Protecting One's Mind
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche
from the seminar on Pointing Out the Dharmakaya
by the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk
presented at Vajra Vidya Thrangu House in Oxford, 2006,
by Karma Choephel
Before beginning with the instructions, I
would like to greet you kindly. In general, you are very interested in the Dharma
and also have the intelligence to know what the Dharma is like. You are studying
the Dharma out of devotion and with great diligence. I want to thank you very
much. Please keep your enthusiasm up.
I will speak about the yogas of
tranquillity and insight meditation according to the treatise, Pointing Out the
Dharmakaya by the Ninth Karmapa, Wangchuk Dorje.1 If one is able to do these practices,
it will pacify one's afflictions of hatred, greed, and so forth. It will also
pacify any difficulties or suffering that one may have and enable one to develop
wholesome results. Practicing tranquillity and insight meditation will help one
develop intelligence and wisdom. This is something that can happen. It is said
in many instructions that all accomplishments really come from practice. It is
because of actual practice that one is able to receive the blessings and can develop
the power of the practice. However, attaining the power of the practice depends
upon one's diligence, which, in turn, depends upon one's faith and devotion. So,
in order to develop faith and devotion that are necessary when aspiring to practice
the Dharma, one needs to do the four common and four special preliminary practices
that I explained earlier.
When engaging in the actual practices, deep
holding is primary, because samadhi2 of insight needs to have a basis. The basis
for samadhi of insight is tranquillity or shamata meditation. It is important
that one has a good, stable, and resting aspect. Since this is important, one
first does the practice of tranquillity or shamata meditation.3
instructions on tranquillity meditation, there are the points for the body and
the points for the mind. Of these two, the first one is the points for the body.
They are usually described as the "Seven Points of Posture of Vairocana."
Many of you probably know them, but sometimes it is not possible to sit comfortably
in this posture. If one can sit comfortably in the seven points of Vairocana,
then one should. But if one can't, it's okay - it's not absolutely necessary.
What is said to be most important is that one sits in a way that is comfortable
and relaxed, in a way that is not too tight. It is said that it is important not
to grip, not to tighten, not to hold or pull oneself too much, rather to sit in
a comfortable, relaxed, and easy way.
Whether sitting in the seven-point
posture of Vairocana or not, it is important that one is comfortable. This was
described by the teacher Machig Labdron,4 who taught that the points of the body
are the four channels that run through the four limbs of the arms and legs. She
taught that they should be loose and relaxed and that one should not tighten them
in any way. If they are tightened, then one's mind becomes tightened and the body
tightens all the more. When the body tightens, it can be very harmful for meditation.
It can be harmful for one's body and it can hinder one from holding the samadhi
that one has. If one makes the mind a little bit airy, then maybe that makes one
shake and tremble a bit. Therefore, it is important to be at ease and relaxed
in one's body and four limbs.
No matter how one sits, it is very good
if the spine is straight. The Ninth Karmapa explained why this is so and stated,
"If the body is straight, then the channels will be straight. If the channels
are straight, the winds will be straight. If the winds are straight, then the
mind will be straight." And so, if the body is crooked, then the channels
will not be straight. Therefore it is important to keep the body straight so that
the channels are straight. If the channels are straight, the winds will be straight.
In that case, the winds will not go back and forth but go as they should in the
body. When hearing about wind, one takes it to be the coarse breath. In this context,
the subtle wind is the quality of motion and movements in one's body. Motion is
the characteristic of wind. If there is a lot of wind moving in one's body and
is not moving well, then there will be a lot of different thoughts that will arise
in one's mind. And if there are a lot of thoughts in one's mind, this will harm
or hinder mind's ability to rest. So, for this reason, in order to develop deep
holding, i.e., good samadhi, it is important to hold one's body straight by sitting
There are two sections for the points of the mind, the general
and specific instructions. There is a quote that describes the general instructions
for the mind during meditating, which reads: "Do not follow after the tracks
of the past. Do not send out a welcome to the future, rather rest in equipoise
in the present moment."
"Do not follow after the tracks of
the past" refers to the fact that all things change from moment to moment
- things change every instant. Things go from being in the future; in the next
moment they are in the present, and in the next moment they belong to the past.
So, every moment things change and go by in a momentary fashion. When looking
at external objects, it can be difficult to see that external things change so
quickly and in every moment. But when looking at one's own mind, one can see that
thoughts first arise and then they go into the past, i.e., in one moment thoughts
are in the future, in the next moment they are in the present, and then they are
in the past. When they have gone into the past, they have ended. So, whatever
thought there is, when it is in the past it has ceased and is no more. Whether
it is a thought of one of the three afflictions of hatred, greed, or delusion,
or whether it is a good thought of faith and devotion, when it goes into the past,
it is gone. Likewise, thoughts of the future concern things that have not happened
yet, so they, too, cannot be objects of observation. One can only look at present
moments. But present moments are extremely short and belong to the past very fast.
If one can rest in the space of the short time of a present moment, without being
distracted and leaning away by following after thoughts, then it is good. If one
can look at the present, without many thoughts happening, then this is enough.
This is all one needs to do in meditation. These are the general points of the
mind that are taught in the text.
In the instructions, Pointing Out the
Dharmakaya, the Ninth Karmapa then explained the specific points and first said
to use an external object of form for meditation. He offered instructions on using
the external objects of sound, smell, taste, or touch as the bases for meditation.
Then he taught tranquillity meditation without a support. Following, he presented
instructions for doing meditation by using the breath. These are all described
very clearly, so you can read them. I thought that it would be more beneficial
to spend a bit of time explaining how to rest with the mind better. If you understand
how to rest with your mind, how your mind is and what to use when meditating,
then it would be very beneficial.
The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje, wrote
a treatise entitled, Distinguishing Consciousness from Wisdom.5 In this treatise,
he describes the eight different collections of consciousnesses that we have.
Which consciousness does one use when meditating? How is it that one meditates?
It would be beneficial for one's meditation to know which consciousness one uses
when one meditates.
Of course, when one looks at the mind, it seems to
be just a mind, but it can be divided into eight different types of consciousnesses.
There is what we call "the consciousnesses of the five gates," which
are the five sensory consciousnesses that are like gates to the world of perceptions.
The way they work is that on the basis of the eye faculty there arises an eye
consciousness that perceives an external object of visual form. Furthermore, on
the basis of the ear faculty, the ear consciousness arises and hears an external
sound. Likewise, based upon a nose faculty, a nose consciousness arises and smells
a scent. Also, the faculty of the tongue gives rise to the tongue consciousness
that experiences a taste. Similarly, the body faculty gives rise to a body consciousness
that experiences touch, which can be experienced as soft, rough, or anything like
that. In this way, we have the five sensory consciousnesses.
at the five consciousnesses, it is interesting to ask whether they are conceptual
or non-conceptual. Do they have thoughts or are they free of thoughts? The five
sensory gates are called "direct perceptions," i.e., they perceive an
object directly. The eye consciousness directly sees a form, the ear consciousness
directly hears a sound, the nose consciousness directly smells a scent, and so
forth. But these consciousnesses do not think about what they perceive and do
not discern, "That's nice," or "That's not nice," or "This
is good and that is bad." They are non-conceptual, i.e., by nature thought-free.
They just experience and that is how they are. They are naturally present and
therefore we experience things through our five sense consciousnesses. They cannot
and need not be stopped. There is no reason to stop them. Their characteristic
is to be naturally present and clear, i.e., the five sensory consciousnesses always
perceive something and they are always clear. They are mind's characteristic -
thought-free, direct, and clear perception.
The next two consciousnesses
are stable in contrast to the unstable five sense consciousnesses. Stable means
that they are continuously present - they are always around. The first is called
"the all-ground consciousness," alaya-vijnana in Sanskrit. The alaya
consciousness is like the source or place from which everything arises. It is
just clear awareness. All the things one clearly sees and experiences arise from
the alaya. Clear awareness is what is meant when talking about the all-ground
The second consciousness is called "the afflicted
consciousness." It is also stable, because it is always present. The afflicted
consciousness is that aspect of mind that subtly clings to a self. It's not a
coarse clinging to a self; rather it is a subtle clinging to a self. Whether one
actually thinks, "Me," or "Mine," or whether one is not thinking,
"Me," or "Mine," in both cases there is a subtle clinging
to a self that one may or may not be aware of. For example, if one is studying
Buddhist philosophy and learns that there is no self, one develops certainty that
there is no self. At that point one does not have the coarse thought, "Me,"
but there is still a very subtle habitual or latent tendency to think, "Me."
And that is due to the seventh afflicted consciousness. Later on, when a practitioner
has developed deep knowing and attained a bodhisattva's levels of realization,
clinging to a self is purified during tranquillity meditation. As a practitioner
progresses to the seventh and eight bodhisattva stages, the afflicted consciousness
is fully purified and not even present during post-meditation. But it is always
present for ordinary individuals, who never stop having a coarse and subtle sense
of "Me" and "Mine."
The eighth consciousness, the
all-ground consciousness, is mind's ever-present clear aspect. If one looks at
the mind's clear aspect, its essence is emptiness - it can't be found or proven
to exist anywhere. However, we do not recognize it as being empty of own existence.
And so we see it as a self and think other things arise from what we mistakenly
think is one's true self. This is due to the stable, all-ground consciousness
that has the aspect of ignorance.
Which consciousness is used when doing
tranquillity meditation? The sixth mental consciousness. A short summary: There
are the five sense consciousnesses, sixth is the mental consciousness, seventh
is the afflicted consciousness, and eighth is the all-ground. The sixth mental
consciousness is said to be a conceptual consciousness, i.e., it is a consciousness
that has a lot of different thoughts about what is perceived by the first five.
It generates many afflicted thoughts, many indifferent or neutral thoughts, and
many virtuous thoughts, too. These various thoughts arise all the time and mix
and combine thoughts that relate to the three times: There are thoughts about
the future, about the past, and about the present. For instance, we think about
what we saw with our eyes yesterday, we think about what we are going to see tomorrow,
and we think about what we are seeing today. We mix all these thoughts into one
with the sixth consciousness and see everything as present. The sixth mental consciousness
combines all three times and doesn't really distinguish between the past, present,
Many different thoughts arise in the mental consciousness.
In order to pacify thoughts in the sixth consciousness, one needs to let the mind
rest peacefully within the expanse of the non-conceptual eighth consciousness.
The eighth consciousness is like a big ocean, and the thoughts arising in the
sixth consciousness are like waves. Sometimes thoughts are very powerful, like
huge waves. These waves of thoughts cause one to accumulate karma. One gently
lets the powerful thoughts and afflictions subside into the ocean that is the
eighth consciousness, the alaya, rests at ease, and then thoughts are pacified.
In doing that while resting in ease in the expanse of the alaya, one has deep
holding of tranquillity meditation.
As to deep holding of tranquillity
meditation, many thoughts arise in one's mental consciousness. Sometimes they
are joyful and happy thoughts and sometimes they are thoughts of displeasure or
depression. But, whatever sort of thoughts they are, one needs to take control
and have mastery over them with mindfulness and awareness. If one manages, any
thoughts will be pacified into the expanse of the all-ground consciousness. This
means to say that the all-ground consciousness has the clear aspect. It has the
clear aspect of knowing. It can know all sorts of things, and yet it does not
give rise to coarse thoughts of pleasure, displeasure, or anything like that.
There is just the clear, the knowing aspect. Occasionally thoughts pop up in the
sixth consciousness. One needs to be able to settle these thoughts down. One needs
to have good mindfulness and awareness in order to do so, though.
we talk about mindfulness and awareness, we are talking about two different mental
factors that resemble thoughts or are a way of thinking. First there is mindfulness.
Another translation for mindfulness is "recalling," i.e., remembering
what one is doing. Mindfulness here is remembering, "I don't want to lose
myself to all my thoughts," or "I don't want to have thoughts,"
or "I want to be meditating now," or "I am meditating now. I shouldn't
be moved by all these thoughts." If one has mindfulness, one recalls what
one is doing and awareness will naturally be present. Awareness means simply recognizing
what is going on, i.e., knowing what one is doing. One knows that one is meditating
and understands what is going on. Knowing what one is doing while doing it is
being mindful. Then one will naturally develop awareness. But if one loses mindfulness,
then awareness will automatically be lost and one won't know anything. One won't
know what one is doing and won't remember that one is meditating but will lose
oneself to thoughts instead of letting them be. So, it's important to develop
mindfulness and awareness. It's important to use mindfulness and awareness in
order to be able to control the sixth consciousness and in order to develop deep-holding
meditation. So, with both, a practitioner will be able to develop tranquillity
Mindfulness and awareness are extremely important.
The Son of the Victors, Shantideva, spoke about them and said, "All of you
who wish to control your mind, develop mindfulness and awareness, even if you
have to risk your own life. If you develop mindfulness and awareness, I will join
my hands in prayer for you." So, if one wants to be able to control one's
mind, to protect one's mind, Shantideva said that one needs to develop mindfulness
and awareness. It is so very important that he joins the palms of his two hands
at his heart in prayer and begs us to make sure that we rely upon them.
great teacher Dakpo Tashi Namgyal spoke about mindfulness and awareness and taught
that one should not be too fastidious about them, rather one should let them be
vast and expansive.6 Being fastidious is thinking, "Now I have to be mindful,"
or "Now I shouldn't be thinking. I'm trying to meditate." Practicing
like this is being tense and tight, which will not be beneficial. One needs to
be pervasive, vast, and open and not squeeze one's brain. All one needs to do
is merely not forget, rest relaxed, be at ease while alert, and not forget what
one is doing. One shouldn't squeeze and pull and try to be tight about meditation,
rather have mindfulness that is open and vast. It will be very good if we have
easeful, relaxed, and expansive mindfulness.
If we practice tranquillity
meditation in this way, we are very relaxed and rest like that. Here it is called
"tranquillity." A more literal translation is "calm abiding,"
which consists of two words, "calm" and "abiding." Calm means
simply letting all thoughts be pacified; abiding refers to the stable aspect of
resting. This is what we mean by the practice of tranquillity
Please do a short meditation now.
Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche, 2006. Transcribed and edited by Gaby Hollmann.
See Pointing Out the Dharmakaya. The Root Text by the Ninth Karmapa. Commentary
by Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone, Co., & Zhyisil
Chokyi Ghatsal Publications, Auckland, N.Z., 2003. - Wangchuk Dorje was heard
reciting mantras in the womb and sat cross-legged for three days soon after his
birth in East Tibet in 1556. Recognized as the Ninth Karmapa by Tai Situ Chokyi
Gocha and enthroned at the age of six, Wangchuk Dorje received the complete Kagyu
transmission and taught throughout Tibet, restoring many monasteries and temples
wherever he went. He established the monasteries of Rumtek, Phodong, and Ralang
in Sikkim. He wrote many commentaries on Sutras and Tantras, including two other
treatises entitled, Dispelling the Darkness of Ignorance and The Ocean of Definitive
Meaning. His three main treatises played a major role in Tibet for the teaching
and transmission of Mahamudra. The Ninth Karmapa passed into Paranirvana in 1603.
Samadhi is the Sanskrit term that was translated into Tibetan as ting-nge-'dzin
and means "state of deep concentration," i.e., "deep holding."
See Khenchen Thrangu, The Practice of Tranquillity and Insight. A Commentary on
the eighth chapter of the "Treasury of Knowledge" by Jamgon Kongtrul,
Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, 1993.
4 Machig Labdron brought the pacification
teachings called "Chod" to Tibet from India within the scope of the
Eight Chariots of Accomplishment. She was born in the region of Lab in Central
Tibet and lived from 1055-1152.
5 See Thrangu Rinpoche, Transcending Ego:
Distinguishing Consciousness from Wisdom, Namo Buddha Publications, Crestone,
Co., & Zhyisil Chokyi Ghatsal Publications, Auckland, N.Z., 2001.
Tashi Namgyal (1511-1587) was a lineage holder of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage and
renowned as both a scholar and yogi. His most famous works, Moonlight of Mahamudra
and Clarifying the Natural State, became classic Mahamudra texts.