November 18, 2011

Buddhist Yoga: Joining with Naturalness, Part IV. ~ Ari Goldfield & Rose Taylor Goldfield

PART IV: Buddhist Yoga: Joining with Naturalness

The Third Characteristic, The Profound View of Non-Dual Awareness

In this fourth of seven pieces on Buddhist Yoga, we will focus on the third quality cultivated in Buddhist Yoga—the previous two being renunciation and compassionate bochichitta.

The third quality of mind that Buddhist yogis and yoginis need is the view of the profound true nature of reality—non-dual awareness.  When we realize this true nature, our dualistic concepts and disturbing emotions dissolve, and we join with naturalness.  The great yogis and yoginis describe that experience in countless beautiful ways, such as spacious, relaxed, luminous, blissful, and immutable.  The Indian yogini Niguma sang:

 What throws you down into samsara’s deep ocean

Are these thoughts of attachment and anger.

But realize they don’t truly exist,

And all is an island of gold! [1]

And the Tibetan master Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche sings:

Look nakedly at these forms that are like rainbows, appearance-emptiness,

Listen intently to these sounds that are like echoes, sound-emptiness,

Look straight at the essence of mind—clarity-emptiness, inexpressible,

And fixation-free, at ease in your own nature, let go and relax.  Ahh, ahh, ahh.[2]

The Stages of Joining with Naturalness: I. The Selflessness of Body and Mind:

To help us realize this profound true nature for ourselves, the Buddha taught us how to gain certainty about and meditate upon it in stages.[3]  These stages help us to see the mistakes present in the way we ordinarily think about things, and how to rectify those mistakes with clearer understanding and experience.  Along the way, our anxiety, confusion, and suffering diminish, and the spaciousness, clarity, and happiness naturally present within our minds emerge.

The first stage is to realize that in body and mind, there is no truly existent “self”; no “I”; no “me.”  All of our suffering comes from thoughts such as: “I am angry”; “I am sick”; “I am hurt”; “I am in pain.”  But all of these thoughts are predicated on the belief that there really is an “I” and “me,” and in reality, there is not.  The self that appears is therefore like a dream and an illusion, and this is the truth of selflessness.

We must gain certainty in selflessness through our own analysis of body and mind. Before analyzing, we each may think that we have one self, and that this self has a continuous existence from our birth to our death.  But we must analyze: Where in body and mind is this single, continuously existing self to be found?

We may at times strongly identify the self with a part of the body; for example, when we have stomach pain and think “I am sick.”  But the body is not one thing; it is actually a multiplicity of parts.  And none of these parts is permanent; they are constantly changing—constantly arising, dissolving, and replacing one another.  So is any one of the multitude of these impermanent parts really “me”?

When we investigate mind, we find that it is not the self either.  We have strong thoughts and emotional experiences that we identify as the self, like when we think “I am afraid,” or “I am upset.”  But we had experiences like that last year, too, which were replaced by other experiences, which were in turn replaced by yet other thoughts and emotions.  Are any of the multiplicity of these constantly changing thoughts and emotions really “me?”

When we analyze, then, we find that the self only exists as the focus of the strong fixations of our concepts.  Our thoughts are prone to fixating on one part of the body or one event in the mind and thinking: “That is me.”  But when we think like that, do we feel good?  Usually, the stronger the thought of “me,” the more tension, anger, and suffering we experience.  In contrast, the more we can join with the naturalness of selflessness, the more relaxed, clear, and happy we are.  We realize that the self that appears is like the self in a movie, in a lucid dream, in a magical illusion.   The sense of separation and loneliness that accompany ego-clinging begins to dissolve, and that is wonderful.  As the Tibetan yogi Kalu Rinpoche taught:

If you wake up to…reality,

You will know that you are nothing,

And being nothing, you are everything.[4]

Stage II: The Emptiness of Body and Mind:

Body and mind are not only of the nature of selflessness, they are also of the nature of emptiness.  “Emptiness” – which the Buddha taught is the true nature of all phenomena—means that whatever phenomenon appears to our senses or thoughts, it does not truly exist as what it appears to be.  It is a mere appearance, like an appearance in a dream or an illusion, and its true nature is beyond duality, beyond concept and expression.

Emptiness is too profound for most of us to be able to immediately grasp.  However, if we approach it in a step-by-step way, we can understand it, gain certainty in it, and experience it, in the same way that the great yogis and yoginis do themselves.

Let us begin this gradual approach into emptiness by analyzing the body.  We have a conceptual idea of the body, but when we try to actually find the body, we cannot. Because “body” is just a label; a name given to a collection of smaller parts.  If you try to identify your body by pointing to it, you cannot do so.  When you point, your finger may touch your head, chest, an arm, or a leg, but never an entity called “body.”  The same is true when you try to point to an arm—you can point to the upper arm, lower arm, or hand, but “arm” itself is also just a name given to a collection of smaller parts.  This is true down to the subtle particles that constitute the body—they are merely names given to collections of smaller parts, and even the tiniest of them cannot be found to be anything more than merely a name.  Therefore, the body is not actually made of any substance that can be found under analysis.  The body is empty of matter, so its true nature is emptiness, and its appearance is like a rainbow or a body of pure light.  As Milarepa sang,

My body is appearance-emptiness, like a rainbow in the sky.

It cannot be identified, so my attachment to it has dissolved.[5]

Mind’s nature is also emptiness, because in essence it is inexpressible and inconceivable.  For example, if you eat a piece of fine chocolate, you have a mental experience that you cannot convey in words.  You may describe it as “sweet,” or “delicious,” but if you are asked, “What is sweet like?  What is delicious like?”, you quickly run out of words that can describe your experience.  The same is true for even the strongest emotions.  If you have the feeling “I am angry,” but then you go past the label “anger” into the experience itself, you discover that no words can actually describe it.

The same is true for happiness, sadness, calm, worry, pleasure, and pain—all the labels we superimpose onto mind cannot actually describe mind’s unchanging, inexpressible nature.  And when we go past those labels and rest in that inexpressible nature of mind, we experience the Dharmakaya, the enlightened mind of the Buddha that is our own mind’s true nature, and the clarity, bliss, and emptiness that are inseparable from it.  As Milarepa sang,

All thoughts are free in being Dharmakaya,

It’s awareness, clarity, and bliss,

So to meditate, rest uncontrived.[6]

Body and Mind’s Ultimate Nature:

The ultimate naturalness of body and mind is that they are inseparable.  As the Indian yogi Dombe Heruka sang,

Body and mind—non-duality,

Spacious and relaxed transparency.[7]

The body, free of self, free of particles of matter, is the dance and play of mind’s native luminosity.  The experience of joining with this naturalness is like dancing in a dream when you know you are dreaming!  Dualistic thoughts dissolve; and non-dual awareness, luminous and blissful, manifests.  This is the fruition of Buddhist Yoga.

[1] Orally quoted by Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, translated from Tibetan by Ari Goldfield.

[2] Unpublished verse of Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, translated from Tibetan by Ari Goldfield.

[3] For brevity’s sake, the five stages in this presentation have here been condensed into two. Books devoted to explaining all or some of these five stages in more detail include: Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso, Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness (Oxford: Longchen Foundation, 1986); Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso, The Sun of Wisdom (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2003); and Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso, Stars of Wisdom (Boston, Shambhala Publications, 2010).

[4] Oral teaching of Kalu Rinpoche.

[5] From Milarepa’s Song of Meditating on the Generation Stage (Tib.: bskyed rim gyi gsungs mgur), translated from Tibetan by Ari Goldfield.

[6] From Milarepa’s Song of the Three Nails (Tib.: gzer gsum gyi gsung mgur), translated by Rose Taylor. ©2009.

[7] Quoted in Karmapa Wangchuk Dorje’s guide to Mahamudra meditation entitled Ocean of Definitive Meaning (Tib.: phyag chen nges don rgya mtsho, Rumtek, India), Tibetan folio 104a.  Translated by Ari Goldfield.


Ari Goldfield’s Harvard Law School training led him to a six-month unillustrious career in corporate law before he set off for Asia to study Tibetan and find his Buddhist teacher. He went on to travel the world for thirteen years with his teacher, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, acting as Rinpoche’s translator and secretary. Rose Taylor Goldfield grew up in a Dharma household, where she learned meditation at a very young age, and progressed through the practice and study lineage of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She received her masters from Naropa University in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies with Tibetan language. Ari and Rose translate and teach Buddhist philosophy, meditation, yogic exercise, and dance in their local San Francisco Bay Area and internationally. They are spiritual directors of the Wisdom Sun community. You can explore more about them and their offerings on their website.

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