For as long as I can remember, I've been curious about this self-aware presence that seems to underlie all of experience. As a small child I used to lie awake at night, and marvel at the realization that whatever "it" is, it cannot die or be lost. Will I be a disembodied awareness after this body is gone? What will it feel like? As a result of some nightmares, I decided to take control of my dreams, and frequently became lucid. In many of those dreams, I would be overwhelmed by the vividness, clarity, and sheer joy of the experience. Why was I not this awake in real life, I wondered?
Growing up, I had my heart set on understanding what was going on with this "mind" thing. People pointed me at neuroscience, but I couldn't understand how they thought that a brain could give rise to something so obviously un-matter-like. From then on, I kept my interests quiet, because sharing them usually resulted in embarrassing conversations.
Fast forward to my mid-twenties, when I encountered Mahamudra. All this talk of "the natural state" had me thrilled! By that point I had been practicing formless shamatha somewhat seriously (culminating in a 3-month retreat), and I knew I needed this "pointing out instruction" to get to "the next level." I was crestfallen when I approached the Rinpoche with my request and was denied. But I followed his advice: keep on chugging.
So I read lots of texts and tried to put them into practice. Sit, allow this reflexive awareness to unfold, and don't... touch... anything. It doesn't need "your" help; quite the contrary, in fact. With a little luck, and a lot of investigation, one day you may a glimpse of ordinary mind! At that point your practice may transition from regular, deluded shamatha, to shamatha-vipashyana -- real Mahamudra practice.
"Trouble" is, I didn't (and haven't) recognized anything new. Yes, grasping is less, kleshas are down, and I seem to fall less frequently into the extremes of meditation and distraction -- but it seems to be the same thought-free wakefulness sustaining itself at "my" core, just a little less obscured. And that's probably fine, because I don't feel I need anything more. That very idea doesn't make sense.
So I'm a little confused: is this the recognition that is considered very hard to come to on one's own? Any recognition, at all, of the self-aware presence that seems to underlie all of experience? If indeed it is, then perhaps I should feel thankful to have spontaneously recognized it on my own. Or maybe many recognize it, but few attach any importance to it?
My understanding is that this is what Tsoknyi Rinpoche refers to when he uses the term "baby rigpa." It's not the full-blown rigpa, but a nascent recognition that must be nurtured until it fully ripens. If what I have identified as mind essence is something else entirely, that would be surprising (but not impossible); it seems to be a matter of degree, and not kind.
The online Mahamudra Manual draws this analogy:
At this stage, the flavor of this realization permeates the continuum of one’s being and it continues in daily activity just like the flavor of a spice permeates to all of a meal into which it is mixed. No additional contrivances are necessary.
And Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche has this to say:
In the beginning, when we start this training, the master will say, “Look into your mind! Look into your mind!” This watchfulness is necessary until you are used to it. Once that has happened you don’t need to look here or there. You have caught the ‘scent’ of the nature of mind. At that point, you do not need to struggle; the nature of mind is naturally awake.
Indeed, I believe that to be the scent I've been tracking down like a bloodhound all these years (and then relaxing into, once it was explained to me that efforting was the wrong idea ). And it surprises me that this is considered out of the reach of anyone passionately curious about the nature of their mind.
I'm not looking for anyone to confirm my recognition; obviously only my own guru (which I don't have right now) can do that. But I hope to get a little more clarity about what it is (any recognition? full recognition?) that is said to be hard or impossible to recognize without a guru. Because that idea, reinforced in many texts, was the primary cause of hope and fear in my practice. "You mean this might not be it? What else could it be? But they say it's really hard..."
Perhaps it can best be explained by them taking a "rather safe than sorry" approach -- safer to dissuade one person who has some recognition of mind from actually believing it, than to let 10 others believe they see it when they don't?