A student asks:
How can we know awareness itself is not created and impermanent?
Lama Shenpen replies:
There is no evidence that there was ever a time when awareness was not there – so it’s a possibility that it is not created. The more familiar one becomes with awareness in one’s Dharma practice the more sense it makes that it is not created – it is not constructed from our thoughts like everything else we know of – awareness is what constructs the thoughts and gets confused by them – it is not created and constructed and therefore impermanent and suffering like thoughts are.
But if our ability to be aware, to be clear and open depends on so many factors – what we eat, time of day, energy/sleep etc – how can we say we are opening up to something unconditioned?
What is not clear and open is conditioned and gets in the way somehow – we take all that conditioning as us when it isn’t. We are the openness and clarity that recognises that we are not all that conditioning. The openness and clarity never goes away – we might be so confused by our conditioning that we cannot find our way out of it temporarily but the clarity and openness never go anywhere – they are always there like the sun behind the clouds.
I have also been questioning what does the instruction “wake” really mean in meditation? Are we asked to be in a state of hyper awareness/alertness, aware of absolutely everything that’s going on? Or is it about something far more subtle?
An interesting question. When we say ‘wake’ to ourselves for an instant we know what it means – as you say we become alert and in the moment – it is very present and alive – almost bright as if everything else has fallen away for an instant. That sudden falling away leaves us with a glimpse of the sun from behind the clouds – reminding us that the sun is there – but there is no need to keep focusing on the sun – it’s a matter of remembering and trusting it is there – so we can relax into its constant presence.
I find that allowing attention to freely focus and de-focus without forcing anything is what leads to openness. Otherwise, it’s just full of effort and even induces more anxiety.
Yes, that is the EVAM principle* of focus, de-focus and refocus in a relaxed way – that relaxed experience is the openness isn’t it?
*Evam Principle – The dynamic of focusing and relaxing, moving from foreground to background, is the nature of awareness. In Lama Shenpen’s Living the Awakened Heart Training it is introduced as the dynamic of EVAM, of E (relaxed background) and VAM (focused foreground). Learning to work with it, both in our meditation and awareness practice, and in our whole attitude to our lives and practice, is fundamental to the training.
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