A Student asks:
When I reach the end of the out breath, I find myself facing the question of what to do with the mind. Since I already know the answer intellectually, I am curious why it comes up so often.
Lama Shenpen replies:
Well, the question does arise doesn’t it? You reach the end of the breath and then what? Before you had something to focus on and now you don’t. It is a big shift, a bit like dropping off a cliff. Where do you go from there?
It is important to not be too literal minded with meditation instructions. They are only hints. You have to somehow intuitively sense what they are getting at. In the context of the instruction of letting go into space at the end of the out-breath you have to remember that the nature of mind is empty, open, space-like.
If you lack conviction about this then when you come to the end of the breath you will find yourself having to imagine space and that can be quite hard work. I don’t recommend it really. But if you don’t imagine it what are you to do? Maybe its something like taking a hint, or an inspiration from an image in a poem. The image has to suggest something in your experience that you recognize and then you somehow resonate with it.
This only works for an instant and then you sort of open out to that experience before finding you have drifted off somewhere or gone back to the in-breath. If you have drifted off then notice the strangeness of that, thinking that is happening nowhere, and return to the breath.
Having said that, actually what you really have to do is to work on the insight side in order to reach conviction that the mind really is naturally spacious, open and empty – and that means real insight and understanding has to arise. That requires working on deepening your insight.
You could start by going through the second half of the Heart of Meditation book that comes with the Discovering the Heart of Buddhism course and trying some of the questions there.
When your meditation is fairly steady and calm, start to introduce one of these questions to wonder about as you let go into space, something like – What space? Is it inside or outside the mind? Where does it end? Does it end? Are these questions and thoughts inside that space or outside it?
You may find you need to talk to me about this so that I can help you focus on how to look – it is all like pointing a finger at the moon. It’s important not to be heavy handed about it. You will have to make some kind of leap or jump from finger to moon, from the words to something in your experience that you will recognize and will know that it is that – because you will feel a sense of that is the right direction.
Lama Shenpen Hookham
Lama Shenpen’s students are all studying the Living the Awakened Heart Training – a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training