This challenging and inspiring work looks into the heart of the predicament we face as humans seeking to safeguard the integrity of our consciousness and ultimately our humanity in a rapidly changing technological era.
With profound clarity and vision the book takes the reader on an uncompromised journey into the very nature of what it is to be a human, exploring our shared responsibility as guardians of our planet.
Burgs urges us to pursue practical and realistic avenues for real change, encouraging us to take care of our minds and honour our lives as sacred.
The book asks what might have been the real cost of the convenience we are now taking for granted, and whether we might be in danger of sacrificing some of the essence of what it really is to be human.
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I think there’s a little part of everybody that has an inkling, a hunch, a sense that there’s a mystery in the background behind this life that we haven’t quite clocked and we’d love to know what’s going on.
In the deepest part of us there is clearly a sense that there’s more to life than meets the eye. No matter how hard we’ve tried to break life down into the nuts and bolts and say, ‘Well, this is what it is’, honestly, we have to admit that life is an extraordinary mystery. And anyone trying to rob it of that mystery and insisting on understanding what’s going on, I think, is probably missing the juiciest part of it, the part that makes it feel that life is really something worth getting stuck into.
There’s an awful lot of drudgery in life, there’s a lot of things we have to do that are inconvenient, there’s a lot of hardship. Life isn’t easy. And yet the desire for life, the ‘longing’ for it, remains so strong. Even in the face of extraordinary adversity the longing for life is still there.
If we look out into nature, everywhere we look – apart from where we have put something – there’s life just pouring forth, and it has this extraordinary, inexorable, unstoppable-ness about it. This boundless power of life is working through us too, we are a part of that, we’re an expression of it, we are that. That mysterious power that is driving all life is there within us, twenty-four hours of every day, and although we distract ourselves so desperately and spend most of our time really distracted from what’s actually going on, somewhere inside of us there’s a knowing or a hunch that there’s clearly more to this than we might have thought.
And yet with this astonishingly beautiful display of life going on around us endlessly, it seems more and more of us, if we are truly honest with ourselves, feel deep down that something is not quite right about the way we relate to life itself.
In this book I hope to take you on a journey deep into the very heart of the mystery that is life. By looking a little more deeply at what is actually going on in the background, as a society and as humans on this planet, we might re-establish a healthier and more enriching relationship to the life that each of us is a part.
I would like to encourage you to look at life with an open and honest mind, and a courageous heart so that we might reach a place of deep reverence and respect for it and not fall into the tendency of taking it for granted or assuming it will always be there. It is rare indeed and most precious. I believe that only once we have rediscovered the sense of awe and wonder at life, will we develop a more healthy attitude towards it. This attitude will form the backbone and bedrock of not just our own welfare, but that of the generations to come.
Life Is Too Precious To Not Pay Attention
If we can learn to really pay attention to what is going on within us and around us, life itself becomes our perfect teacher. If we are willing to recognise it, life is showing us what it is we need to do all the time. There is an innate intelligence at work behind our lives which is reflected in all times in everything that we experience. It is my hope that this book will help you to come to a deeper understanding of that intelligence and ultimately point to a way in which we can start to live more in alignment with it. Maybe it’s been going on beyond our perception and conscious understanding, but still, deep down, some part of us knows.
My simple aspiration for this book is to offer hope and a signpost to a wholly positive approach to the predicament that we face as human beings, alive at this very extraordinary time. I wish to propose a solution, which is for all of us to collectively become part of what I call the Give Back Generation, a generation who seek to contribute to the world more than we take from it. In fifty years from now, history will testify to how we chose to meet our challenges. Those who will follow in our wake will live through the outcome of the choices we have made.
During his life twenty-five centuries ago the Buddha often spoke of an age of degeneration when beings lose their moral compass and become obsessed solely with selfish pursuits at great detriment to themselves, others and the world in which they live. Although I do not propose to look at life from a fixed Buddhist perspective in this book, as human beings alive today, we still face the same propensity to create suffering in our lives and so his teachings remain as relevant today as they did back then.
Below is a list of the five signs of degeneration of consciousness that the Buddha identified. At this point all I wish to do is to simply flag these points up and just encourage you to see if you have noticed some of these things yourself in the world around you. They are listed here so that you can use them as a guide and or a point of reference to the suggestions made in the book that follows, nothing more. It is not my intention at this stage to seek to support or negate these claims, but merely to frame our own investi-gation of human consciousness and inform how we can best take care of it.
The Degeneration of Time; the quality of things deteriorates, food becomes less nutritious, grain tastes less good and does not ripen, the environment becomes degraded, famine and wars proliferate, and new diseases arise.
The Degeneration of Disturbing Emotions; the decline in the virtue of householders, negative emotions proliferate, self-obsession proliferates to the point where pride, competitiveness and greed become so embedded that beings find it almost impossible to surmount them.
The Degeneration of Views; wrong views proliferate; beings cannot see what is happening to them and reject the truth when it is spoken, they tend to believe in wrong philosophies and find it hard to believe in right view. They reject the law of cause and effect believing the idea of Karma to be mere superstition as they assume themselves not to be accountable for their actions. This becomes the cause for a gradual degeneration of behaviour and moral integrity and people become more and more driven by desire with no ethical restraint upon that desire. Assuming that it is OK to do whatever they want regardless of consequences people develop attitudes that are morally degenerate, and become intolerant to the point of hatred.
The Degeneration of Physical Form; degeneration of appearance, obesity proliferates, intellect degenerates, good health degenerates, beings become harder to help and harder to subdue.
The Degeneration of the Life Span; afflictive conditions proliferate and gradually the life span shortens.
At times such as these the choices that beings make will determine their welfare or suffering.
So having read the above, each and every one of you can make your own reflections as to whether or not you see in the world around you now, emotions, views, physical forms and life spans degenerating or regenerating. There will be pockets where this is happening at different rates.
Yet at the macro level, there is no doubt in my mind which way we are heading. Barring the fact we are all living longer lives due to huge advances in health care, I see all the other signs of degeneration proliferating, often at alarming rates. It is up to you to decide on your own position, but please be honest with yourselves, don’t sell yourself short. Because our aspiration is hopefully not to alarm ourselves but to stand tall in the search for solutions.
I cannot put it any more eloquently or succinctly than Charles Eisenstein in his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible:
“Who would have foreseen, two generations ago when the story of progress was strong, that the twenty-first century would be the time of school massacres, of rampant obesity, of growing indebtedness, of pervasive insecurity, of intensifying concentration of wealth, of unabated world hunger, and of environmental degradation that threatens civilization? The world was supposed to be getting better. We were supposed to be becoming wealthier, more enlightened. Society was supposed to be advancing…
Why do the visions of a more beautiful world that seemed so close in the middle twentieth century now seem so unreachable that all we can hope for is to survive in an ever more competitive, ever more degraded world? Truly, our stories have failed us. Is it too much to ask, to live in a world where our human gifts go toward the benefit of all? Where our daily activities contribute to the healing of the biosphere and the well-being of other people?”
The paradox to this is that if we were able to truly see what is happening to us and fully understand the way of things, there is no way that we would be living life the way we are. Perhaps the problem has been that we somehow have managed to convince ourselves that these signs of degeneration are happening out there in the world beyond us, but not been willing to look at what is actually happening to us. Well, sadly, what we see going on in the world around us, is a reflection of what is going on within us.
So what would happen to us if we did fully understand what we were doing and the implications of it? Of these five signs which the Buddha described that mark the coming of an age of degeneration, one of them is that beings reject the truth even when it is put in front of them. The truth in the end is right in front of us every day if we were only willing to see it. The question is – are we willing to pay attention?
Not enough people in positions of responsibility and power are telling us we have to consume less, give more to others and share what we have. It is almost as if no one dares to deliver the inconvenient truth that would give us the wake up call we need to become galvanized. “Don’t worry, technology will provide a solution”, is the most common response I hear from people these days when discussing the apparent and potential problems that are staring us in the face.
This unwillingness to address the challenges we face in many ways is understandable. I am sure it is not just indolence, although that no doubt plays a part. Fear will also be prompting us to pretend that these things just aren’t happening, or the hope that somehow they will all just go away on their own. But we all know that closing our eyes and pretending that the burglar isn’t there doesn’t stop him making off with all our possessions.
But I feel there is another equally important reason for us not addressing the issues we face. And that is that somehow we have lost sight, or lost touch with how truly precious and sacred life actually is. We consider our survival as humans, at whatever cost, to be more important than the sanctity and integrity of the life we sustain. For one reason or another, we have gradually removed the sense of sacred from almost everything in our lives these days. Life itself is no longer seen as something sacred. It has become commodified. For decades now the assumption has been that life is a material and mechanical process within which consciousness is a bi-product. But have we stopped to ask whether it might be the case that the alarming increase in depression and hopelessness that so many otherwise fortunate human beings are experiencing these days, might actually be, because they lack that very spiritual context to their lives that makes it feel truly special? Or that we have stopped seeing life itself as sacred?
While we may initially think what we need our tools by which to cope better with life as it is, the fact that we aren’t coping so well with the lives we are living is a sign that we may be off track. Learning to cope with being unwell is in no way as satisfactory or complete a resolution as recovering from our affliction. At a deeper level many of us are longing to find a higher sense of meaning while questioning the actual direction we are heading in. Real change is what so many of us today are actually looking for, while what we are being offered are tools by which we can cope well enough to stay on the trajectory we are on. In truth we do not need help staying on course, what we needs is encouragement to embrace a sea change.
I have little doubt that there are countless people out there just waiting for permission to embrace a quantum change of direction. Experience suggests that deep and profound change tends only to happen when it is thrust upon us. The problem with this is that forced change inevitably brings with it far more suffering and hardship than when we make choices for ourselves consciously.
A slap in the face with a wet fish, though unpleasant, is not nearly as difficult to live with as being knocked off your feet with the ground giving way beneath you. Indeed, if it serves to wake us up before we fall asleep at the wheel, it has served an important purpose. So I am sure we are all better served by honestly looking into the predicament we are in and digging deep in search of solutions, rather than just trying to convince ourselves that everything is going to be alright.
The Future Is In Our Hands
The further out of alignment with the truth behind our lives we become, the more inconvenient that truth feels. If we resent the suggestion that we need to change, it is usually not just because it is inconvenient, but because it interferes with our personal aspirations and the pursuit of our goals and desires.
When I left my last teacher in India, at the end of years of intensive training in meditation and yoga, his final request to me was to return home and to continue to meditate for the benefit of others. Over the years many people have come on retreat to learn meditation, and almost all of them come hoping that meditation will in some way enrich their lives. At the end of every retreat, I explain two basic principles that our welfare and progress in the future stands upon.
The first principle is that if you are going to continue to centre your life around the pursuit of your desires, you will need to be totally unwilling to harm others or yourself in the pursuit of those desires if you are to safeguard your well-being in the long term.
The second principle is that if we expect to be able to take out more than we put in, it is a certainty that over time the quality of life will degenerate, because however abundant our planet is, it is not infinite in its capacity to provide.
It may take more than a brief glance at these statements to grasp what they are truly saying. They are, in effect, nothing more than expressions of a living intelligence that is behind life itself. By adopting these principles we can align ourself with this intelligence and start to bring about the change that many feel is so badly needed.
The planet that we have lived upon has managed itself for billions of years, maintaining a balance whereby the life that it sustained did not draw out more than it put in. Life has been perfectly recycled at every level without any accumulation of toxic waste or any diminishing of the natural resources that support it. The oceans and rivers remained pure and teemed with life, the oxygen cycle and the nitrogen cycle were kept perfectly in balance, and nothing that died failed to decay without leaving any toxic residue from its presence here. And all of this without anyone managing it or interfering with it in any way.
As humanity we have, over the last few hundred years, continuously taken out more than we put in to the pool of resource that we rely upon. We have accumulated, as a result, vast quantities of toxic waste that will take thousands of years to degrade. In doing so, we have broken the balance and cycles of life that we actually depend upon. Our soils, oceans, forests and rivers have been depleted more in the past ten years than in the twenty before that, more in the last thirty than the hundred before that, more in the last hundred years, than in the whole of the history of our planet before that point.
The question is, can we reverse the trend? Rather than assume we can continue to take out whatever we want regardless of cost, can we start to explore how we might give something back so the planet has the space to breathe out once again? At an individual level, can we change our consumption patterns so that we are taking out only our fair share of what the planet can replenish? It’s a tough and inconvenient question to be asking. The answer right now is probably no. But this book is not an environmental and ecological call to action. I am simply asking these questions as a basis from which to start our investigation. Our investigation into how life reached this point and what would be the grounds for deep change to come about joyfully, rather than reluctantly within each of us individually.
We have gradually lost sight of that first basic principle of life; that if we expect or even hope to flourish in the future we should not expect to take out more than we put in. In our shift towards an ever more materialist view of life, we have come to value life in terms of the things we are able to acquire, rather than the quality of the experience we are having. As a result, we have experienced the suffering that is caused by failing to live in accordance with the intelligence behind our lives.
In the early morning I meditate. Early, when the world is still sleeping and at rest. And in the stillness, I tune in to the energy of everything that is going on around us endlessly. And there are two things that I feel remain when my mind has stopped. The first is the sublimely peaceful, harmonious, even blissful rhythm of life as an expression of the natural order. Life! Coming into being, growing and passing away as it has done for billions of years. There is the subtlest rhythm to it, and not the slightest feeling of tension or friction. Always and everywhere it rests effortlessly within itself. There is such a profound feeling of love behind it all, in-spite of the hardships and struggles that are sometimes involved in coming to life and passing away.
And then I feel the energy of man. The energy of the will of man and the mass of humanity upon this earth. And I feel the unbearable tension that humanity is living in, in its effort to hold sway over its domain and bend it to its will. I feel the impact of this upon the natural order and the creaking and straining that it produces.
As I sit with these two inexorable energies, I tune into the stillness from which all of it is arising and I know that there is never a hair out of place. The world and the universe always and everywhere expresses itself the only way it ever could. For billions of years this planet expressed itself perfectly. It was just a shame that no one was here to witness its extraordinarily beautiful display.
Well now we are here, and we can witness it. It is easy to come to the end of a life having toiled to uphold our personal world. Bemoaning the loss of it as it is stripped from us with our final breath, it would be easy to have been here without ever stopping to take stock of what we have been a part of. That would be the greatest tragedy imaginable.
There is little doubt that if we all departed in a puff of smoke right now, the planet would breathe a huge sigh of relief and within a hundred years or so it would be the majestic, sublimely imaginative and creative display that is always has been. It would be such a shame if once again no one was here to witness it in the way we as humans have a capacity to do. So the question really is not whether we survive, but the quality of life we are going to create in our efforts to survive. The purpose of this book is to investigate this question as honestly and realistically as we can, and in doing so, to seek solutions that will point a way to a wholly positive and life enriching future not just for us as humans, but for all beings who are sharing in the extraordinary experience of being alive.
This is Burgs’ first book and tells of his adventures as a yogi in search of the authentic teachings that he now shares. This new edition contains three new chapters and more additional material.
Beyond the Veil is a stirring and inspiring account of a young man’s quest for meaning in a changing world, mixing honesty and personal testimony with the pithy transmission of deep spiritual principles and mechanics of meditation. It is an exploration of our latent capacity as humans, and a voyage of discovery into what it is to be alive. Leaving behind the hedonistic culture of the early 90′s, you will travel across Asia and beyond, meeting with some of the worlds most accomplished meditation teachers, seeing into their lives, teachings and wisdom.
The book functions as both tale and manual for beginners and seasoned aspirant alike, hinting at mysterious esoteric teachings, making them tangible and accessible without diluting their message. Gripping, thought-provoking and at times challenging, this book is for everyone, young and old, whose hearts long for inspiration and adventure, and to re-connect to that which we have almost forgotten…what it is to be human.
To all you brave souls out there who are reading this I have just one message for you and that’s: “Go for it!” Get out there and make your life everything that it was meant to be. Don’t sit there waiting for your stars to line up, and definitely don’t keep putting it off for later. Don’t be one of those folk with a bucket list a mile long while you watch the seasons come and go. Just do it.
This is your life and you have waited a long time for it. There are dreams in your heart that are waiting to be lived. Stand up and breathe some life into them, and do it even though you do not know where they will lead you. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you set off on the way.
There is no map that can tell us what even the simplest of journeys may entail once we actually set out. It can merely hint at the way. Only the testimony of those who have walked the road can tell us what we might expect to encounter upon it, and even then we will not know how it is, until we walk the road ourselves.
For some journeys a map may well suffice, but there are others of an entirely different kind, for which the call of the heart is the only pointer to the way. And even though we will need some guidance and navigation we will still have to find the courage to walk terrain that we have yet to chart for ourselves.
Some journeys we are cast upon against our will, others we may or may not choose. But there is one journey that calls out to all of us, and that is the one that leads us out of the lowlands of confusion, doubt and fear to the high-plains of freedom, trust and love. And though it has called to each one of us since we first arrived here upon this earth, many of us may never set out upon the way.
Many people ask me: ‘What was it Burgs, that called out to you so strongly to make you give up all that you had in search of something which you had no idea that you would find?’ In truth, I have asked myself that same question many times. In the end I stopped asking and came to accept that it doesn’t really matter what it is that calls to us, what matters is that we answer the call. The only thing I do know is that I had faith that if the way had been walked by others, in time it could be walked by me.
So here is my story. It is for those of you who honestly wish for more time, whose hearts long to walk the road home. Consider this; to gaze upon a landscape unspoiled by man, to see the light change and the mist rise at daybreak and feel the world wake from its sleep. To glimpse such a thing for an instant is enough to justify the nine months of becoming in the womb.
Oh, that you had any idea how rare and precious is this world and your human existence. Then you might savour each timeless moment as it is and not seek to consume yourselves with anything more than this. When a moment such as this is all the intoxication you will ever need, then you are ready for the knowledge that such a moment contains. In the gap, the silence, the space from which such beauty arises, is the truth your hearts yearn for. It is for you, who can taste in the wind what I speak of, that I write this book, in the hope that it may open your heart to the way.
The Flavour of Liberation is the first two volumes of an inspirational guide on how to meditate. Unlike most works on this subject, it concentrates upon the experiential flavour of meditation. It is a comprehensive collection of discourses on all aspects of healing and concentration practice, which explains and clarifies key elements of the path in a simple and lucid manner, whilst inspiring the reader to keep developing their meditative potential.
Burgs draws on his wisdom gained from his time in Asia, learning with his teachers in Bali, Burma and India. Since then, over the ten years he has taught meditation in the UK, he has developed his own unique teaching system that brings together both the systematic approach to meditation as well as the more profound transmission of the direct approach, both of which are the cornerstone in Buddhist traditions. He takes us on a journey of penetrating insight. Beginning with an incisive investigation of the human experience, the book progresses through meditation as a tool for healing and the refinement of character, finishing with clarifying instructions on how to start developing the deep states of samadhi (including jhana) that are the culmination of meditative stability. This unique work is an essential guide for those interested in meditation, and is a must read for those wanting to learn more about how beneficial meditation can be to one’s daily life.
Important Note i
Editor’s Note ii
PART I: The Basis for Meditation and the Energetics of Our Life Experience
1. The Dhamma is the Flavour of Liberation
2. The Ground of Extraordinary Results
3. Concentration – The First Pillar of the Harmonious Mind
4. Coherent and Incoherent Energy
5. Introduction to Breathing Meditation
6. Circular Breathing Meditation to Calm and Settle the Heart and Mind
7. Mindfulness – The Second Pillar of the Harmonious Mind
8. Developing Four Elements on the Breath to Establish Mindfulness
9. Wisdom Leads to Equanimity – The Third and Fourth Pillars of the Harmonious Mind
10. The Energetics of How Our Life Experience Functions
11. Reviewing the Five Hindrances to see Where Your Meditation Falls Down
12. The Three Roots of the Mind and the Flow of Energy Through the Body
13. What’s Happening to Us as Humans?
14. Using Awareness to Meditate on the Breath
15. Summing Up Ānāpāna
16. Endless Blue Sky
17. Rest Effortlessly Within Yourself, like a Mountain, Lake and Sky
PART II: The Functions of Concentration and Insight in the Healing Process
18. Introduction to the Four Elements
19. Four Elements as a Samatha Practice
20. Four Elements to Refine the Quality of Mind
21. What Makes up the Human Body
22. The Subtle Body Part One: Developing our Meditation to Separate out the Gross and Subtle Body
23. The Subtle Body Part Two: The Kammic Bases of the Body
24. The Causes of Sickness in Our Body
25. Clearing the Solar Plexus
26. How the Mind Affects the Body
27. How the Mind Functions and the Importance of Being with the Feeling
28. Making the Bases Stable
29. The Conscious and Unconscious Mind and the Fruiting of Kamma
30. The Correct Attitude towards the Purification of Kamma
31. The Functions of Bhavanga and Rebirth-Linking Consciousness
32. Separating Past Cause from Future Effect while Meditating on the Body
33. A Key Point On Kamma – Being with How it Feels is the Deepest Healing
PART III: The Refinement of Character as a Basis for Progress Upon the Path
34. The Rite of Passage
35. The Whole Path Out of Suffering Starts and Ends with Virtue
36. Pāramīs, Gratitude and Being of Few Needs
37. We Mark Our Progress by the Refinement of Our Character, Not By What We Think We Know
38. This Precious Human Life
39. When Will I Be Happy?
PART IV: Samādhi: The Field of Yogic Endeavour
Introduction to Jhāna Practice
40. Reflections on Beginning Advanced Meditation Practices
41. Sīla, Samādhi and Paññā (and the need for Samādhi)
42. Conditions for Jhāna
43. Ānāpāna to Absorption
44. Some Brief Comments on the Ānāpāna Sutta
45. A Few Words on Nimitta – The Sign of Concentration
46. The Jhāna Factors and How to Apply Them
47. Meditation on the Body Parts
48. The Value of Meditating on the Body
49. White Kasiṇa from the Skeleton
50. Fire Kasiṇa and the Ground of Samādhi
51. Earth Kasiṇa
52. Reflections on the Four Fine Material Jhānas
53. Internal Alchemy and the Energetic Factors of Samādhi
54. Loving Kindness (Metta)
55. Reflections on Loving Kindness
56. The Immaterial Jhānas
57. Reflections on Samatha
58. Summing Up
59. The Flavour of Liberation
Epilogue: The Deep Sense of Stillness
Afterward: Where Does the Dhamma Really Point?
The Dhamma is both a road map and a vessel. It points to the way out of the darkness of confusion and suffering, and into the light of freedom and peace, and it carries us upon that journey. And it is of one taste. That taste is Liberation.
It is true that we all have within us the potential for Buddhahood, for full awakening. We call this the Buddha-Nature. So the path and its fruit are not something we have to create or turn ourselves into, but rather reveal within ourselves as we peel back the layers of ignorance that blind us to our true nature. But it is not enough simply to be told this, or to subscribe to such a view. That is dangerous indeed. For until we walk the path out of confusion and darkness into freedom and light, we have not yet expressed the living essence of that Buddha-Nature within us, nor have we freed ourselves of the suffering that not knowing it causes.
The Buddha realised this path to the deathless state beyond suffering over two and half thousand years ago. The day of his enlightenment, the day that he came to stand on the far shore of Nibbāna, having reached the causal cessation of suffering, was a milestone in the history of our world cycle. It is not the case that no one before him had freed themselves from suffering. They had. But they hadn’t necessarily understood the path that had carried them there, they merely found a way to let go. That is why the day the Buddha first taught this path to others shortly after his awakening, was perhaps equally as significant a moment in our history as the day of his enlightenment. For it marked the point at which, that which had been known by him, had been shared with others who equally had realised its fruit and tasted the sweetness of the deliverance out of suffering it pointed to.
Since that day the wheel of Dhamma has continued to turn. Those who have walked the path have shared its essence and flavour with others so that they too might come to taste its sweet fruit.
Our libraries are filled with works which testify to the Eightfold Noble Path. There are no end of reference books and translations available to us all. The teachings of the Buddha have been well translated and we are all best served by reading his own words before we have recourse to the commentaries of those who have followed in his footsteps. The systematic path of meditation has been so exquisitely expounded by the great Buddhagosa in his magnum opus; the Visuddhimagga. Most of what has followed has been a commentary on various aspects of this great work and none of them as complete as the original. This and Longchen Rabjam’s “The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding” are all the texts you will ever need to grasp the essence of both the systematic and the direct path of awakening.
But beyond our studies we must actually walk the path, or perhaps build the vessel and then row it across the river of ignorance that separates us from the cool shore of liberation. In the same way that knowing what ingredients have gone into the making of a cake, in no way gives the experience of its taste, so until we have actually crossed the river, we will only be able to glimpse the opposite shore from afar, leaving us with nothing but ideas of what it might be to cross over.
But once we have crossed the river, we no longer have need of the boat that got us there. It would be foolish and burdensome to carry that same boat around with us all the time, when it has served the purpose for which it was built. And so even the Dhamma that has carried us along the path out of suffering is to be let go, so that not even that remains as a burden to be shouldered. Perhaps that is why I offer this text up now. So that I might let go any holding on to what it contains.
The Dhamma I share with you in these pages is not all the Dhamma that there is, it is merely that Dhamma that carried me across the river. Each of us has our own character and make up, but in general we can see that as humans we will tend to be either view rooted or experience rooted. How do we first start to see which of these two we might be? Ask yourself whether you define life more in terms of your experience or your ideas and views. I myself am experience rooted and so incline naturally more towards a definitive experience than a definitive view. As such I have sought in this book to create a textured account of how we might experience the Path of Dhamma as it unfolds within us, rather than a systematic exposition of the view that underpins it. Those of you who seek a more scholastic exposition are referred to the many great works of those more qualified than me. It is likely that those of you who are similarly experience rooted will resonate more with this text than those who are view rooted. But I similarly hope the material is presented in a way that is accessible and helpful to all who seriously practise meditation.
I do not claim to be a great master, nor am I a scholar. But I share these pages with you so that I can put down the boat that has carried me and be free of its load, knowing that I have done what I might do, to share the flavour of the journey and the taste of its sweet fruit with those who might be inclined to take time to read it. Please do not look to me for an example like so many of the great teachers of the path have offered. There are many teachers and aspirants out there who are a more worthy example than me. The depth of my knowledge of meditation is not the result of this lifetime’s labour, but a pāramī from lifetimes of effort put forth in the past. I, like so many others, have fallen into much complacency since the lifetimes I have spent mastering these practices. Out of complacency and intoxication with the bliss of samādhi, and the life of ease it brought me, I turned away from the path in the past, without having reached its end. Doing so led to many lifetimes of suffering on account of such pride before I was humbled enough to realise the true essence of the Dhamma. I am fully aware that I do not express the qualities of those diligent servants of the Dhamma who live it with each breath they take. But I do believe there is a lesson in my own journey that I wish to share with all of you before you begin to read what follows.
I practised this Dhamma many lifetimes ago and having reached dazzling heights of samādhi, I left my teachers, believing myself to be free. Thereafter I fell gradually into more and more suffering. I spent many lives without re-encountering the Dhamma before some good fortune fruited for me with the meeting of my first teacher in this life. Concentration and insight matured swiftly in me on account of past pāramīs, but as I reached the point of my previous attainment I was tempted again to believe I had reached the goal. I had to dig very deep to get beyond this point and there was every chance I would not succeed. For every noble person who completes the path there are countless others who out of vanity, believing that they had freed themselves, fall into complacency and thereafter unbearable suffering. Most of you who read this will be experiencing a life of such extraordinary good fortune that you may have little sense of urgency. You will probably get to a point where your meditation serves you well and head off in pursuit of your desires. Hopefully, with a more selfless approach to them.
It is true that many of us do have the rarest of opportunities to delight in our worldly good fortunes, and there is a good argument that says having waited so long for a life such as this, why then should we not take full advantage of this opportunity. To this I would say, look around you at this world as it is today. I see everywhere folk taking full advantage of their material good fortune, but very little happiness and even less contentment. Perhaps seeing the plight of so many extraordinarily fortunate beings, let alone those less fortunate, is the prompt that it will take to point us in another direction. For all the good fortune and comfort we may currently be enjoying, it is also the rarest of opportunities to progress on the path to freedom from suffering. We all have a choice as we always do. Either to enjoy now what we are fortunate enough to have or invest now, while we can, in our future well-being. I know if the Buddha was here now he would be imploring us towards the latter. It may well be that the aspiration to seek freedom from suffering has not yet fully arisen in you. Sadly it most often arises only when we are experiencing states of despair, but I do ask you to reflect on how fortunate this life you now have is and consider the rarest of opportunities that it presents. Perhaps then put at least some time and invest some of your good fortune in your future welfare.
Many of you reading this are blessed with such rare good fortune. Consider perhaps how rare it is, these things that we take for granted:
1. To be born human at all.
2. To be fortunate among humans.
3. To be of sound body and mind, not afflicted by sickness both physical and mental.
4. To be born in a time and place relatively stable and free from strife.
5. To be provided with food and shelter with relative ease so that the life is not just an endless struggle to survive.
6. To be born in a time when the Dhamma is available to us and the path well expounded.
These are the things that we often take for granted, and yet it is so rare to find such circumstances as these. They are the result of a vast accumulation of merit in the past. In truth if we look both at our world now and throughout history, we will see that only a handful of beings are ever as fortunate as us.
I find myself in a difficult position as a lay teacher. Whilst I want as many people as possible to realise the tremendous worldly benefits that meditation can bring, I do not want to create the false impression that meditation is an end in itself. It is without doubt right at the heart of the spiritual path out of suffering, but to see it in isolation is to miss the point. Virtue is the true heart of any path, and the only true way out of suffering. To turn to meditation without first making a commitment to virtue, is, as I have said many times, merely an act of vanity.
Most of those who come to me for instruction in meditation are initially seeking steerage and guidance on how to live their lives better and more fruitfully. They may turn to meditation as a tool by which to rediscover a balance within their lives, and of course this is quite understandable. To this end the first three parts of this book will, I hope, be of use to you. But beyond it, it is hoped that some of you will already be pursuing the path of Dhamma, or perhaps, on account of being inspired, may be just starting out upon the path. To this end I hope the second half of this volume and the third volume which covers the development of insight, will be a useful resource. If you do however read this book to the end, I wholeheartedly ask that you read also the volume on insight, lest you fall into the false view that I once did, that such states of samādhi are in themselves sufficient to free us from suffering.
I am not here to convince those who cling to views, of the importance of following this path. If you hold the view that all existence comes to cessation at death and that we are therefore not bound by our conduct, then the Dhamma will hold little appeal to you. It may well be that until we have experienced real suffering and truly grown tired of it, we will not ever commit ourselves to search for its cessation. But I am an optimist. I truly believe that now, while we are already so fortunate, is the very best time to turn our hearts to a more selfless attitude to life. I am certainly convinced that securing safe passage now while we are not afflicted by intense suffering will be infinitely less painful than waiting until we are.
There will be many times upon the path that we may think that we have done what needs to be done. However convinced you might be, I implore you to keep going. Even if your teacher might be inclined to think you have succeeded, know that the ego has no end of resourcefulness when protecting itself from its eventual demise that is the fruition of the path out of suffering. Be ardently committed to not hiding from the truth that the Dhamma points to, for if you do, you will be inspired but not freed by it.
But above all if you take just one nugget from all of these pages it should be this: The whole path starts and finishes with virtue. Long after you have realised the true nature of your being you will still be enslaved by habit patterns of behaviour that constitute your character. Please whatever else you do, never tire in your efforts to overcome them. They are stubborn and hard to surmount. It may be a long time before Path Knowledge cuts off your bondage to them, and even then they may still remain as habits. I implore you to put your commitment to virtue and the right effort to refine your character at the top of your list of priorities in this life, even above all of your worldly or spiritual aspirations. If you are inspired by the accounts you may read of the sublime states of bliss and peace that can be attained through meditation, know that none of them will ever be as pleasing as living a life that is free from regret and remorse. And that comes only from our commitment to virtue and harmlessness.
These pages explain how you might meditate, and they elucidate to you the steps you will need to take to succeed, but know without doubt that meditation is only one part of the path. A path that begins and ends with virtue.
The Buddha’s Eightfold Noble Path is a path of eight branches, all of which need to be fulfilled to ensure a safe passage out of suffering. The eight branches of the noble path are:
These eight branches themselves constitute the three aspects of the path, namely the development of:
Virtue (pali: Sīla), which is right speech, right action and right livelihood
Meditative stability, (pali: Samādhi), which is right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration
Insight, or right understanding,(pali: Paññā), which is right thought and right view.
It should be absolutely clear that the development of preliminary virtue (namely the commitment to right speech, right action and right livelihood), is a pre-requisite for everyone who aspires to develop any distinction in meditation at all, for a mind that is not restrained in conduct will never become settled enough to deeply concentrate. Let it be equally clear that until we develop the capacity to concentrate deeply, we will not be able to develop the insight that can see clearly beyond the illusory appearance of things to what actually constitutes this life. So it is our virtue that will become the basis for our concentration, which is the basis for our capacity to ‘see into’ (insight). And it is the seeing into the truth of things that performs the function of cutting off all the causes of suffering (namely ignorance, greed and aversion). So virtue is the beginning, middle and end of the path.
Ultimately the true testimony of our progress is the gradual refinement of our character and the removal, in stages, of all our capacity to be a burden and harm to ourselves and others. This will take even more commitment than your efforts to develop such deep states of samādhi as the second volume points at. Indeed there are many teachers who urge their students not to develop deep concentration because of the danger of becoming intoxicated with the profoundly peaceful states it brings. I am aware of this risk, but equally I know that both the depth and texture of our life, while still bound by conditions is vastly enriched by our capacity to enter completely into it through concentration and mindfulness. In the same way, our experience of awakening is similarly enriched when we come to it.
There is a fairly recent school of thought that even suggests we should not develop our concentration because it leads to complacency, and that mindfulness alone is the real key to insight. I personally have issue with this view on a number of accounts. Our capacity to pay attention deeply enough to fathom the true nature of what we behold, depends considerably upon our capacity to concentrate. In all the time I have been teaching, I see many people developing mindfulness quite easily but few who truly learn to concentrate. The Buddha referred to Jhāna concentration as right concentration, but he also called it, purification of mind. Most of the work of purification happens during the process of developing Jhāna, so that thereafter insight might develop swiftly and painlessly. One can sit and meditate all of one’s life without developing a deep capacity for concentration, if right effort is not put forth. The right effort that is part of the Eightfold Noble Path is the effort to restrain the mind sufficiently to become properly concentrated. It is by far the hardest mental faculty to cultivate.
While eventually our concentration will become an effortless process, it takes tremendous effort and restraint, patience and determination to become truly concentrated. This work IS in effect the refinement of character that makes us ripe for awakening. Some of the states of concentration explained in this book may at first sound baffling, but rest assured that if you practice systematically by the time you reach that point they will become commonplace and familiar. If one who was just starting to learn to play a musical instrument were to look at the musical score for a Mozart concerto, it may well make little sense. But to one who is accomplished, just a brief glance opens up a whole world of sound to him. In such a way this book will appeal to each of you at different levels, depending upon what stage in your journey you are on, and it may continue to be of value throughout your life as you gradually progress along the path. If you find yourself reaching a point beyond which you cannot currently go, then work with that which is within reach and come back to it in a timely way. I hope that all of you find something of value and interest.
Sadly it often takes many lifetimes of suffering before we are tired enough of our intoxication with ourselves to become utterly convinced that the Buddha was truly seeking our welfare when he asked us to give up what we cling to. I certainly cannot express this to you as convincingly as he did. Few of us begin the journey with utmost virtue as our support, but that the path can be walked by ordinary folk who are willing to change is perhaps the greatest testimony to its universal efficacy. So please, let none of you be overwhelmed by the journey that is laid out in these two volumes. Remember that every intrepid adventurer who sought to conquer the world’s great peaks started his journey in the foothills.
The path out of suffering is a very personal one, even though it takes us to a definitive experience that is beyond all sense of self. In a way, it is a paradox. So each of you will have to work out your own way out of suffering. No one can do it for you. But there are certain milestones along the way that need to be crossed, and there are many cul-de-sacs in which we can become lost for a long time. All I hope, is that the guidance contained in these pages will help you to recognise these milestones and cul-de-sacs as and when you come across them.
The Buddha talked of Pāramīs; those strengths of character that if developed in us, would make for swifter and less painful progress. I will talk more on this subject later, but of all the pāramīs, perhaps the pāramī of truthfulness is the most important. And the most important aspect of this truthfulness is self-honesty. It takes tremendous self-honesty to walk the path out of suffering, and it is utterly pointless to try to convince ourselves that we have covered more ground than we have. It is nothing but an act of vanity to believe we are free when we are not. So please, if there is one thing I would wish to say it is this: keep your own counsel and keep honest pace with your heart. To be free from suffering is not to try to convince ourselves or others that we are free, but to know that we are free. If there is any doubt in your mind about your liberation from suffering – keep going. And even when you are sure – keep going. Once you have come to know Nibbāna itself, it will become your teacher. Continue to learn from it, it will still have so much to teach.
The more time we spend on the shore of liberation, the more the memory of suffering fades. One who cannot remember what it is to suffer will not be well placed to explain the way out of it. Perhaps that is why there are so many more texts written by those upon the path than those who have walked it to its end. It may also explain why the writing of those still walking are often more easy to fathom than the writings of those who have found peace. While it is an inspiration perhaps to read explanations of what it might taste like to partake of the sweet fruit of enlightenment, we most likely will still need a road map to get us there.
My only hope is that this book might at least inspire some of you enough to prompt you to complete whatever vessel you are building and make it truly seaworthy. Thereafter may you fearlessly set sail and head straight to the other side.
Keep going, all the way. Have faith that this path, which has been walked by countless beings throughout the ages, can be walked by you if you have good heart and courage. Remember there is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future. Have faith that that which needs to be done can be done by you. Heart and courage are more important than all the knowledge you will glean from your studies. That heart and that courage come from time spent at sea. So set sail fearlessly and don’t look back until it is with compassion, love and total acceptance that everything is always and everywhere perfect.
This book integrates the direct and systematic paths to awakening demonstrating the inclusive quality of Burgs approach to teaching meditation. It continues where Volumes I and II leave off and is a detailed account of the practice of Insight Meditation and the Practice of Vipassana. It then goes beyond, to look at the fruits of the practice and the awakened experience, where the awakened mind comes to experience the true nature of reality.
What is truly unique about this series of books is that they do not merely handle the material in a formulaic manner, but rather communicate the profound taste of what the experience of deep meditative attainment might be. You really get a sense of the deep journey of the yogi as Burgs captures the real liberation that lies at the heart of the Dhamma.
Introduction: Various Experiences of Awakening
PART V: Preparatory Work for the Practice of Vipassanā
1. Mahāyāna and Theravāda Approaches to the Purification of Mind
2. At the Crossroads: Where Serenity Meets Insight
3. Meditate Intelligently, Don’t Lose the Wood for the Trees
4. On Rūpa (Materiality)
5. On Nāma (Mentality)
6. Reviewing Mentality, Part 1
7. Reviewing Mentality, Part 2
8. Don’t Get Lost Down the Rabbit Hole… Some Notes on the Nāma Session
9. Questions and Answers on Five Aggregates Practice, Sense of Self and the Cognitive Process
10. Reviewing Wholesome and Unwholesome Mind-Processes
11. Meditating in the Body Skilfully; Seeing that Mind-Door and Body-Door Processes Are Separate
12. What’s Happening When It’s Not Working
13. The Basic Ground of Our Being
14. On Dependent Origination, and the Transition from Adolesence to Adulthood
PART VI: The Practice of Vipassanā for the Realisation of Nibbāna
15. The Basis of Vipassanā
16. Abiding in Awareness as the Basis for Vipassanā
17. Outlining the Initial Stages of Vipassanā Practice
18. From Vipassanā to the Experience of Suffering in Self and Self in Suffering
19. On Becoming Stable in Vipassanā
20. What is and What is Not the Path
21. The Transition from Personality to Soul
22. The Jungle of saṁsāra and the Riverbank
23. Summounting Nibbidā and Sankar’upekkhā ñāṇa
24. Dissolution and Cessation – How to See Nibbāna
25. The Three Doors to Nibbāna
26. Discussion on Nibbāna and Jhāna
27. Questions and Answers on the Fruition Attainment
28. Cutting to the Point
29. The Vajra Mind-Slayer: There’s no Resolution in the Mind
PART VII: The Wider Scope
30. Sutta, Abhidhamma and the Supramundane Paths
31. Transforming Our Greatest Fear into Boundless Love
32. Anatta and the Causal Cessation of the Five Aggregates of Clinging
33. Dharmakaya, Parinibbāna, Nibbāna and Saṁsāra
34. A Final Pith
35. A Complete Meditation on the Awakened Experience: Dependent Origination as the Creative Principle
36. The Pride of the Sage and the Wisdom of the Fool
Epilogues – Discussions Around the Fire
I want to begin my series of discourses on the practical application of Dhamma by giving some insight into the actual experience of the differing and varied states of awakening that arise within us as we progress upon the path, and some insight into some of the more rarefied states of consciousness that we, in time, come to experience.
When we first begin in meditation, perhaps the first significant realisation we come to is that of mindfulness, when we first start to pay attention to what it is that we are doing. Quite often we can live our lives in a way that is so ignorant of ourselves and our actions, paying no attention to the way in which we think, behave, act etc.
The Buddha, in his discourse the Mahāsatipaṭṭāna Sutta, encouraged us to be mindful in four ways – to be mindful of the body; of feelings; of mental states, volitional formations; and of dhammas themselves (that is mindfulness of the five hindrances, the five aggregates, the six sense bases and their objects, the seven enlightenment factors and the four noble truths). This is a very common and popular way of introducing people to the practice of meditation, through trying to gather our awareness up to come out of the ignorance of our actions or our lack of awareness of them and to pay attention. The classic way of teaching is to notice each moment, the way in which we are walking, sitting or eating, to notice the way in which we are thinking or to pay attention to our breathing. This we call mindfulness.
In the initial stages it can be quite a gross, almost contrived state, for it is very much using the lower mind – the active, discursive, thought process, gathering it up to continuously reflect upon, and pay attention to, the experiences that we encounter. But nevertheless it serves the purpose of discouraging the mind from a loss of awareness through wandering off into the past or into the future or into the incessant process of inner-world thinking and subjectivity. This I tend to call ordinary investigative mindfulness, which is a function of the lower mind.
Then there is the first experience of awakening itself, where we come to a direct or spontaneous experience of total presence and we realise that when we actually turn up completely, with full awareness in the moment, we awaken to the fact that there is no truth but the truth of what is actually going on within us and around us right now within our field of perception. That everything else is an abstraction of the mind.
How much time do we spend in a day, lost in a process of inner world thoughts, projecting back into the past or into the future, pulled out of awareness of the present now by our attachments and concerns regarding what has already come to pass and what has not, or what might come to pass in the future? This experience of spontaneous presence, for some is considered to be an enlightened state and at some levels it is enlightening, for it is a waking up, out of the dullness, the lack of awareness of the mind, into the clear, bright and lucid state of spontaneous presence.
And beyond this there is the realisation, or awakening to, what we might call the inherent nature of the mind. Some call this Rigpa, or the Buddha-Nature or even God-consciousness or the awakened mind itself. I tend to call this the clear mind state or the clear light of mind or even just awareness as ‘such’. In truth, all thinking is an elaboration of the mind, which is rooted in ignorance or the not knowing of this true nature of mind. When you think, you lose awareness. You cannot be spontaneously aware and engaged in the thought process at the same time. They are two different experiences, two different functions of consciousness.
For most people, the experience of being alive is a very cerebral experience. It is almost entirely a mental experience. Very little of it is a directly felt and embodied experience when we constantly and continuously avert to this process of thinking. It is very tiresome. Thinking is a substitute for the real experience of direct perception.
This experience of the basic clarity of awareness itself reveals to us a truth, an insight, a realisation that the true nature of the mind is inherently empty. Awareness itself doesn’t actually contain an object of clinging. It doesn’t inherently involve any thought process, reflection or abstraction. It is not, in the final analysis, even a subjective experience. So this awakening to the clear mind state, the inherently empty nature of mind, for some becomes their experience of awakening.
Then we might come through the development of samādhi (concentration) into other rarefied, subtler states of bliss, deep peace and serenity through the stilling of the mind. These first two experiences: of spontaneous presence and awareness of the inherently empty clear nature of awareness itself; these are aspects of mindfulness. They can be experienced without the arising of deep, powerful, penetrating, one-pointed concentration or samādhi. So we might put them into the insight category of meditation.
But the development of samādhi, or one-pointedness, is another thread in the discipline and experience of mental development and cultivation through meditation. Samādhi is the unification of the mind, unification of the mind that knows the object and the object itself. When we begin meditation, one of the efforts that we must put forth is to overcome restlessness, which hankers after variety, and train the mind to still itself on a single object to the exclusion of all else.
In the modern and popular practice of dry vipassanā, we use what we call focussed concentration to review the apparent impermanence of objects in our attempts to break our attachment to them. This focussed concentration may take an object such as the breath, or feelings and sensations in the body, and concentrate upon them to the exclusion of other objects.
As we deepen our concentration and overcome our restlessness, this one-pointedness leads to a calming, a tranquillising of the mind and the arising of serenity and a sense of peace. For some, the pursuit of an ever-deepening sense of peace and serenity is the purpose or goal of their meditation – seeking this samādhi.
As our concentration deepens, as I have explained in earlier discourses, certain states arise in the mind as a sign of concentration. First the nimitta, or mind-produced sign of the original object, arises, maybe a light, or a subtle, perfected mind-produced sign of the original object taken. This we call a nimitta. Lights start to be produced by the mind through the concentration of mental states and the subtle materiality that consciousness produces.
These become unified, as perception of colour produced by a variety of mental states and consciousnesses unifies itself into a clear, white light. With the consistent arising of the wholesome states of mindfulness, concentration and wisdom, that light becomes unified, becomes white and stable and various forms of sign or nimitta are produced along the way of development of various meditations, as I have explained previously (see volume two).
Each meditation has a different nimitta. The ānāpāna nimitta is not the same as the kasiṇa nimittas, which are not the same as the nimitta that arises when we practise body parts meditation, which is not the same as the nimitta that arises when we practise four elements, and so on.
Another thing that will arise is the continuous presence of certain mental states themselves as we approach samādhi. These are the jhāna factors – initial and sustained application; a sense of rapture or elation, a lightening and uplifting of the mind, a physical sense of rapture and bliss; a sense of joy or overwhelming happiness as we start to experience a true ease within the mind; and ekagattā, one-pointedness itself, as the mind stops all wavering and hones in totally upon its object. These are the signs that we are approaching absorption.
And so, in time, we might enter into absorption itself. This experience, as I have said, is often referred to as the change-of-lineage consciousness, This, in a way, is an awakening – for some a realised state. For, with the unification of the mind with its object, all sense of subjectivity, of ‘me’, is gone. For the mind, in that moment of absorption, of unification, cuts off the arising of the bhavaṅga mind states, and so with it the subjective sense of me that is meditating, is gone. There is simply a unification of the knower, the knowing and the known in this state of samādhi or jhāna.
This initial jhāna that we might experience will usually take a mind-produced object as the object of concentration, a nimitta that has arisen from a learning sign or learning object such as earth kasiṇa, water kasiṇa, fire kasiṇa, air kasiṇa, or ānāpāna and its sign. This we call mind-produced samādhi or samādhi which takes a mind-produced object. We call this jhāna.
Then there is another state of absorption, the one which takes the clear mind state itself, the recognition of the inherently empty nature of mind as the object of samādhi and enters into jhāna there. I’ll come back to this with regards to perception of suññata or voidness.
But first I want to begin to talk about those awakenings or realisations that come through the development of insight. These jhānic states of absorption are awakenings or realisations or rarefied states that come through the development of serenity in our samatha practice. Once we have investigated the nature of conditioned states of body and mind, and come to know what constitutes the five aggregates of clinging, we begin to review them to reveal their true nature, and this is the practice of vipassanā, insight meditation.
With regards to vipassanā, the first awakening or realisation we come to is the absolute certainty that everything that we have ever perceived is impermanent. It is constantly changing. It is unreliable. This is how we realise that it is our attachment that is the fundamental cause for the experience of suffering. For these objects that we cling to and are attached to, are impermanent. So it is inevitable that we will suffer their loss with their passing away and if clung to, this loss will be a cause of affliction and suffering. This is the first realisation that comes to us through the practice of vipassanā.
As we continue to investigate impermanence with the eye of wisdom, having broken down perception of compactness, seen all material states as nothing but the arising and passing of four elements, seen the aggregates of feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness as nothing but arising and passing momentarily, insight starts to arise in us. This bhāvanāmayapaññā, this wisdom that is born of experience in meditation, is not merely a reflection on the nature of impermanence, but the direct perception of it.
Eventually we come to a state of realisation of the experience of udayabbaya ñāṇa, a totally incessant, never-ending arising and passing of all conditioned phenomena and then bhaṅga, a total dissolution, an incessant dissolving. These are powerful experiences in the process of vipassanā – the experience of udayabbaya, the arising and passing, and bhaṅga, bhaṅga ñāṇa, dissolution, has a powerful effect of cutting off clinging and attachment.
These are the realisations that come from the reflections on anicca (impermanence). From this is often born quite an oppressive, overwhelming awakening or realisation, what we might call nibbidā, meaning abhorrence. We become so oppressed at the abhorrent experience of this incessant dissolution of all those things that we have previously sort refuge in, that we realise that there is no satisfaction to be gained by clinging to conditioned objects.
This is an awakening in itself, however oppressive it might be, that spurs us on to the further practice of vipassanā that prompts us to either cut off our practice – “It’s too much. It’s overwhelming me,” or prompts us to push on through to a deeper acceptance of the truth of anicca.
This is a crucial time on the path of meditation when we need to take refuge in a skilled teacher who can encourage us to continue and not turn back in the face of this nibbidā, so that we might continue to the first truly satisfying experience on the path of vipassanā where we experience a state of saṅkhār’upekkhāñāṇa – a deep state of acceptance and equanimity towards formations, having come to know that they are inherently void of a sense of self. There is no self inherent within formations, they aren’t inherently there. They are impermanent. They are conditionally arising, instantly, momentarily passing away. As we understand the law of Dependent Origination, as we start to experience directly the casual chain for the coming into being of things, as I have previously explained, there comes upon us in time, as we see the dissolution and fading away of all formations, a deep release that comes from a total acceptance of this truth, a state of saṅkhār’upekkhāñāṇa, equanimity to saṅkhārā (conditioned formations).
This is a release of the heart through the practice of vipassanā. Though Nibbāna, the unconditioned state, has not yet been realised, that clinging (or a large part of it) starts to be cut off. We reach a point where we know that relinquishing our attachment to things is the only route to the cessation of suffering. The affliction that clinging causes is largely cut off through this deep state of upekkhā. So this is then an awakening for some, even within the experience of the conditioned mind, prior to the full awakening, or realisation of Nibbāna.
And then there is the experience of emptiness itself. It comes about in a number of ways through the formulation, embodiment and experience of different threads of awakening, through this complete experience of meditation in its various forms.
The first experience or insight into the nature of emptiness comes when we awaken to the true nature of mind, the clear mind state, when we realise that mind itself is inherently empty; it doesn’t inherently contain all these thoughts, these impressions, this mass of feelings, perceptions, volitional formations.
We also come through the practice of vipassanā and the reviewing of the lower mind, through the seeing of impermanence, the constantly arising and passing of things, to a sense of anatta. There is no inherent self there. This being that I have always perceived myself to be – it is not inherently there. It is dependently arising. Inherently it is empty. Inherently, it is not present. So we might come to an experience of emptiness in this way.
And then there is the experience of emptiness that comes through the deep state of samādhi as we work up through the jhānas – first, second, third, fourth jhāna. In the fourth jhāna the mind is unified with its object. The true jhāna factors of equanimity and one-pointedness alone are present. The bliss and rapture, the elated state of joy, is tranquillised to become a deeply peaceful state of serenity and equanimity. But the mind at this stage is still taking a subtle material object as its object of concentration.
In my discussion of the earth kasiṇa (please see volume two) I explained to you how the sign is extended in all directions infinitely. In my discussion of the arūpa jhānas, the formless or immaterial jhānas, I discussed how we systematically remove the material aspect of the sign to enter into perception of infinite space, then infinite consciousness and finally the seventh jhāna, the experience of nothingness itself. This we might call emptiness, the mind-produced experience of the absence of conditioned formations. This is not Nibbāna itself. This is not the causal cessation of mind and matter. It is just a samādhi that takes perception of emptiness as its object.
So there are these ways in which we come to experience emptiness or voidness. As we develop the thread of samādhi, and the thread of vipassanā that refines the lower mind, and as we get the first glimpses into the true nature of the awakened mind with the clear mind state or the experience of Rigpa, we bring these threads together to get a deepening sense of emptiness that we can enter into as a state of samādhi, either with the wisdom faculty present through the development of insight, or the experience of the clear mind state, or without the wisdom faculty present in the state of seventh jhāna itself. So these are the states of meditation that lead to deep states of absorption and serenity and the states of insight, the realisations and awakenings upon the path of vipassanā.
When we are practising vipassanā itself, once we have broken down perception of compactness in all formations we begin to see their momentarily arising and passing away. We see their dissolution. We can take this anicca, this dissolution of formations as the object of samādhi and just glue the mind deeply into perception of impermanence itself and in this way we might experience what we might call a vipassanā jhāna.
This vipassanā jhāna (though not a true state of absorption because the object is too gross to be a full absorption) nevertheless has the jhāna factors present. It’s an upacāra samādhi, approaching jhāna, when we are deeply locked into perception of impermanence. All that we perceive is the incessant arising and passing of formations momentarily and the jhāna factors of initial and sustained application, bliss, joy and one-pointedness are present.
It is this vipassanā jhāna that opens the way beyond nibbidā, the abhorrence and oppressive experience of impermanence, into one of equanimity towards formations as that state of joy and bliss starts to arise in the mind with the experience of impermanence. This is very key. This is why we must develop such a strong state of samādhi. For without the arising of bliss and joy (pīti and sukha) in the mind as we pay attention to impermanent objects, to their impermanence, the mind will not be gladdened by this experience. It is only the gladdening of the mind that causes the cutting off of clinging.
If there is dukkha in the mind, suffering present in the mind, then there will be some subtle aversion still present. This is an unwholesome mental state. The unwholesome mind-door is still open. It is a misconception to believe that the door to Nibbāna opens because we are oppressed by suffering. That is not the case. The Buddha spent many years practising extreme states of suffering and realised that the experience of suffering as suffering and the aversion to it did not open the door to awakening. Only when he came back to the bliss of his samādhi and the mind began to delight in its states of meditation did the wholesome mind-door stay open.
The door to deliverance, to the realisation of Nibbāna, does not open through the unwholesome mind-door. It opens through the wholesome mind-door. And we need this deep samādhi, that experiences this happiness and bliss in the face of this impermanence and anatta, to go beyond nibbidā into the upekkhā ñāṇa stage, equanimity stage, when we begin to deeply accept and surrender in the face of all of this previously experienced suffering, knowing that we are now truly turning away from it. It’s kind of a paradox that impermanence is the cause of suffering for one who clings but it is cause for a deep feeling of relief for one who has awakened. For it is a constant reminder that there is no need to cling. It is a constant reminder that to have let go was the right response.
So our first experience of this bliss, of relief, of letting go, comes as we enter into vipassanā-jhāna; this state of bliss that takes impermanence itself, or anatta itself, as the object of concentration.
And then there are those states of samādhi which take the love aspect. Those who cultivate their meditation in pursuit of the divine principle, to know what may be called God, or to come to experience deep states of unconditional, boundless love. When we begin to practise mettā, as with the four foundations of mindfulness, it is initially a contrived mental state that we create through reflection, through directed thought-processes.
We reflect upon goodwill, directing it towards ourselves with the reflection, “May I be happy”, directing it to others, “May they be happy”. But again, only when our samādhi starts to arise through deep concentration in this practice of loving kindness, does the deeply felt, embodied experience of love arise within us.
When we practice mettā-jhāna, the absorption on loving kindness, it is not the person who we are sending loving kindness to that we continue to concentrate upon. This object is far too gross to develop real samādhi. It is the felt, embodied experience of love itself that we enter into and this mettā-jhāna, this feeling of boundless, unconditional love creates in us a sense of grace, a sense of something divine. I have discussed this in my talk on mettā – loving kindess in volume two.
And so for others, their awakening is this experience of pure love and the unification of the mind with those exalted beings who are abiding continuously in this state of love, of love as the creative principle itself. This is the awakening of others on the path of spiritual investigation through meditation.
And finally there is the experience of the unconditioned state – Nibbāna, the cutting off at the root of the causes of suffering itself, the causal cessation of suffering. The first entry into Nibbāna where the mind first goes beyond conditioned formations that have been forever identified with, clung to, is called Path Knowledge. Having previously reached the state of saṅkhār’upekkhāñāṇa we become equanimous to all these formations and in time disinterested in them. And it is this disinterest that eventually disinclines the mind from averting towards them.
As we review conditioned states as impermanent, suffering, or as dependently arisen, this disinterest in the object that we are reviewing causes us to just go beyond and finally recognise this unconditioned state, that is the non-arising of the conditioned states of mind and matter. This is the experience of Nibbāna.
The first experience will be a momentary glimpse, almost like a shock, as we glimpse past this conditioned realm to the unconditioned state. But as we become more familiar with it, accessing more consistently the Nibbāna object, our mind becomes more deeply engaged in it and there comes a point where the mind can concentrate upon the Nibbāna object itself and take samādhi, or enter into samādhi, upon the unformed object. No longer taking a mind-produced object, or even taking the clear state of mind, the inherently clear state of Rigpa as the object of samādhi, we take the unconditioned state of Nibbāna, the cessation of mind and matter as the object of our concentration and enter into jhāna, or samādhi, upon it.
At this point the wisdom aspect – the culmination of the insight practice that leads to the causal cessation of suffering, and the serenity aspect – the deep state of tranquillity and samādhi in the mind that leads to the momentary cessation of suffering, are unified, as we deeply enter into and unify the mind with the unformed, deathless, unconditioned state.
So this is the spectrum of experiences that those who engage in meditation might come to. The experience often depends upon the teacher that they come to, what it is that they teach and the practice that they encourage us to take up.
But the yogi who wants to master his mind completely should seek to embody all of these experiences, to know what each and every one of them is as an embodied experience of awakening so that he can understand the path that others have taken. So that he can empathise with their sense of deliverance or their sense of awakening and enlightenment. So that we do not argue amongst ourselves, “This is the nature of enlightenment.” “No, this is the nature.” “It does not lie in samādhi, it lies in insight.” “No it is just to awaken to the presence of now”. There is no point to this, these are not mutually exclusive experiences. Eventually our insight matures to the point of seeing that all these states of awakened experience are conditionally and momentarily arising within the basic space of awareness itself. And even when we watch formations come to cessation and the Nibbāna object appears to us, it does so within this basic space of awareness.
Ultimately, whether we have sought the direct and swift path to the cessation of suffering, without the investigation of these sublime, exalted states of consciousness, or whether we have spent lifetimes investigating one or other or all and each of these exalted states, in the final analysis we will inevitably come to the realisation that there is no refuge for the mind in any conditioned states.
The only true refuge lies in bringing all conditioned states to cessation with the realisation of Nibbāna, and the clear experience of the basic ground of awareness within which all these experiences appear.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa
May you all come out of suffering. May you all realise the momentary cessation of suffering that is the blissful peace of samādhi. May you all awaken to the true nature of your mind, to the pristine experience of spontaneous presence.
May you all cut off at the root all your clinging that is the cause of your suffering. And experience the blissful release from clinging that is that equanimity towards all formations and the disinterest in them, so that you may enter into the path of appreciative joy; just appreciating things for what they are without a trace of inclination to cling to them.
This is the enjoyment round of rebirths at the tail end of the path where we can dance fearlessly, no longer oppressed by the arising and passing of things.
And when you are ready, when you have walked your path and filled your heart with the experiences and seen that it was not a pointless journey merely of suffering, but an extraordinary opportunity to experience life at the most exalted level, then may you free yourself of all suffering. Then, when you are ready and you can say to yourself, “That for which I came into being to know, has been known by me. It is time to take my ease”, then will you blissfully go beyond this round of conditioned becoming for all its grace and boundless states of love. All these extraordinary experiences, we might go beyond even these into the deathless, unconditioned state of Parinibbāna.
May you all delight in the practice of meditation and the realisation of these deep states of serenity and peace, these awakenings of insight within you. Walk the path to its completion and find the eternal peace at its end.
If you’re about to start your own journey, you’ll need a guide.. They don’t come much better than this.
This is the most comprehensive book I have read on meditation. Burgs explains even the most complex aspects of meditation with amazing clarity.
There are only two words that describe this book ‘Life’ and ‘Changing’. If there is anyone that reads this book and can’t take enormous belief in an alternative, clearer and happier way of life, I would be astounded.