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Buddhadharma : Fall 2013
FALL 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 59 Vipashyana Meditation The second main theme in The Tibetan Book of the Dead is that “recognition and liberation are simultaneous.” This relates to vipashyana, the practice of insight meditation. Shamatha pacifies the mind; vipashyana allows us to see it. By seeing our mind more clearly, we’re able to recognize how it works. This helps us relate to it skillfully. In the bardos we’re “forced” to relate to our mind, simply because there’s nothing else. Outer world is gone, body is gone, so mind becomes reality. Through insight meditation we discover that whatever arises in the bardos is just the dis- play of our mind. That recognition sets us free. Just as recognizing that we’re dreaming while still in a dream (lucid dreaming) frees us from the suffering of the dream, recognizing that we’re in the bardos frees us from the suffering of the bar- dos. Before we became lucid, the dream tossed us to and fro like Styrofoam bobbing on turbulent waters. But once we wake up to the dream— while still being in it—the tables are suddenly turned. We now have complete control over an experience that just controlled us. Whether in dream or death, this level of recognition and ensuing liberation is cultivated with vipashyana, or “clear seeing.” Instead of taking the terrifying visions of the bardo to be real and getting caught in the result- ing nightmare, we can wake up in the bardos. We do this by recognizing all the appearances to be the display of our own mind. This recognition is exercised in meditation. The meditation instruc- tion is to label whatever distracts us as “think- ing.” For example, a thought pops up of needing to buy some milk. We mentally say, “thinking,” which is recognizing that we have strayed, then return to our meditation. Our clear seeing melts the distracting thought on contact. Labeling and liberation are simultaneous. Unrecognized thought is the daytime equiva- lent of falling asleep. Each discursive thought is a mini-daydream. Drifting into mindless thinking is how we end up sleepwalking through life—and therefore death. Saying “thinking ” in our medi- tation is therefore the same as saying, “Wake up!” We wake up and come back to reality—not to our dreamy visions (thoughts) about it. If we can wake up during the day and be mindful, we will be able to wake up in the bardo after we die. This is what it means to become a buddha, an “awakened one.” And this is the fruition of shamatha-vipashyana. Earlier we said that in the bardos, mind (thought) becomes reality. What do you come back to if there is only mind? You come back to just that recognition. As in a lucid dream, you realize that whatever arises is merely the play of your mind. This allows you to witness whatever appears without being carried away by it. Since you no longer have a body, or any other material object to take refuge in, you take refuge in rec- ognition (awareness) itself. From that awakened perspective, it doesn’t matter what happens. It’s all just the display of the mind. Tonglen Tonglen, which is the practice of taking in the suffering of others and giving out the goodness within ourselves, is a strong preparation for death. It is especially powerful for a dying per- son to practice and for others to do when some- one has died. The rugged quality of this practice can match the toughness of death. The more I’m around death, the more I find myself taking ref- uge in tonglen. The reason we suffer during life, or death, is because we are selfish. When we think small, every little irritation gets big. Conversely, when we think big, difficulties get small. Tonglen is about thinking and feeling big. To think big, we should first reflect upon our good fortune. We have the precious dharma to guide us through the bardos, and we have the potential to transform death into enlightenment. We are incredibly fortunate to die held by the teachings of the Buddha, the awak- ened one who transcended death. Now think about the millions who are dying without being held. Imagine all those who are dying alone, under violent conditions or with- out physical or spiritual refuge. We can reduce our anguish by putting our death in perspec- tive. Tonglen instills that perspective and brings greater meaning to our death. If you take a teaspoon of salt and put it into a shot glass of water, the water is powerfully