18th July 2019 Vipashyana and the 'Wheel of Life': a perspective from Sean Davidson
Sean’s session was based on Wheel of Life - Teaching by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, February 2016
Sean's explanation of the 'Wheel' was very helpful so I have reproduced it below:
‘Behind our meditation practice lies the question about why we might want to meditate and even begin to start 'dealing with' the mind. Questions of this nature can perhaps be referred to as 'vipashyana' (or 'vipassana'), or 'insight' meditation, and is the counter-part to Shamatha (calm-abiding) meditation that we practiced in the last session. The Dalai Lama defines vipashyana as 'contemplation of the real nature of reality'.
The Buddhist idea is that because of 'basic ignorance' ('Avidya') we don't perceive or relate to reality properly and this leads to a misconception about the substance of those things we distinguish as 'separate' in the everyday world and then also misconceptions about our own 'self'. This misunderstanding of reality and ourselves leads to confused emotions (Kleshas) and then confused actions (cause) which lead to results, or 'Karma' (effect) - hence, Buddhists refer to the 'law of cause and effect' - and this cycle constitutes 'Samsara', or 'Samsaric Existence'.
This chain of cause and effect, and the psychology it manifests, is described by the 'Wheel of life' and this is where Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche youtube presentation on it comes in. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche is fully trained in Tibetan Buddhism but his presentations often use examples and references familiar to westerners in order to help us to get a clearer perspective on what can be quite abstract and exotic concepts and ideas.
At the centre of the ‘Wheel of life’ are three animals, a pig, a rooster, and a snake. The pig symbolises our basic ignorance of things as they are - their interdependence (with other apparently separate things) and their impermanence. The basic mistake about things we identify as 'separate' leads to the emotions of hope and fear, which manifest in turn as desire (grasping, attachment) symbolised by the rooster and as anger (hatred, aversion) symbolised by the snake. These are the 'Three Poisons'.
The basic ignorance (or 'delusion') that is represented by the pig is also the origin of our experience of the world in terms of time and space. And, thus, the duality of 'subject' and 'object' is created. The problem of 'duality' and the possibility of 'non-duality' ('Advaita') are important concepts of Tantra and 'Transcendence' and is referenced again by the famous quote from Chandrakirti that 'an idiot does bad things and goes to hell, but an idiot also does good things and goes to heaven; only a wise person goes beyond doing good and bad and reaches liberation'. This is something to do with the 'indistinguishability of Samsara and Nirvana' that is mentioned in the opening prayer of the Chenrezig Puja that we chant on the first Thursday of every month.
The psychological experience of this cycle of ignorance leading to action is captured on the wheel by the next layer outwards of the 'Six Realms', three higher(God realm, Asura realm, and human realm and three lower (animal realm, hungry ghost realm, and hell realm). Dzongsar Rinpoche describes these realms in terms of our wordly psychological experiences rather than being metaphysical, 'other-realms' outside our ordinary experience. You might sometimes see each syllable of the mantra 'om mani padme hum' in different colours when written in Tibetan. These colours also symbolise the six realms whose inhabitants we cultivate compassion and the wish for liberation for and to whom we refer in the opening prayers of the Chenrezig Puja.
The next outward layer of the wheel is that of the Twelve Nidanas and it describes the links of causation by which the cycle of death and rebirth of Samsara is created. They are also known as the 'twelve links of dependent origination'. Given that the twelve nidanas are connected by a circle, the starting point of their explanation is somewhat arbitrary but, traditionally, it starts with 'basic ignorance' (avidya) and ends with 'old age and death' and each link in the chain is both the result of the previous nidana and the cause of the next.
The implication is that our basic ignorance is maintained by the habitual nature of aspects of our mental life be it our thoughts, emotions or dispositions or of feelings and how these habits affect how we relate to the world. These habits might not initially be problems in and of themselves, but they are 'addictive' and eventually there will be some sort of disconnect between reality and our view of it, which can be the starting point for very real everyday suffering. There is also another sense of suffering; the Buddhist term 'Dukkha' refers to a sense of dissatisfaction simply at not relating to reality fully and that these habits seem to rob us of a full appreciation of what is actually happening right now. Dzongsar says this sense is traditionally termed as 'your Buddha nature is kicking' and a recognition of this experience is key in what he calls 'cultivating renunciation' - the realisation that, even if we win at 'the game of Samsara' we can never really be fully satisfied by it.
It is an aspect of, if not the aim of, many Buddhist practices to overcome our own particular habitual tendencies and thought patterns - in order to make ourselves 'aware', 'awake' and 'present' ('in the moment'). This is particularly so with the Mahayana practice of 'Seven Point Mind Training' - something I hope to cover in a future session.’
27th June 2019: Pema Chalmers facilitated a discussion on addiction based on a Tara Brach teaching
Tara Brach: Healing Addiction: De-conditioning the Hungry Ghosts
20th June 2019: Sean Davidson presented an Introduction to Meditation Techniques
What Meditation Really Is ~ Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
First, watch your thoughts: Dealing with Emotions ~ Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
The meditation approach in these videos cultivates detachment from our thoughts and the significance they might otherwise have for us and this, perhaps, generates space around them in which we can slow down our responses and perhaps eventually and ultimately this can give us the chance to respond differently allowing us to control our emotions and our actions better. This activity implies both courage, in letting whatever might arise simply arise whether it is a positive or negative occurrence and therefore also an openness and vulnerability, from which softness and gentleness can arise. In the second video, Rinpoche tells a story in which a shepherd goes to see a renowned Lama for some simple instruction in the Dharma, who tells him to watch his thoughts and use different coloured stones to simply count positive thoughts and negative thoughts during periods of watching the mind. This sort of meditation is categorised in Buddhism as 'Shamatha' - 'calm abiding' or 'tranquillity' meditation.
21 Breaths • Meditation ~ Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
Count 21 breaths as a way to begin a meditation session
Alternative meditation technique suggested by Sean; Simply sitting still
This is apparently a very traditional technique which involves sitting with an upright posture with legs crossed or sitting on a chair and keeping the body absolutely still for 15-20 mins. You can blink if you meditate with your eyes open, swallow, and, of course, breathe! But nothing else. You don't though particularly have to watch your thoughts - watch the body instead - and just let yourself think of whatever. As Rinpoche Ringu Tulku suggests 'bring the body to the seat, bring the mind into the body, and open the heart'.