyana means ‘the prajna (wisdom) that realises in a very precise way’. In Shamata, we look at mind but not at what mind is. Looking at our mind, we assess the mind’s stability, clarity, wildness, and so forth, but we don’t examine what the mind is – its shape, its colour, whether it has any qualities. That kind of investigation isn’t part of the practice of Shamata.

In the Prajnaparamita sutra, the Buddha said:

‘Form does not exist.
Feelings do not exist.
Discrimination does not exist’…

In this list of things, starting with the second one of ‘feelings’, we are talking about mind. When we look for the mind, we find that these things – feelings, discrimination and so forth – are nearby, and we can look at them. But when we look, we find nothing there. If there is nothing there, does that mean that mind is nothing more than a corpse? No! Because the mind’s emptiness is suffused with luminosity. Sometimes we talk about this as the union of space and wisdom, with space referring to emptiness and wisdom referring to luminosity; that experience is Vipashyana.”

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