Let's have a bit of quiet together to start. So taking the time now to sense into your bodily experience, sensing contact with whatever you're sitting on, the floor, and then opening out that awareness to fill the whole space of the body, the energy body, fill that with presence, bright, alive sensitivity. Of course that space of the attention is going to collapse many, many times, and just when you notice that happening, opening it up again and filling it with that vitality of bright presence, sensitive, receptive, open to that field, and how it feels. Can you stay in touch with, sensitive to, open to that whole space, that whole field of vibration that is bodily experience, energy body experience?
And within that, just noticing how your heart is doing right now. It doesn't have to be any particular way. Just noticing. However it is, whether what's there is difficult, easy, can there be a sense of care, touching it, holding it, whatever is there in the heart right now? Things arise, pass, move through. There's awareness and there's care in the awareness, kindness in the awareness, connection. Possible to maintain, as much as possible, the whole body awareness, maintain a connection with the movements of the heart, noticing, caring. And bringing to mind, as well, right now, within all that, as well as all that, bringing to mind your intention for our time together, your sense of curiosity, of love, of desire, your sense of what is meaningful to you. And can you get a sense of the heart, the body, the soul, aligning with that love, that intention of yours? Body, heart and heart care, intention and sense of alignment, devotion even to that intention.
Is it possible, as well as all that, alongside all that, to get a sense of connection with each other right now? Spread out over a huge area, but we're connected virtually, connected by intention, by care, by curiosity, by passion, by desire. Can you let your body, heart, soul, mind get a sense of the community, the togetherness that bonds us right now? Opening to that and caring for that. So all this -- body, heart and care for the heart, intention, alignment with intention, sense of togetherness and community, and lastly, the recognition of the fact of the dependent arising of our time together. And it depends on all of us, and the quality, the depth of what can arise and be held in the field depends on all of us, depends on our mindfulness, our openness, our intention and our connection with that, our sense of togetherness. Depends also on our recognizing that we are part of this. We all make this, whether we say anything tonight or not. We participate. We're part of the dependent arising here. We matter. Our bodies, our hearts, our intentions, our attention, our connectedness -- all that makes a difference somehow to the whole field, the dependent arising of the field. So we're all woven in together to this. We're all creating together.
[9:07] Okay. So I'm trying this -- it's five areas, whatever we might call them, five mindfulnesses, as really an attempt -- is it possible to really feel quite connected over the internet, staring at a screen? I don't know what it looks like for you, but for me, I'm staring at a lot of little boxes [laughs] with heads in them, mostly. Very easy to feel less connected with this form, this media, this platform, than it is when you're in a room with someone. But actually I think it's just a matter of practice. Certainly getting used to it, but also practising. So that if each of you, each of us, can remind ourselves as we go along of these five, and just gently check in and reinvigorate the sense of connection, of aliveness, of presence together. I think we're all kind of working at ways to make this kind of form work, so that there can be that sense of intimacy and connection. I really feel that there can, but it takes a little bit of work. So you can have that little list of five, or anything else that helps you do that, and hopefully it will help.
Okay. So welcome, everyone. I didn't welcome everyone, so welcome. [laughs] Let's see. I had a few people write to me in one way or another since the last emptiness seminar, and people who couldn't be here tonight, and they had questions. So because the questions seem relevant, I'm thinking of taking those questions and maybe weaving them together a little bit, and then opening it up. I'm not sure how many of these questions to go into, but they certainly fit together and are relevant, so let's see. Let's see with time and what feels right. Then we'll open it up for your questions. Does that sound okay? Yeah? Okay.
All righty. So just a very brief review. The last Emptiness Seminar (I), we took Jacqui's question and really emphasized the importance of having a framework. In this case it was a framework about ways of looking, fabrication, and clinging, and those three concepts together, and how we might take that framework and kind of go on a journey, really, and that framework serves to give a sense of cohesion to the understanding and also the placing of our experiences as we meditate, and gives us a sense of direction, and where we are, and what we're doing, understanding there -- just how necessary, but how beneficial that is. Without that, we said, you know, an experience, any of those kinds of experience that Jacqui was talking about, for instance -- things disappear, or there's a vast awareness, or there's this black void in front of me, or whatever it is -- the danger, or two dangers there, without a framework are that that experience, then, can very easily get interpreted as "the Truth," or "This is Emptiness," "This is it -- this is Emptiness," with a big E or whatever, or "This must be the Unconditioned," or whatever. So on one hand, without a framework, there's that kind of danger: we just decide that this remarkable experience, whatever it is that we've just had, that perhaps has really touched us or scared us or just been very strange, we decide, "Oh, that fits a lot of descriptions, so that must be it. That's the Truth," with a capital T, "the Ultimate, Emptiness, Unconditioned," etc.
Or without a framework there's the danger of falling off the other side, which is either you have absorbed a certain attitude or kind of teaching, or a teacher says to you when you report such an experience, "Oh, it's just an experience. It's impermanent. Don't get attached to it. It's just another impermanent thing." And so, again, there's no framework apart from impermanence, so what gets viewed as an ultimate truth there is impermanence. Everything's just the same. They're all just experiences; you might enjoy some, more or less. Without this framework, you can fall off either side, and in a way, you have no sense of how to move on, how to go deeper, how things can unfold. So that either way, this side or that side, the significance and therefore the full liberating potential of different experiences in meditation is lost. It's not available to us.
So that's one -- kind of just reviewing a little bit. And then, linked to that, probably if I had a coin for every time someone comes and says to me, "I had this experience. There was no self. There was no self at all," or "There was no subject/object duality," or "It was totally non-conceptual," or "Everything disappeared," or something like that, I'd probably be quite rich by now. Without understanding and kind of using as a careful, sensitive measure this idea about the spectrum of fabrication, without that, then a person just tends to [think] either there's self or there's no self, as opposed to, "No, what's happened now is the personality," for instance, "the personality level of the self has just been unfabricated and gotten very quiet." Is there still self left? Yes, but it's more subtle. It's not the fabrication of the personality at that point. It's not no-self; it's less self. It's somewhere less on the spectrum of fabrication, yeah?
Similarly with fading. I remember several times people reported, "Everything's disappeared!" And I would ask a few questions, and it turns out they just kind of stumbled into the first jhāna, and a lot has disappeared, but certainly not everything. So just having this idea of a spectrum of fabrication, a spectrum of how much the self is fabricated, constituted, built in any moment, and where it is on that spectrum, and the same thing with appearances and phenomena, just having that idea, we start to be a little more careful [audio cuts out briefly]. Without having that idea of a spectrum, we tend to be very black and white in where we lump things: that's no-self, or that's total disappearance, or whatever, that's completely non-conceptual, etc., as opposed to no; there's really a lot of subtlety here in terms of how much or how little self there can be, how much or how little conceiving there can be, how much or how little appearing of phenomena there can be, and also how much of a sense of duality between this subject and other objects. So all this is tied together and very important.
[17:47] Following on from what we were talking about, or in relation to all this. So we have this framework, and it kind of gives us a sense of direction: "Okay, I'm going for less fabrication. Whatever I've just experienced, which may be really wonderful and really touch my heart, I understand now from the framework it's a relatively less fabricated experience. So, okay. What's next? Let's go! Let's find the next thing. Let's go deeper!" Whoa, maybe not so -- maybe I need to linger at that place that has just touched me, or that I haven't even quite got used to so it's actually a bit scary. Maybe I need to linger because that place -- for instance, this vast awareness that opens up -- has certainly a beauty in it, a mystical beauty, and has a degree of letting go in it, and peace, and freedom, and all that, and I need to hang out there long enough to let those, let the beauty of that space but also the release that comes in that space, do its work on my being. It touches my cells, my body, my heart. It's healing the heart in all kinds of ways (obviously not completely, but it's healing the heart). It's doing something also to my sense of existence. If I go in and out of that experience, I cannot then regard the world in the same [way] -- at some point, it's gone in, and I cannot regard the world in the way that, let's say, most people do. Something has happened in my very sense of what reality is, what existence is, what the cosmos is, and that's significant. It's really significant. If I go too quickly through it, without lingering, I don't milk it. I don't get that fruit. My body has to absorb it, my heart has to absorb it, my senses and my mind has to absorb it, and that takes time.
Again, the danger on the other side is saying, "This is it," or "This is so nice because it's so effortless," or whatever, and just staying there forever, and not moving on. So there's always this question: how long do I need to be here? When is it time to move on? When is it time to question this? Maybe I need to fall in love with some of these states -- I really mean that -- and be touched to the core of my being. And then, at some point, something gets restless, something starts questioning, or we've heard a teaching or read something saying, "How do I go beyond?" So as always, I can fall off this way, or I can fall off that way, off what you could call the Middle Way.
Okay, so, given all that, we do have this question, "How do I go deeper?", at certain points. And that's a very classic sort of plateau for people to sort of arrive at and then not quite know how to go deeper -- the vastness of awareness. So Suzanne, who cannot make it this evening, wrote me a question which I'm going to try and weave into all this. So she says,
I really have two questions, I guess. The first and more important one is about letting go. I find that often when I go deep in a meditation session, the more my mind lets go of clinging, and the more expansive my consciousness becomes. Sometimes it feels like my mind can't hold on to anything any more, like my consciousness is so diffuse and my sense of self so dissipated that at that point I'm not sure exactly what to do. What has started happening often at that point is I fall asleep. It seems to me it's because my consciousness is so diffuse that it can't grasp anything without contracting and my sense of self becoming more solid again. I don't know if this makes sense, but if it does, I'm wondering: is there a way to somehow take that to another level without falling asleep? I'm wondering what place there is to go (cessation?) after the mind lets go to that point, and, if so, how I can keep from falling asleep when my consciousness has let go to that point.
The second question is about the second dukkha method in Seeing That Frees. I've been working with that lately. I'm watching for subtle levels of clinging, but I'm not sure exactly how to identify them. In the body, it's obvious to me, but in the mind, I find it hard. For instance, when I've let go to the point that I mentioned above, what is the subtle clinging that is left? Or rather, how to identify what that is, or how my mind is doing that? Obviously my mind is still clinging to objects enough for me to be conscious of them [I mean, that insight is just something that she's heard, basically, or read from me], but is there a quality to the clinging that can be identified at that point? I'm not aware of any contraction in the space of awareness [which I suggested was one way you can tell that clinging is present], but perhaps I'm just not sensitive enough to those extremely subtle forms of clinging yet. I'm not sure if these questions make sense in the way I've written them out -- hopefully you can make some sense of this.
So I hope I understand. The second dukkha method -- referring to Seeing That Frees now -- basically involves, at its core, it's really sensing into when clinging is present and releasing that clinging. Sensing into clinging; when clinging is present, releasing that clinging, just over and over, and this takes us deeper. It's a very beautiful practice. Really lovely spaces tend to open up. But for most people, at some point -- let go, let go, let go, and as Suzanne describes, everything opens up, gets very soft, very diffuse, and actually we're not sure how to identify any clinging any more. So clinging at a gross level is obvious -- the mind is obsessed with something, it's storying, it's saying "I must have that!" or whatever it is. Clinging at a more subtle level will be felt in the body, either as a muscular contraction or as a contraction of the energy body space. Clinging at a very, very subtle level will be felt in a contraction of the space of awareness.
But even that -- clinging goes even more subtly than that. So if I'm just using, "Okay, feel the clinging, let go," for most people -- certainly for me; I know some people this isn't the case for, but for most people -- it just becomes too vague. I can't notice the clinging any more, so I don't know what to let go of. And I've kind of lost my object, because my object in that meditation is the sense of clinging itself, and then the release that comes with it, but it's got so subtle and so vague now I can't do anything with it. So the practice kind of -- not so much hits a brick wall, but hits a sort of fog or a mist of fading that you can't get beyond. Not for everyone; some people seem to go further, be able to. But for most people that will be the case. So when I use the word 'clinging' in this context, I'm really using it as a very elastic and open term. As I said, sometimes it can be extremely gross, which we all know. Sometimes it's subtle, and really can get subtler and subtler and subtler, these ways that I've just described of noticing it. But then it becomes -- if we use that word 'clinging' -- something even subtler than that, actually.
I would use the word 'clinging,' for example, appropriating to the self is clinging. I'm sitting here. It's cold in my house. Those sensations of cold, automatically the mind regards them as "They're my sensations of cold. I'm having them," or "I'm aware of them." So they're appropriated to self. They're regarded as me and mine, okay? Now, I don't necessarily experience that as a clinging, "I must have it warmer," you know? ... If it gets a little colder, I will go and do something about it though. [laughs] In other words, the unconscious, non-verbal, extremely subtle default way of looking in the mind of "this is me" or "this is mine," this I would call clinging, okay? It's a subtle form of clinging.
Even more subtle than that: this is a computer, this is a thing, this is a word, this is anything. Reifying, making something and believing it has inherent existence. This is not a philosophical position; I'm not sitting here thinking, "Yes, the computer has inherent existence," or "The sense of cold has inherent existence." Saying the sense of cold has inherent existence, or rather viewing it as having inherent existence, is different, is a deeper level, a more subtle level of clinging than just viewing it as "my sensations of cold." One is whether it belongs to a self. The other is that it's a thing in itself, that exists by itself, independently. Does that make sense? It has inherent existence. Yes? That view, that default, subtle, non-verbal, unconscious (most of the time) view of the inherent existence of things is a clinging. We can also call it avijjā. We can call it ignorance. We can also call this "it's me or mine," we can call that ignorance. At a certain level, these terms of dependent arising -- "This is ignorance," "There's clinging" -- it looks like they're all separate at first. The deeper you go into all this, you start to realize, "Oh, avijjā is a kind of clinging." And in the Mahāyāna texts, they call it that -- it's a form of clinging. Or even attention itself -- to actually hold something in attention, I actually have to cling to it. I have to, in a way, push away other stuff and cling to what I'm paying attention to.
So when I use the word 'clinging,' again, it's a spectrum word; we're talking about very gross, subtler, subtler, subtler, subtler, subtler, all the way down. So when it gets to this point that Suzanne is talking about, most people are not going to notice clinging. It's better to take an idea -- for instance, that you might find me saying, or another teacher saying, or in a book or whatever it is -- and actually start playing with it, start reversing it or undoing it. So what if I regard these sensations of cold as not me, not mine? Then I'm actually unhooking that particular kind of clinging. What if I regard them as empty (they don't inherently exist)? Then I'm unhooking that level of clinging; it's much deeper. Then I do that, and I get practised at doing that, and then I see, "Whoa," the whole thing opens up to a completely other level of fading, etc. But I can't expect to even feel the reification of things as a clinging that I will sense until I start playing with it, and then notice its absence, and then in retrospect, "Wow, that's a clinging. I had no idea."
[30:01] So what we can do then is, as I said, we can take any element -- we could take something like the elements of dependent arising; we could take one of those things that I just said -- and start doing something that unhooks that clinging. Or I could take, like I said, an element of dependent arising -- I could take something like clinging itself, and start to see that that doesn't belong to a self, or I could see clinging itself as empty of inherent existence. There are a million possible -- not a million, but there are a lot of possibilities. It's almost like what the Buddha does in these teachings that seem a little, I don't know, bureaucratic or anal -- "There's this, and there's this, and there are twelve links," and it's all a bit blaagh, you know, as if we're categorizing something -- actually they're little bits of string that are sticking out, and he's kind of pointing, and he's saying, "Pull on this one, pull on this one. Watch what happens when you pull on this one. Or what about this one? Did you ever pull on this one? What about trying pulling on these four together, or these two together?" So it's much better regarded as actually pointing to very specific ways we can get at a whole other sense of clinging and undo them and then unfabricate things at a whole other level.
Or you could take the sense of time. You know, again, I'm assuming, the natural default sense of things; it's not a thought, unless I get preoccupied with time. It's not a thought. It's just the sense of things: "This is happening in time. There is a present moment. There's past, future." What if I take the notion of time, and then learn to unpack that, learn to kind of pull the rug out of the sense of time and see what that does? So working in very specific ways to undo clinging in the moment, as a practice, as a way of looking, over and over again, and seeing what happens to the fabrication. This, to me, is a more sure way of progressing, let's put it that way. But what it's asking for is I need to get very clear about what I'm doing. What's involved in my way of looking right now? I've got this deliberate way of looking. Let's say I view this experience of coldness as not having inherent existence. Then I'm engaging that way of looking. Now, I can do that very agilely, very shorthand, very delicate, very light. It's just, "It's empty, it's empty." But me looking at it that way is based on having seen it fade before, understanding. But I'm very clear -- I'm clear, "This is my way of looking now." So what Suzanne is missing here is everything's got very diffuse, very relaxed, very open, very subtle, but there's not a clarity about what the way of looking is any more, or there's not a way of looking that she can stay clear about, a deliberate way of looking. Is this making sense? Some of you are looking a little confused. It's okay? Yeah?
[33:20] So the question is, what exactly -- where's the precision in this kind of practice? I'm precise, I'm clear about what way of looking I'm engaging at any time. And it's very clear, and it stays clear, because that's my thread. That's what I'm following. So that needs to be clear. And there are, you know, hundreds of ways of looking that are possible. Another thing that needs to be clear as well, if we want to kind of get the most out of all this and really go deep and have it be really fertile, another thing I need to be clear on is what is present in the experience right now, and what is absent? Another way of saying it is what's not being fabricated any more in this moment, and what is being fabricated? So the Buddha talks about, somewhere or other, "Notice what is present. Notice what is absent." He actually gives that instruction, because this will, again, tie everything in with the framework, and make us clearer in terms of what we're actually paying attention to at the time. So what is the sense of self right now? What kind of self? What kind of subject? What kind of object is there? All this, it may sound a little clunky, but it can get very subtly woven in, very delicately and beautifully woven into the practice in the moment.
So in terms of Suzanne's questions, that's all what we might do to take the insight deeper at that kind of point. But there's another side to it, which is the samādhi aspect, okay? So every time there's some fading, there's the possibility of resting in that space that opens up, resting in the relative non-fabrication. Things have gotten a lot less solid, or somewhat less solid. They're more open. There's less clinging. There's less suffering, and because there's less suffering, there's more well-being. There's peace because there isn't fabrication of agitation. All that stuff. And so at any point on this spectrum of lessening fabrication, I can kind of peel off into, "Hey, let's just bathe here for a while. Let's just really open up and enjoy this space that's there." When that's my intention, then my intention at that point is a samādhi intention. I'm not aiming for more depth; I'm aiming to enjoy this, gather and melt into the well-being that's there, and really, really enjoy that.
But to do that -- and this is why it relates to Suzanne's question -- I actually have to attune to the quality of what's in the space, okay? And as we go down the spectrum of fabrication, the quality gets more and more subtle. So again, this is an aspect of presence. This is what the Buddha says -- notice what's present. "Oh, there's a sense of really subtle peace, really refined peace present, so that's what I notice, and that's what I'm tuning to." And actually that's quite hard to tune to, because at a jhānic level, it's very refined. When you start getting into the formless jhānas, we're talking about really, really refined. The quality of the space is what I need to tune into to really get into the samādhi at that level, but that quality is extremely subtle. So as you go, because it's a spectrum of fabrication, each jhāna has a more refined, more subtle quality, and I need to tune into it. If I don't tune into it, there will be no samādhi. I need to find that wavelength and really learn to resonate with that, and keep my attention there, and open to it, and enjoy it. Without that, I won't really get the samādhi there, and possibly I'll fall asleep or whatever it is.
So even in something like the seventh jhāna, which is the realm of nothingness, [people] say, "Well, there's nothing there." What is there is exactly that: a sense of nothing. And that sense of nothing is actually a something. It's an incredibly subtle something. The consciousness is struck by the sense of nothing, for example. And I have to tune into that -- incredibly subtle. It's a training. As I do, I learn how to do that, I learn how to open to it, a whole mystical level opens up, etc., and level of samādhi. Okay? Does that all make sense, from the samādhi perspective, from the insight? Okay. So that was Suzanne's question. How are we doing for time? I have -- well, one tied into what we just said. Let's see. This is from Marco, who also can't be here. Where is it? I've got all these little bits of paper.
Yeah, so he said, "A common instruction [I think he must have heard me say it] is [he's written] the first jhānas [but really the first four jhānas] are basically states of the energy body." So a common instruction is the first four jhānas, what the Buddha calls the rūpa-jhānas, the body jhānas are basically states of the energy body. So if you're practising for those jhānas, you have to stay within the sphere of the body, because that's what you're tuning into. So, for example, the second jhāna, its main characteristic is happiness. It might have other characteristics like love or whatever. Its main characteristic is happiness. And that happiness is felt in the heart, in the mind, but also very much in the body. The whole body becomes happiness. The breath becomes happiness. And, as the Buddha says, "suffusing and saturating the whole body," I have to really get into that bodily experience. If I make the awareness too big at that point, and I go to a vastness of awareness, I won't actually consolidate the samādhi state of the second jhāna, which is restricted to the energy body. This is what Marco's starting to say. He says, "So don't open up to spacious awareness too soon." And he says from his experience, "Currently, resting in the open spaciousness brings calm, joy, and steadiness, which in turn seems to positively affect my samādhi when I move awareness back to the body sphere. Do you sometimes work like this?" Do you understand what he's saying? I open it up, it's really nice, and then when I go back to just the smaller body sense, the energy body, then I find my samādhi is better there; there's more available there. Absolutely.
So that's available. We begin to be a little bit opportunistic with the whole thing. So there's no reason why you can't do that. It's just that if you want to be, let's say, in the fourth jhāna or the second jhāna, it's got to be body. It's got to be in this energy body space. That's almost the definition of it, and that's how it will really consolidate and go deeper and really firm up as a jhāna. But sometimes, you know, the body doesn't feel right. It's not really steady. It's not really stabilizing the jhāna, or it's just blocked. It's sort of there but sort of not. There are all kinds of possibilities at that point. One of them is go to an insight practice. And it might be the very spacious awareness, and you hang out there for a while, things get unknotted, less fabrication, less contraction; with that, the well-being comes. You go back to the energy body, and there's more available there, and easier to get into. Does this make sense? Yeah?
Now, I just have a question for myself whether to do these other ones that Marco has written. I think I'll leave them and open it up. If they seem relevant, I'll try and tie them in. He's not here, so. Maybe let's open it up now, and I'll see if I can get to these. Unless you really want me to weave that into what I've just been saying and continue for a bit and then open it up. Your choice. Should I continue this, with weaving the question in, or should we just open it up? Who wants option number one? Who wants option number two? [laughs] It's about equal. I don't know. Let's toss a coin. Why don't we open it up, and then we'll see? So does anyone have anything they want to ask? It doesn't have to do with what we've been talking about.
Q1: the relationship of conventional reality and ultimate reality
Yogi: There was a question sent to everyone from Gerben.
Rob: Gerben, yeah. Do you want to speak your question, Gerben?
Yogi: Yeah. Can everybody hear me?
Yogi: Okay, yes. I am into the emptiness practices, and I started feeling it more and more, in daily life, which is all fine, but still I have this problem of figuring out -- I have this intuitive sense that things are empty, but on the other hand I also know that, if I go back to the office tomorrow, that the office will be there. If I wake up tomorrow, my children will be in their rooms, and so on. If I smash my finger with a hammer, it will hurt a lot. So how are these two perspectives -- how do you combine them?
Rob: Yeah. Could everyone hear that? Yeah? So if I understand what you're after -- there are two things. I mean, one way we could frame the question is about the relationship of conventional reality and ultimate reality. So the office is part of conventional reality. Your children and their continued existence is conventional reality. This is a long-standing kind of -- the exact relationship between these two is a heated debate in Mahāyāna Buddhism. But I think it's really important to understand: conventional reality still operates. If you wake up and your children are not there, it's nothing to do with emptiness. They've snuck out to play in the park or something; I don't know. [laughs] So what we can understand through emptiness is not so much the full workings of conventional reality, but this is where the Buddha's skill comes in: what do I need to understand about things that liberates? What understanding liberates, and what understanding is then extra to that and not necessary?
So to understand that, phenomenologically, I will perceive my children or whatever it is dependent on the clinging in the mind -- that, if I go really deep with that, for a lot of people that convinces them of the emptiness of perception, etc. There shouldn't be then a kind of conclusion afterwards that, "Oh, I'm surprised to see that thing here again." I would be very surprised. For some people that, what I call the phenomenological way, basically you're dealing with "My perception -- what is it dependent on?", okay? And I go deeper and deeper and deeper, and I start to realize -- things fade, therefore they're dependent, etc.
For some people, that whole way of working doesn't work. In terms of convincing them of the emptiness of things, it doesn't work. And so there are other methodologies like -- which is in my book -- the analytical methods, where you're actually using logic to say, "If something had inherent existence, it would have to be either like this, or either like that, or either like that. It can't be like that, and it can't be like that, and it can't be like that. Therefore, it doesn't have inherent existence." For some people, that is a way that the emptiness of things, the knowledge of the emptiness of things reaches a level that it liberates.
But conventional reality is conventional reality. The only thing, in a way, for liberation that we have to understand is that it's empty. Conventional reality is empty of inherent existence. It's a dependent arising. My perception of it is a dependent arising. It will still work out. What gets quite interesting is actually -- let's take "Okay, I want to figure out exactly how conventional reality works." Then you go, "Okay, how is it that your office is still there?", etc., or "How is it that your children [are still there]?" Then you get into biology and physics and da-da-da. What's really interesting is if you go really deeply into that, it hasn't yet given a full explanation of conventional reality, the scientific method either. What you get in the Mahāyāna is some people saying, "Conventional reality is just conventional reality. Just don't bother about it. It's empty. That's all you need to know about it." But it being empty doesn't mean that it doesn't function according to its rules, that it's not functional, that it doesn't have its laws and its processes, yeah? How does this sound? It's okay?
It's a really important question, because when we talk about fading -- you know, I remember when I first brought it up with people, it was like, "So are you saying that if I lie in front of a train I'm not going to die or something?" No, not at all. It's what I call a phenomenological method, to do with perception. Someone who's in a very deep state of non-fabrication in terms of meditation may be hit by a train and not notice, but then what happens to their body from your perspective, etc., that's your perception, you know? So conventional reality has its laws, and it operates, and it's functional, etc., but in a way, that's not what's being addressed. It's like, for the Buddha's purposes, what do I need to know for liberation? What do I need to understand about things for liberation? That they're empty of inherent existence. Everything else is an extra, and would probably fall into one of his unanswered questions, like "How does it work?" or whatever, or "Why does it function that way?" Do you understand? Yeah?
So this brings a rather general point, which is actually really important. In what I just said, implicit in what I said was, what's going to convince you to the degree that you need to be convinced? Now, someone else, it might be a different approach to emptiness, or a different thing that convinces them of the emptiness of things. In technical philosophical language, we'd say epistemology -- it's like, how do I know? How do I know I can trust ...? Something fades, and someone says, "It fades. It's empty. I get it. My heart is touched. Everything's open. I feel so liberated." The next person, it fades, "Yeah? So what?" Introduce a third person and they take everything apart in logic and say, "Nothing can have inherent existence! It's amazing. I feel so liberated." And another person says, "It's just logic. So what? Logic's just logic." So this becomes very personal -- what's going to be your epistemology? What is it that's going to convince you for liberation? Because it's your life and your liberation. You have to be convinced. But it's different between different people.
That's really interesting, teaching, you know? That's partly why I had, in a way, largely speaking, two methods in the book -- the analytical and the phenomenological. And of course they can both be used, and then you're kind of going from two directions, super-turbocharged. But basically ... can you guys keep a secret? There's a joke in the book, in a footnote about two-thirds of the way through. I can't remember what it says -- I have it somewhere or other. But basically, everything rests on epistemology. If I say "Things fade, therefore they're empty," or "Things cannot logically have inherent existence, therefore they're empty," I'm still deciding to base my knowledge on something -- either on logic or on my personal phenomenological experience.
Now, that goes for everything, everything. If I'm doing a science experiment, there's basically a set of epistemological assumptions about what constitutes knowledge. If I see this happen in the test tube, and if ten people see this happen and agree that they see the same thing happening, we say that's knowledge. It wasn't historically that way all the time. That had to get actually established in Western culture, that that counts as knowledge, if ten reputable -- at first they didn't even include women! It had to be ten men of a certain social standing [laughs] that it would be counted as knowledge.
So this whole idea of what's actually knowledge ... The whole thing about emptiness -- you mustn't tell anyone; this is a secret, okay? -- the whole thing about emptiness also rests on epistemology, because I have to be trusting either the fact that things fade in meditation, or the fact that I'm trusting logic, or the fact that guru-somebody-or-other told me that it's empty, or the fact that it says in the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra, or the fact that the Buddha said in the Kaccāyana Sutta. I'm always trusting something. And if someone said, "Why do you trust that?", at some point I'm going to get to a point where I can't answer any more. I just say, "I just trust it." If I say, "Why do you trust just because people see that test tube change together?" ... Do you understand what I'm saying about epistemology? So as far as my book is concerned, you've got this whole elaborate structure, and there's a little footnote about two-thirds of the way through that just points out that actually everything rests on unprovable assumptions. That's a little bit of a tangent to what you're talking about. [laughs] It's actually important, because then that drags in a whole other level of our relationship with existence, etc. Does this make sense? Yeah?
But what I was really saying is your life, your liberation, your sense of freedom -- what convinces you? And it will be different than the next person, either in large ways or in small ways. Okay? Is that okay, Gerben? Yeah? Great, okay. Anybody, please?
Q2: balancing wisdom practices and samādhi
Yogi: Hi, thank you so much. I've read your book and practised with your book, and I listened to the other, previous teaching on emptiness that you gave. And it brought up a question for me that relates to what you just said about how we relate to what's unfolding in the practice or in our developing knowledge/wisdom is personal; it becomes personal, you know? Different people react in different ways. So I'm at this stage that I wanted to sort of run by you where the emptiness type practices that I've been working with for some years -- which I might also term as wisdom, part of the wisdom training, paññā training -- they have been unfolding into more and more access, not necessarily on demand, but more frequent access to what I kind of use the word 'wisdom' to describe -- some people have called it the guidance or something like that, where there's this knowing quality of compassion, wisdom plus compassion, how to respond to conditions as they arise; this kind of brilliance that doesn't have anything to do with me [laughs], my self, right?
But this is -- being able to relax into that, to have more reliable access to that, I would say is the main, one of my main interests and intentions and hopes in practice. I would love to have my heart of wisdom guiding my life. It's a very mysterious thing, how that happens, but it's like guiding me into places, it seems, to where I get to work with the difficult, the karmic knots, right? It's asking me, in some cases it's pulling me along there, toward -- I might say, recently I was practising and feeling like I'm stuck. I'm a little bit stuck with where I am in practice, and so I sort of just dropped in that question to that open space of "What's next?" It wasn't words; it was just a query, like a sensing query. And the very next day, something happened that is deeply challenging to me [laughs], that's going to bring me along toward having to face some things that are difficult and agitating to me.
So I know that. So there's that going along, that sort of healing process, and then this other thing that has been so important to me about finding the stillness and the deep healing of the stillness that you mentioned, how to just be, rest there, how to practise with recognizing and letting go of clinging, deeper and deeper, to be sort of deeply healed in that way, and the stillness. So there's this pulling along towards the situations -- like it seems like this voice or wisdom of life is saying, "You need to look at this," versus this part of me that is somewhat attached to the stillness. There's a little bit of spiritual bypass going on, perhaps. But I just wondered -- it seemed like there's some kind of balance thing that I'm ... not struggling with, but curious about, because I for sure do tend to default to finding, wanting to find more peace, versus facing the difficult things.
Rob: Right, right.
Yogi: I don't know if that has -- do you see my question? There's a tension between those two.
Rob: Yeah, I think so. I think it's really important. I would say both/and. For me, that's often what I find myself saying to a lot of questions. What would be a mistake would be just one -- either one. You know, if we're going to be challenged, then we certainly need the restfulness. We need to pace ourselves. We need to recuperate. We need to resource. We need to take time out. All that stuff, you know? If it's just the resting and you stay there, it can be kind of spiritual bypassing, or we're not growing in a certain way. So there's something about having both, and moving between both. The exact rhythm of that varies. I don't think there's a right or wrong, really. But you can let yourself have both, and I would, really. I think it's important. I would be much more wary of if you were just choosing one over the other, and that became a kind of path, and then you're sort of thinking, "This is what a spiritual path is. It's either this or that," you know? I would say they're both really, really important. And yeah, there may be a creative tension to it, but they're also kind of symbiotic. Well, certainly the samādhi and the resting will help the other one, as long as you're not there all the time. The other way around, it may also open, you know?
There's a third possibility, too, which is just taking the emptiness practices deeper. So there's a kind of thing about guidance, let's say, and that opens up all kinds of questions -- but we don't even need to answer them; there's some kind of mystery in the universe there, okay? There's that. There's the samādhi and the resting. And then there's the taking the emptiness deeper. So we could actually make three. And they will have a mutually kind of nourishing effect, I think, in terms of stretching you, keeping your practice agile, but also feeding each other and feeding the possibilities of each other. So yeah, what I tend to get a little nervous about more is when people narrow things down and just kind of make it about one thing or one approach. Does that address what you're ...?
Yogi: Yes, yes, definitely. And it's reminded me very much of what you were saying earlier about -- well, my thought went away, but it was something about the sort of flexibility in the moment-to-moment practice itself, of what we're taking as the object, or pausing for a moment to take in the experience of the empty experience or emptiness, rather than going to the next level necessarily.
Rob: Yeah, and I wouldn't even -- I would say more than a moment here. I was talking more than moments. I was really talking about months, or years even, you know? Like, really letting something do its work on the being. Mostly, in a lot of these things, it really takes time to really get in there into the cells, and the being, and the heart, and the senses, and the whole idea of existence and things, so yeah. There can be a very agile, moment-to-moment flexibility, but in terms of what we were just talking about, yeah, I would say that's more months. But in terms of what you're talking about, yeah, you can dip into something very quickly, like -- okay, something's there, and then I just dip into a bit of samādhi, for instance. Or probably more common or more helpful would be kind of more like half an hour, an hour in some samādhi or something like that, and then open up, if you have another sitting the next day or later on in the day, to a different direction. So your rhythm is more that kind of level. Yeah?
Yogi: Yeah. Thank you.
Rob: Great. You're very welcome. Thank you.
Q3: complementing self-inquiry practice to expand the range of experiences/insights
Rob: Adam, yes?
Yogi: Hello, everybody. I have a question that concerns ātma-vichār practice, like self-inquiry with the question "Who am I?" This is the practice that is often very much encouraged in Zen traditions or Ramana Maharshi-style. It's quite close to anattā practice, so there is some link there. Certainly I very much value this practice, and there's so much depth in that, but my question concerns that, from my experience, and even from what I see in others, if one somehow practises only this, then there is only a kind of limited range of experiences and the world that this view generates, okay? So the danger there might be that if you practise only this approach, then you will start to consider this world as real and kind of get attached to it. So my question is, what would be the most skilful way, helpful, not to fall into this trap? In other words, what would be the complementing practice to this self-inquiry with "Who am I?" It somehow links to the previous question, that there should be some flexibility in the views. But what would be the most skilful way, a helpful complement to this "Who am I?" practice?
Rob: Yeah. Thank you, Adam. I think you've answered it, really, in your question. To me, there would be two levels. One would be the level of the framework, and the importance of how I'm framing this practice, and how I'm framing the experiences that open up from the practice. That's number one. Number two would be "Who am I?" can be, you know, it's a broad question. It can get very fuzzy. So one's -- back to where I started, answering Suzanne's question -- one may be missing possibilities, possibilities of going deeper, because one doesn't have any kind of vocabulary or concept for where I can put my foot to go deeper. In the language I used earlier, these little bits of string that the Buddha was talking about -- he didn't use the words that I used, using it as an analogy. All these terms in dependent arising -- there's consciousness, there's nāmarūpa, there's vedanā, there's clinging, there's whatever -- they give you something to pull on that can unravel deeper.
So one possibility is if you really love that practice, go for it, and at a certain point, as you were saying, probably it kind of plateaus a little bit, actually. And it might plateau in the most wonderfully beautiful place, really touching, really open, very lovely. It may sound like a lot of what you've heard when people talk about the ultimate thing, because at a certain level, the language all sounds quite similar. Again, how are we going to navigate all that? Where am I? Because it sounds similar to what this sūtra says, or what that guru says, or whatever. It's up to you -- it's up to everyone -- but one of the advantages of picking up, for instance, let's say, the Buddha's map of dependent origination, those twelve links, is like I said, they form concepts, but they form little strings that I can then pull on in meditation, and the whole thing unravels even deeper. Yeah? Or time, like we said in response to Suzanne's question. So that's the second one first.
The first important factor is the framework, again. If I don't understand what I'm doing -- when I do this experience, "Who am I?", and I keep asking, and basically another way of saying it is, "I'm not this, I'm not this, I'm not that," you know? If I don't understand, if I don't frame it in the right way, it's possible that I will say, "I've arrived at something, and this is it." I haven't framed it. And I've also framed that as that's a truth, as opposed to a way of looking. So the whole notion of ways of looking is not wrapped up in that. It's quite an unusual idea, this whole notion of ways of looking, fabrication, clinging. What it gives as a potential benefit is it preserves this flexibility, and actually it also tells me that where I'm headed is to a freedom with ways of looking. I'm not headed to a certain experience and then stamping that experience with the stamp of "This is it! This is the god. This is ..." whatever it is, you know? I actually understand that there are ways of looking. I can pick them up. They fabricate less and less. I learn how to fabricate even less and less, as we were talking about when we answered Suzanne's question, by picking up certain concepts -- but not picking them up conceptually; picking them up as practices. But all of them are ways of looking, ways of looking, and I go through even the complete fading, and then I go beyond that, and then I come out in this even deeper place where I realize there are only ways of looking. And I'm free to pick up this way of looking where everything is nothing, or everything is awareness, or everything is love. I'm free to pick up "I'm a self, and this self needs this." I'm free to pick up an imaginal self. I just have ways of looking available to me, as opposed to "It's that."
So two levels. One is the framework. Don't underestimate the power of frameworks. And frameworks are communicated by teachers or by peers oftentimes actually implicitly. No one's waving a flag saying, "This is a framework to consider." You get rhetoric, and you get the authority of the teacher saying, "This is the truth," or [they] speak poetically and it's like, "Wow, that really touches me. It must be the truth." Can we be open to the poetry, open to the authority, open to the transmission, but actually aware of the power of any framework we entertain? All that is being kind of communicated to us. Incredible power of the framework, as I was saying last time we did the emptiness seminar and tonight.
So that's one level. The second level is one can get incredibly subtle and sophisticated with what there is to then let go of, whereas when I say "Who am I?", it becomes a little -- like Suzanne's question -- it becomes a little vague, you know? What would I let go of next? Because I'm not sure. Everything opens out; there's just divinity everywhere. In my framework, that'd be like, that's wonderful. That's great. Really enjoy that. There's still this hidden clinging, hidden concepts. You're still somewhere on the spectrum of fabrication of subject and object and world and time and all that. But if I don't have that framework and I don't have the tools of where I might then pull to fabricate less, it could just stagnate.
So I think we need to go with practices that we enjoy and that make sense to us and that are fruitful to us, but as you're asking me what the possibilities are, I would say that: framework and very, very delicate, artful, subtle use of concepts and how they link to unfabricating in meditation, etc. Does that ...?
Yogi: Yeah, yeah. Thank you. Thank you very much. It's helpful, very much.
Rob: You're very welcome.
Q4: keeping a practice alive in the moment, and taking it deeper
Rob: [1:13:34] Timmy, you had your hand up? Hi, Timmy.
Yogi: Hello. Yeah, a lot of what has been said tonight has really touched me and has been really insightful, so thank you, everybody. In my practice, I notice that I can be quite prone to jumping onto a different way of seeing rather quickly -- it's like there will be a bit of tension, maybe, and I'll be like, "Well, what can I use to explore this?", and then I'll try something out, for example, using the classic "Can I perceive this as not-self, as not me or not related to me right now?" Earlier in my meditation, that was really freeing. But then it got to a point where that perspective or that way of seeing seemed to kind of run out of fuel, or it lost its potency. So what you were saying earlier about the ability to stay in a way of seeing, for maybe months or something like this, and to savour it and become able to -- yeah, tune into the subtlety of the experience, really go on that level, seems really significant to me, because I've noticed that in my own practice on very micro levels. But when it comes to a duration game, I can become rather restless a little quickly. So if I try to keep the perspective or the way of seeing and I return to it gently and gently, not really forced, then rather it starts to provide a bit of tension in this place of feeling like I'm using something which may not be working. If you need any more clarification, I'm happy to give it, but I think that might be enough.
Rob: So when you say to me that it stops working, it sort of completely stops working, or it just works to a certain level, and then it's just like, "Okay, now what?"
Yogi: Yeah, it's a good question. What you said at the second part made a lot of sense and resonated to me. It's like -- maybe it still is working, but now what? But also a subtle feeling of -- what was the first one that you said?
Rob: It's just not working at all -- there's no relief from any suffering at all.
Yogi: There is the potential -- and this happened with, like, mettā, for instance, in the past, where it starts to not mean anything. Yeah.
Rob: Okay. Yeah, thank you. So that's very common with the mettā phrases. Let's start there with what you said last. Part of the art of meditation is how to keep things alive in the moment. So with the mettā phrases, you know, it's almost like you have to -- it's like making music or something -- well, that's not a good analogy. It's like something that resonates, like a guitar string or something, and you're in charge of -- this is a terrible analogy; I think I should abandon it immediately! [laughs] You're in charge of the resonance, okay? And you're kind of feeling in, in this moment, what is it that allows this to resonate nicely? With the mettā phrases, yeah, sometimes they just become meaningless. Sometimes it's too clunky for the mind, those phrases. We want to start feeling more in the energy body and in the heart the resonance of each phrase, and in feeling that, actually, then they start to go deeper. So they start to come alive again. Maybe they're much slower. Maybe they're much softer now. Maybe they're much more sparse, you know. So I'm tuning how I'm saying the phrases in connection with my resonance in my energy body and tuning that. And sometimes it's like no phrases, shut up, you know, and just be with the feeling of it, yeah?
So this business of tuning in any moment is really important. In the anattā practice, you know, what we said earlier, it's really important to couple these practices with the samādhi, meaning with the enjoyment. And again, the enjoyment is asking us to tune at a certain level. So it might be that you're doing a certain anattā practice and just peeling off into some samādhi for a while, at whatever level opens up, then allows you to pick it up again -- ten minutes later, five minutes later, half an hour later, whatever it is -- in a way that can be more fruitful. So it could be that.
It could be, of course, that all kinds of other impatience or contraction or aversion comes in and they're hijacking. So sometimes you have to actually -- if anattā is like I'm training it on something, it's a way of looking and I'm pointing it at something, sometimes it's that very tension, or it's the idea of like, "I've been doing this for how long?" It's hiding in the back of the mind, and that needs looking at with anattā, or with another practice, like letting go or something. But in terms of the other option, it might also be that the anattā practice just needs to deepen. Something in you wants it to deepen. It's ready to deepen. And it can deepen in at least two ways, okay? One is the extension of the range of phenomena that get regarded as anattā. So I'm sitting here, these sensations in my foot that is touching my chair, I can regard that as anattā. I practise doing that and that's great. It's a much more subtle and probably developed practice to regard the awareness of those sensations as anattā. Does that make sense? Then I can get into really subtle things like the intention to pay attention.
So it could be that actually you want to increase the practice, develop the practice in terms of the range of -- again, it's where the Buddha's lists are quite helpful, because instead of being like, "Why these silly lists?", one way of picking them up is actually they're things to practise with that can take you deeper and deeper. So if I were, right now, to practice disidentifying, regarding as not me, not mine, the awareness that senses the sensation in my foot right now, that would take me to a much deeper place than just regarding the sensations, for example. So that's one way you could think about deepening, is actually what's my range, and is it time to develop the harder phenomena?
The second way that it can deepen is in, at least the way I think of these kind of practices, it is a journey, and there's a kind of -- not so much formulaic or totally linear, but there is a kind of general way things go. So, for example, if I'm doing anattā on something or other, and the first thing I notice when I get going with it, I notice that, "Ah, I feel better. There's less suffering." Okay? But then, after I keep doing it, I develop my skill, and maybe it means extending the range of phenomena, like we said before, keep doing it, then I notice things start to fade, okay? Now, at that point, I need to repeat that. I need to see things fade over and over, and it's easier to see with a narrower focus than a very spacious [focus]. So I'm looking at this thing. It's not that I'm suddenly not looking at it, or getting distracted; I'm staring at that thing. I'm focusing on my toes right now, or whatever it is. While I'm keeping them in the attention, they are fading. I cannot escape that there's a connection there between the fading and the way of looking. I need to repeat that, I don't know how many times -- a hundred, a thousand, probably more like a thousand -- until it goes from here [points to head] to here [points to heart] and it's like, "I know something." What do I know at that point? The coin has dropped: I know those sensations are dependent, they're fabricated on the way of looking, dependent on appropriation (which is a kind of clinging).
When I know that, and I absolutely know it, then I can take that level of insight and start looking at the same sensations and just have another way of looking, a deeper way of looking, which is just, "Empty. Empty." What I mean by that -- the subtext of 'empty' is "I know you're empty because" -- this is the small print; I don't have to think this -- "you're dependent on the way of looking, and I've seen that, and I know that." Now, what that means -- it's not just "not me, not mine"; this is what I was saying earlier about the cold. It's not just "not me, not mine"; it's not inherently existent. We could put it in all kinds of words, but you're basically using a way of looking, getting an insight from it, and then taking that new insight and plugging it in as a way of looking at a whole other level. That's going to be much more powerful. When I look at something and I know that it has no inherent existence, the fading is even more. Yeah? So it might be that your practice is just -- something in the citta is itching to take things further. I wouldn't assume that it's not. Oftentimes that happens also with samādhi practice. Something's got stuck. It's actually that the mind knows that something else is possible and it wants to go deeper. So those would be two possibilities. How does that land?
Yogi: That lands extremely close to home, yeah, I think. You've provided a really good overview of all of the options, and I have a tendency to feel like I need to perfect the beginning stages forever, so I think that's -- also to get stuck in anattā; I've only really touched one level of it, and also the physical sensations of [?] and stuff as not mine, and left it there. So I think there's definitely some itching to explore something ...
Rob: Go for it. You know, it's a funny thing, again, teaching. Sometimes I find I have to slow people down, say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Just get into that a bit more," and sometimes it's like, "Come on. Even if you think, 'I could never do that,' just jump there and see what happens." This whole business is like -- in the book, it tries to lay it out linearly, but you know, all kinds of stuff can happen, and some people just have an intuition of emptiness much more than others, and their intuition is just ready to understand something, or grasps it from much fewer openings and experiences. So just see, you know? Just see. Just jump and see what happens. Yeah? Okay, great.
Q5: how the reduction of suffering, understanding of fading and dependent origination, and the sense of what's beautiful and sacred are woven together; the lasting understanding and liberation that come from seeing fading and the dependence on ways of looking
Rob: One of Marco's questions was actually in relation to my answer to Derek's question last time. Derek, you were okay with that exchange that we had?
Yogi: Yeah, I found that very helpful. I was reflecting on it; it felt like there was more perhaps there. I'm not sure if I can articulate it right now, but.
Rob: Okay. So we have, according to this watch, we have four more minutes. Is that correct? We don't have to be anally on time, but I want to respect the time. Because I could say a bit more in case it was unclear for other people, apart from just Marco. Could I say a little bit about that? Yeah? Okay. So let me see if I can do this relatively quickly. [reading note] Something about my response to Derek's question, and then Marco says:
I might hold a subtle yet fundamental assumption regarding the relationship between reducing suffering (third place in my league table) and insights into dependent arising (second place) that is not helpful any more. [Then he writes] Perhaps some of my confusion stems from listening to some of your earlier talks and not appreciating enough how and to what extent your views have changed, in particular in relation to suffering. For instance, yesterday I listened to the "Cittamatra" talk from 2009. In it, you emphasized that the whole point is the reduction of suffering. The definition of insight in your book also ingrained within me the view that the reduction of suffering in the moment is the compass in practice -- less clinging, less perception; more letting go, more fading, jhānas, or states of less fabrication; no clinging, no perception, no sense of self, no time, no space -- nibbāna. Then there is a chronic contraction in the throat, the head, or the stomach, and a meditator thus infers through my way of seeing I'm participating in the fabrication of this contraction. To the degree that I find more helpful ways of seeing, to that degree this perception will fade. And even though the reduction of suffering might not be my primary aim, it is a valuable and immediate compass, feedback, or guide to whether I'm understanding something about this wondrous perception business here, about my co-participation.
Your response to Derek's question challenged the view that the reduction of suffering should be central. My assumption was that places two and three in your league table are inextricably intertwined. In my humble experience, beauty and sacredness are more likely to manifest if there is -- or perhaps even to the degree that there is -- enough insight as defined in your book to recognize how I'm participating in a particular perception. Aren't the beauty and the reduction of suffering not also a dependent arising?
So I think it's just a small misunderstanding. If I understood Derek's question, it was really: I notice this thing fading when I look at it a certain way, and then I come out of meditation, and it comes back, and it's difficult, and it's a little bit bugging. So I totally agree with what Marco's saying -- all these three go together, or they should go together: the reduction of suffering in the moment, the understanding of fading and therefore dependent origination, and the sense of what's beautiful and sacred that opens up. Those three should go together. What may not happen is that this -- let's say I have a back pain. I look at it in a certain way; it fades. I come out of the meditation, I stop looking at it in a certain way; it comes back. I might have certain habitual muscular contractions that, after doing that a lot of times, they stop coming up. They've loosened enough. But other things, it won't -- it's dependent on the way of looking in the moment. So if I'm looking, if I'm kind of approaching the practice to try and get rid of something, or hoping it will stay, I'm kind of missing what I would regard as the central point.
In the moment, they're all going to be, all these three intentions are woven together. But over time, it's like, I see it fade, I see it come back, I see it fade, I see it come back dependent on the ways of looking, and that tells me something about the nature of reality, and that is freeing and liberating. And that's also an understanding I take with me even when the back pain is there, even when I'm dying, even when whatever. It stays. I can lean on that understanding at different times, and then that will have an effect on experience, but it's always there in the background, and the sense of existence has changed. That's priceless. And to me -- and I say this as, you know, someone who is very, very ill -- that's more important than getting rid of something. And the beauty likewise. It's like, I know the beauty, the beauties (plural) of existence, at -- not the whole range, but an extraordinary range, and the depth of that. It's something I know. Am I always vividly in touch with that beauty? No. But it's available, and it's there, and it's something I know about life and death and existence. Even when I'm not there, it's something I know: "Okay, it's less accessible now." So it's really we're talking about different time frames here, and maybe what's most important in that.
In that retreat that Marco's referring to, I actually don't remember, but what I do remember about those early emptiness retreats was, to my surprise, I had to actually point out the connection of why we were even talking about emptiness in the first place. It was almost shocking to me, but a lot of people showed up on the retreat -- paid for a month retreat, and it cost a lot of money, and they hadn't made the connection between emptiness and suffering or the Four Noble Truths or the release of suffering. So, I don't know, they were just there for, like, an abstract philosophical thing or "That's interesting. Tortoises all the way down" and whatever. I was like, wow, okay, I actually have to spell that out. So it may be that that instance -- certainly it created a chapter in the book, this "Actually, do you understand that this is intimately connected with suffering?" So it was really important to emphasize that.
In practice, it's also really important to emphasize, as I said, get it in the cells, get it in the bones: when I let go of clinging, it feels really good; there's less suffering; I feel less self; I get it in the heart, as opposed to emptiness being a kind of philosophical, intellectual position: "I'm a Buddhist, so therefore I believe that things have no inherent existence," and then I argue with someone who believes in God or something like that, or believes in a soul. It becomes just an abstract intellectual thing. I have to emphasize the suffering piece, the felt suffering -- again, 'suffering' is an elastic word; it's a continuum, dukkha. We're talking about really a continuum from gross suffering to very, very, very subtle. When I feel into that in practice, by highlighting that nexus of connection between clinging, way of looking, fabrication and suffering, then I'm getting the insight in my body. I'm learning it in my cells. You understand? And it's different than some kind of purely intellectual thing. Yeah? So that may be why I emphasized that back then. But basically, it's just a matter of time frames and relative intentions, I think.
It might be, you know, in the kind of thing Derek was talking about -- so when we start paying attention to something in practice, we're habitually paying attention to it, and then we just notice it more outside of practice, and so we're noticing that it's still bothering me. So there's a kind of priming of attention there that can sometimes be a little problematic, because the thing is more in my face. But that's not the central thing that I'm trying to get. I'm not trying to get permanent relief from this physical pain. I want something much more precious than that. And again, I say this as someone who has and still does experience a lot of physical pain, etc. To me, there's what are we doing this for? And it's just getting clear about that.
Okay. So I think we need to end, because we've gone over, and I think we need to respect people's needs. Actually, I'll just make an announcement. I think the authorities are going to email you all and give you a list and where you can get all these seminars. So in my counting, there are actually ten of them now. I did eleven; there are only ten that are going to be publicly available. There are, I think, three on Emptiness, two on Art and Dharma (I did a follow-up), two on Stream Entry, one on Engagement and Activism, one on Ontology and Conceptions of Reality, and one on Grace and Cultivation in Soulmaking. So you should get an email just where they are and you can find them, etc. So that's the announcement. Let's have a bit of quiet together.
Okay. Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much. Thank you to Hannah for hosting. I think that's it. So I don't know what will happen with my health and all that, and I've got some things coming up, but I hope, I hope that we can resume these. So let's see. But that will be the end of the series for now. Bless you all. Thank you. Bye.