What’s the difference between passing experiences (nyams) and stable realisation?

A student writes:

Some things, which at first appeared in flashes, have now become so obvious that I don’t even think to doubt it for a second, like the fact that all beings have Buddha Nature. I cannot not see it. Would this be is what is called ‘stable realisation’?

Lama Shenpen replies:

It is an interesting question isn’t it?  Seeing all beings have Buddha Nature, becoming convinced of that and yet still we have not yet plumbed the depths of what Buddha Nature is. We have inklings, vivid perhaps and conviction. We recognise any other view of what a being is just isn’t true. Yet still our habits of separating ourselves off from others in some way or other persist – they take a long time to wear out.

The important thing is not to cling on to those momentary or longer lasting experiences of connection but to just remain open and returning to the simplicity of the openness again and again. There is no need to worry about having gained stability of full realisation or not because it does itself in its own time, and the signs of it are obvious – the important thing is to notice any instability and use it as a trigger of awareness. There are so many Dharma teachings to help with this.

Student:

Nonetheless, the actual seeing of the Buddha Nature is still something that opens and closes. It’s sometimes more vivid than at other times, even though I know it is always there.

Lama Shenpen:

That knowing that it is always there is conviction, certainty and very akin to realisation – it is what enables us to become good practitioners and to eventually arrive at stable realisation (Tibetan: rtogs pa). It is called shraddha – faith – not in the sense of clinging onto a belief or view but a faculty we have to let go into the truth that we are discovering and act from that truth even if dimly perceived. The way we act from our heart with conviction and can be steady and steadfast in what we do and how we follow the path – sometimes only dimly aware of what it is that is enabling us to do that. Does that make sense?

Student:

Will there always continue to be an opening and closing movement? Or does this kind of opening and closing indicate that stable realisation is not yet reached? 

Lama Shenpen:

I think the latter – as your next questions indicate, it would not make sense to speak of it as full realisation otherwise.

Student:

It seems hard to imagine that some of the more spectacular experiences could become a permanent feature of my awareness in daily life. It seems more natural that such things arise and pass. But what then does stable realisation mean?

Lama Shenpen:

Yes, that is why passing experiences are called nyams and not stable realisation even though as you say the nyam is an experience of the very reality that will eventually become stable realisation.

Student:

My own sense of this is that it is of no help to try to keep it open when it is closing, but rather to trust the movement and to trust that what the flash shows is an abiding reality, even though it is a reality that can be veiled.

Lama Shenpen:

Yes, that’s right.

Student:

Would it be legitimate to say that this kind of trust constitutes stable realisation? 

Lama Shenpen:

No, it isn’t stable realisation but it is what needs to be there for stable realisation to eventually happen.  There is no way we can try to make stable realisation happen, it is not something to put on our ‘to do’ list!  We simply have to keep bringing our whole being in line with our deepest insight – using all the means available to us – all the Dharma teachings that help us do that. Keeping open to receiving more and more wisdom from the Guru, the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.

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