On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

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On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby monktastic » Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:49 am

At first, I was not going to post this. It may break some rules of decorum to share personal experience. But my experience is not particularly special, and others may have similar experiences, so I decided to post. It's been burning in my heart for decades.

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 :tongue:). 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?
This undistracted state of ordinary mind
Is the meditation.
One will understand it in due course.

--Gampopa
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby asunthatneversets » Thu Mar 07, 2013 5:30 am

monktastic wrote:...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 :tongue:). 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?


Rather than a 'self-aware presence that seems to underlie all of experience', the recognition you're looking for is that that very same 'self-aware presence' is precisely experience itself, inseparable from experience. The actual recognition will be a doubtless certainty to the degree that you won't require any confirmation about it (though it's good to confirm and talk about it with your teacher) You'll know that it's precisely what is being spoken of.

You're right that efforting is the wrong idea though... it is indeed uncontrived and naturally occurring, but mistaking it for the mere presence underlying experience is a common misconception. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche calls the state you're currently familiar with 'stable shamatha' but to have the recognition you're looking for the leap to 'released shamatha' is necessary. Released shamatha reveals the union of stillness and movement. When stillness and movement are realized to be nondual then it no longer seems as if there is a presence which underlies experience, but it's recognized that the presence is empty while appearing as the myriad forms of experience. The presence is neither the same nor different than experience, the two are primordially nondual.
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Andrew108 » Thu Mar 07, 2013 7:15 am

Hi Monktastic. Yes, what asunthatneversets has said. I am in agreement with that. Especially what he said about confidence. Confidence is what naturally comes about.
My advice for you is that you use Dzogchen to inform your Mahamudra. Dzogchenpas should also see and use Mahamudra.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby monktastic » Thu Mar 07, 2013 7:45 am

asunthatneversets wrote:Rather than a 'self-aware presence that seems to underlie all of experience', the recognition you're looking for is that that very same 'self-aware presence' is precisely experience itself, inseparable from experience. The actual recognition will be a doubtless certainty to the degree that you won't require any confirmation about it (though it's good to confirm and talk about it with your teacher) You'll know that it's precisely what is being spoken of.

You're right that efforting is the wrong idea though... it is indeed uncontrived and naturally occurring, but mistaking it for the mere presence underlying experience is a common misconception. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche calls the state you're currently familiar with 'stable shamatha' but to have the recognition you're looking for the leap to 'released shamatha' is necessary. Released shamatha reveals the union of stillness and movement. When stillness and movement are realized to be nondual then it no longer seems as if there is a presence which underlies experience, but it's recognized that the presence is empty while appearing as the myriad forms of experience. The presence is neither the same nor different than experience, the two are primordially nondual.


Thanks for that. I guess I can't discuss released shamatha here, since I've only read about it in a restricted text.

I can understand that a true experience of rigpa is entirely free of duality, with no experience of time or separation. That's clearly not what I've been experiencing since a young age. And it sounds like this recognition during a DI is necessary embarking on Dzogchen practice. It may even be that being able to enter, at will, a state devoid of subject-object duality is a requirement for Dzogchen practice (and I've heard it said so, which really amazes me).

But in Mahamudra, it doesn't sound this way. Through vipashyana, one experiences directly that thoughts and appearances are not distinct from mind. One sees this repeatedly until it is no longer in question. Check. (I also didn't recognize this as a child!). But an ongoing experience of nonseparation between subject and object sounds like it develops around the completion of the Yoga of One-Pointedness. So this can't be what is referred to as thamal gyi shepa, at least at first (can it?). One has recognized that this notion of duality is mistaken, but proper meditation seems to depend on not grasping at any seeming dualities that arise; it does not depend on them being absent from experience.

Maybe I am still misunderstanding. Also, my trying to compare the terms "rigpa" and "thamal gyi shepa" seems fruitless.

(I apologize for rehashing something I basically asked last October. My experience has changed enough since then that I found it appropriate to ask again, differently.)
This undistracted state of ordinary mind
Is the meditation.
One will understand it in due course.

--Gampopa
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Andrew108 » Thu Mar 07, 2013 10:03 am

In Dzogchen and Mahamudra, duality and non-duality are not things to accept or reject. It's not that non-duality is something we want. Dzogchen and Mahamudra are 'total'.
Also there is no distinction between animate and inanimate as though they were somehow disconnected/distinct. The real condition is not something invisible that you need to hold. There isn't a place to arrive. So rigpa is not a destination. Phenomena don't travel distances. So it's not like phenomena arise and evaporate and that the mind is somehow the stage of this arising and evaporation. It's not like that at all.
I don't think rigpa is an experience. I know that teachers and students create this idea that rigpa or enlightenment will be an experience. Rigpa is more like a basic fact. Nothing in life can be anything other than rigpa. And rigpa isn't really anything at all. Why want something that you've already got? Why struggle to be what you already are?
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Simon E. » Thu Mar 07, 2013 12:57 pm

Sorry to be obvious...but what does your teacher say ?
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Astus » Thu Mar 07, 2013 5:28 pm

Mahamudra manuals are usually easy to read and understand in my experience (like those from the 9th Karmapa and Dakpo Tashi). Thrangu Rinpoche is also a very plain speaking teacher. Look at this short instruction from The Four Dharmas of Gampopa:

"Now we experience mind, yet if we try to find it, we can’t. It cannot be found. The reason it can not be found is that it has no inherent existence. It is empty. Does this mean the mind is nothing whatsoever? No, it is not mere nothingness, for the continuity of mind is unsevered; it goes on. It is mind that knows various phenomena. It is mind that illuminates various phenomena. Thus, we talk about the mind as being empty and luminous, or empty and clear. What one needs to do is to identify this union of emptiness and clarity and to practice meditation in terms of this union."

This is practically the same as it's taught in Madhyamaka meditation when one investigates mind. The point of it is to drop all sorts of reference points, all clinging to any identity, and open one's perception to all appearances without attachment.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby monktastic » Thu Mar 07, 2013 7:02 pm

Andrew: Thanks. BTW, I'm using "rigpa" in its more traditional sense: one's personal knowledge, or recognition, of the natural state.

Simon: No teacher right now. I know that's the best way to answer any questions I have. But people's answers here frequently help me.

Astus: Thanks, as always. I've read so many Mahamudra texts it hurts :)

In retrospect, I think I answered my own question in my original post: recognizing that mind essence is not a thing, and that appearances are not separate from it, certainly did not occur to me as a child. I had always identified that essence with "I," and the rest with "the world." So that is changing, even if the sense of presence has always been familiar and unchanging. Perhaps even now it does not qualify as "baby rigpa," but that's an issue for me and my teacher (whenever I find another one). For now, it probably doesn't hurt to let mind essence just rest. It doesn't get to do a whole lot of that when there's so much intellectualizing. :smile:
This undistracted state of ordinary mind
Is the meditation.
One will understand it in due course.

--Gampopa
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Jinzang » Fri Mar 08, 2013 2:39 am

The self-aware state is difficult to talk about. It is both less and more than you may think. Don't expect any intellectual answer to match the experience. You need to talk about this in person with a lama who knows you. Otherwise, just keep practicing. Whatever you have understood will be understood better through practice. Don't expect that there will be a point where you have finally got it, there is always more to understand.
Lamrim, lojong, and mahamudra are the unmistaken path.
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby monktastic » Fri Mar 08, 2013 3:40 am

Thanks Jinzang.

It's a funny little trap I've built myself: if I trust in the teachings of Dzogchen and Mahamudra, and they say that I simply cannot recognize the natural state without a guru, then I must accept that I haven't the slightest clue what "ordinary mind" or "the natural state" is -- forget "baby rigpa"; mine is stillborn. This also means that I should stop trying to take advice from Mahamudra texts, as what they say cannot possibly apply to me. in that case, I probably will also never generate enough faith to actually pursue Mahamudra as a formal practice.

The alternative is this: yes, it is possible to recognize the natural state on your own. It may even be possible to somewhat deepen this recognition through practice, by applying methods in texts, without having been given a direct introduction. But the DI from a master serves a very important purpose: it gives you the confidence that your practice is correct, that what you have identified is in fact it. Until then, you may agonize over it and post doubts endlessly on the internet :smile:

Whether or not alternative (2) is correct, it clearly behooves me to believe it. Besides that, it seems a strange universe in which (1) is true -- something called the natural state can only be introduced by a specifically Dzogchen or Mahamudra master? And so I rely on quotes like this one (from Lama Gendun Rinpoche) to help me support option (2):

Our mind will recognize itself by itself -- clarity recognizes its own nature, its own emptiness. Beyond that, there is nothing to do. Only our fear of missing the goal blocks our path. Through faith our mind will relax and get to know itself more and more clearly.


Is there consensus in the community between options 1 and 2 above? I sometimes get the feeling there is not, but maybe I haven't been paying close enough attention.
This undistracted state of ordinary mind
Is the meditation.
One will understand it in due course.

--Gampopa
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Andrew108 » Fri Mar 08, 2013 10:26 am

The transmission needs a Guru. It's unavoidable. It's also wonderful. Guru Yoga is what is done. This Guru Yoga is not like Master and Servant guru yoga. Or daddy and son yoga. It's a personal deep connectedness though your senses to the transmission and lineage.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Simon E. » Fri Mar 08, 2013 10:32 am

Lama Gendun Rinpoche was introduced to the natural state by his teacher. ( Tulku Tendzin )
His words should be read in that context.

The natural state is....natural. The means to realise it are not.

The good news is a teacher like Chogyal Namkhai Norbu will not require you to change allegiance or outer religious form.
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Mar 08, 2013 10:50 am

Dear Monktastic,

No teacher, no mahamudra. Unfortunately for you that's the long and short of it.

Books are cool, but Mahamudra manuals require transmision. ;)

It really is that simple.

I would reccomend doing some sutric karma purification practices (35 Confession Buddhas) and merit accumulation to clear up any obstacles regarding "finding" a teacher. Otherwise you'll be stuck where you are for who knows how long?
:namaste:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Astus » Fri Mar 08, 2013 10:54 am

Although these are from Dahui Zonggao, they sound appropriate here:

"But people set up views of delusion and enlightenment and hold to interpretations of turning towards and turning away, wanting to understand this mind and see this inherent nature; thus this mind and this nature immediately flow into wrong paths, following the person's inversions, errors, and confusion. Hence enlightenment is not distinguished from delusion, nor the wrong separated from the correct. Because they do not fully understand the dreamlike illusion of "this mind" and "this nature," they falsely establish pairs of terms: they consider turning towards and turning away, delusion and enlightenment, as real, and accept this mind and this nature as true. They are far from realizing that whether true or not true, false or not false, worldly or world-transcending, these are merely provisional statements."
(Swampland Flowers, p. 83)

"You say that you have dull faculties. Try to reflect back like this: see if the one who can recognise the dullness is dull too or not. If you don't turn the light around and reflect back, you're just keeping to your dull faculties and adding more affliction. That would be adding illusory falsehood to illusory falsehood, laying on optical illusion on top of optical illusion. Just listen: the one who can know that sense faculties are inherently dull is definitely not dull. Though you shouldn't hold to this dull one, you shouldn't abandon it to study, either; grasping and rejecting, sharp and dull---these have to do with people, not with Mind. This Mind is one substance with all the buddhas of the three worlds: there is no duality.
If there were duality, the Dharma would not be of even sameness. "Receiving the teaching" and "transmitting Mind" are both empty falsehoods. Looking for truth and seeking reality seem even further off."

(p. 69)
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Matt J » Fri Mar 08, 2013 1:08 pm

Monktastic,

I have had similar experiences to yours as a child. I thought that everyone did, but in fact, most people do not. I believe that what you have found is "the witness". Some people feel that upon discovering the "witness" that they are enlightened. If only it were so!

The "witness" is easy to reify and turn into a self. This is where I have found teachers to be very handy.

However, I would be careful of rejecting or denigrating one's own direct experience in favor of a teaching or a tradition. Personally, I wouldn't say whether one's experience is "baby rigpa" or "stillborn", I would say you don't know where it fits in the teaching at this time (because you don't have a teacher).
The Great Way is not difficult
If only there is no picking or choosing
--- Xin Xin Ming

http://nondualism.org/
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby monktastic » Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:10 pm

Okay, so clearly one option for me to is to take up Mahamudra as a formal practice. We will see if I have the karma to "find" a teacher.

Astus: Those words are deep.

Matt: yes, those words really connect. The "neo-Advaita" teachings have methods for "reducing" or "dissolving" the witness. No surprise then that the teachings have really spoken to me -- they may be more matched to my current state than Mahamudra.
This undistracted state of ordinary mind
Is the meditation.
One will understand it in due course.

--Gampopa
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:17 pm

monktastic wrote:...take up Mahamudra as a formal practice...
:rolling:

Sorry for the laughter, but, you see, in the Kagyu, effectively, there is only Mahamudra. All practices (and non-practices) are Mahamudra practices. :smile:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Anders » Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:18 pm

monktastic wrote:Okay, so clearly one option for me to is to take up Mahamudra as a formal practice. We will see if I have the karma to "find" a teacher.


A lot of that karma is created in the here and now by looking sincerely for one. Past karma, present insight (or lack of same), etc. None of them have the same power of transformation as heartfelt and sincere aspiration.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:45 pm

Anders wrote:A lot of that karma is created in the here and now by looking sincerely for one. Past karma, present insight (or lack of same), etc. None of them have the same power of transformation as heartfelt and sincere aspiration.
:good:
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: On the difficulty of recognizing the natural state

Postby monktastic » Fri Mar 08, 2013 6:47 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
monktastic wrote:...take up Mahamudra as a formal practice...
:rolling:

Sorry for the laughter, but, you see, in the Kagyu, effectively, there is only Mahamudra. All practices (and non-practices) are Mahamudra practices. :smile:


Yeah, I get that. Perhaps a better phrasing would have been... I'll find a guru to instruct me in Mahamudra. Except one can't really be "instructed in" it either. Oh, well :smile:

Anders: that makes sense. What I'm saying is sort of a cop-out: I'm not finding the motivation to find a teacher, because descriptions from other paths seem to fit my situation better right now. And that may be due to past karma.
This undistracted state of ordinary mind
Is the meditation.
One will understand it in due course.

--Gampopa
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