What does ‘resting in the nature of mind’ mean? A student asks how can we be sure we’re not resting in ‘ordinary mind’ when we meditate?

A Student writes:

How can I be sure that I am not just simply resting in the nature of ordinary mind?

Lama Shenpen responds:

To me this is not just one important question to reflect on but a number of such questions. So I am glad you are noticing these questions that undermine a number of fundamental assumptions we all find ourselves struggling with.

What does it mean to be sure of anything? That is a big question at the heart of the Dharma – we are so sure of so much that is just false assumptions that we take to just be how reality is. Things like body and mind, self and other, time and space, inside and outside – the list goes on. 

‘I am resting in the nature of mind’ – but what does rest mean here? Does anyone rest in anything? What does rest mean exactly? A big question to unpack.

‘Simply resting’ – ‘simply’ as in being totally simple without prapancha or ‘simply’ as in the sense of ‘in a way that is inauthentic or not doing what I am supposed to be doing’?

‘Nature of ordinary mind’ – is this ‘ordinary mind’ as in ‘am I still resting in a conceptual version of what I think mind is?’ – in other words in a deluded way based on avidya?  Or does it mean ‘ordinary mind’ as in the nature of mind in its ultimate sense – our nature right now is already that ultimate nature – so ordinary mind is actually Buddha Nature.

I hope you are not reading this as if I am being pedantic and pulling your question apart as a means of showing you are asking the wrong question. My intention is to stimulate closer enquiry into your immediate experience because your question or rather questions, are coming from that all-essential ability to enquire ever more carefully or deeply into your immediate experience.

It brings false assumptions into the foreground so that they are exposed to the light of wisdom – until we see accurately we are trapped in suffering.  Seeing reality accurately is Liberation.  So the doubts that trigger enquiry are our best friends on the path – open to them with humility and love – they are bringing us closer and closer to the truth.

Maybe the short answer to your question is we might as well assume we are not truly ‘resting’ in our True Nature – or we would be Enlightened and fully manifesting the qualities of Enlightenment.  A fuller answer might be in verse 17 of the Mahamudra Pranidhana of Rangjung Dorje:

‘Looking again at the chitta that cannot be looked at,
The quintessential point which cannot be seen, just as it is, is vipashyana
This severs all doubts about whether this is it or not.
May the self- essence unerringly recognise itself for itself.’

There are many nyams [experiences that occur in meditation] associated with developing Shamata [‘calm abiding’ meditation] and they can lead to important insights but not necessarily – nyams are experiences, whereas insight leads to a fundamental change in outlook – from avidya [delusion/ignorance that obscures our True Nature] to vidya [true nature of Awareness – Openness/Clarity/Sensitivity without delusions obscuring it]. 

We are looking for these changes in terms of finding our sense of direction – finding what is significant and what is not – what is Dharma and what is not.  Shamata helps us stabilise them – accustomising ourselves to that new sense of meaning and direction that is opening us up – so that it is no longer just a passing experience but a fundamental difference in the way we see reality.

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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