Shamatha & Vipashyana

But if in illumination silence is lost,
then aggressiveness will appear…
But if in silence illumination is lost,
then you will become turbid and leave behind the dharma.
But when silence and illumination both are operating and complete
the lotus flower opens and the dreamer awakens
– Chan Master Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157)
(trans. Morten Schl├╝tter)

 

The ultimate state of being is to be beyond all designations; just being present in a state of spontaneous playfulness beyond the limitations of self, past, future and time itself; freely being in this one eternal moment and responding with skilfulness to circumstances. This could be said to be the purity of silent illumination and your true nature.

But to aid this journey back to your awakened state, revealed through the concept of silent illumination, you need to be continually returning to stillness and continually reflecting on who you are and what makes you tick. In order to return to the state of non-doing that is the ‘default’ position of silent illumination and your true nature, you need to work with your inner forces that resist the environment of stillness by using the tools of calming (shamatha) to help you to return to silence, and insight (vipashyana) contemplation that helps polish still brighter clear-seeing and the establishment of illumination. The skilful and timely use of shamatha and vipashyana is the white cloud that appears in the vast stillness and silence of your established awareness known as the blue sky, but when it appears it does not undermine or compromise the presence or nature of that blue sky.

You can use the shamatha tool whenever you find yourself losing the stillness when being drawn back into the turmoil of your restless mind. Return to creating a concentrated mind by focusing on an object. In our group we use the rise and fall of the abdomen as we breathe to focus the mind, so come back and use that familiar exercise whenever you feel it needs to be employed, and when you feel settled, you can rediscover the spaciousness of the blue sky. Vipashyana can now be turned to with a re-established environment of open silent stillness; you can give attention to your dualistic world and ponder your relationship with it. You may delve into your attachments and assumptions by pondering your relationship with them or take, for example, the very sharp cutting insight tools of the three signs of being (tri-laksana) which proclaim that all compounded things are impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self (truths accepted by all schools of Buddhism). You can apply this insight to any aspect of your created makeup and experience and challenge the life-long assumption held by us all that the self or ego is somehow an independent undeniable entity.

Using these tools may look to some like the conventional way of insight cultivation, but it certainly is not. These tools have the characteristics of cutting into delusion, but this is done not from the conventional concentration usually employed in meditation, with methods and techniques that require the exclusion of sense experience and connection to the undiscriminating quality of limitlessness awareness and the external world – but rather the complete opposite. Here insight is nurtured within the presence of your open, inclusive and still mirror-like blue sky that doesn’t pick and choose or discriminate. You don’t turn away from distractions because you see them as afflictions (kleshas), but rather have the spirit of embracing all that comes into your field of experience, with the knowledge that all is you and therefore must be embraced and contained in your blue-sky-like open awareness.

Always be alive to your awareness on or off the cushion. When on the cushion you stand a good chance of not being pulled around by the experience you are open to because of the steadfastness of your observing, still-like awareness. Off the cushion you are unlikely to attain the same clarity, but still, through ever-present commitment, retain and return continually to your mirror-like presence so you can open, observe and investigate the movement of your ingrained habits that will try continually to send dark clouds to obscure your blue sky.

To truly understand this form of insight nurtured within the spirit of the immanent model of ever-present reality, your experience of insightful awakening may include another perspective that is cut off from the methods of conventional vipashyana and the dualistic cultivation of the developmental model, comprising as it does stages inspired by progress and gain. Because you are abiding in the spirit of your open blue sky and not in the blinkered one-sided limitations of dualistic investigation, you can also open up to that part of you that can never be a part of your insightful investigations, simply because it is not a part of your conditioned being, and therefore not a separate independent thing that can be captured and pondered. Open to that part of you that is found in the stillness of illumination that touches on the reality of what you really are beyond obsessive dualistic attachment.

As well as burrowing into your world of delusion you can also open to and ponder that which is beyond and not of it. This is not for insight investigation and the tools that help investigation because there aren’t any compounded things that you can slice open and investigate. Look out at the incredible beauty and wonder of the world that you are completely immersed in and ponder the mystery of life and its irresistible desire to be at continual play. As the observer of this great and wonderful experience, wake up with an ever-growing conviction that you may not be the separate and often lonely bystander that you’ve always believed yourself to be.

Face inwards and discover the knower abiding in the stillness, and nurture a relationship, cultivated through humility, to that which is unobtainable but longs to support you. Push open the gate that you are leaning against when you remain open in your blue sky. Open to your inner guru and learn to make friends with that part of you that has inconceivable wisdom and love, the part that is willing to carry you through the difficulties of life and your training, if only you had the humility to get out of the way and let it. With the help of bowing your head learn to open and surrender this conceited self, and hand it back into the vastness of your inner nature. By putting into practice everything that the metaphor of the blue sky and white cloud offers and reveals, you find everything you will need for your training.

Insight cultivation through the immanent model of training has no barriers or limitations. It requires no methods or systems, only a spirit open to getting to know yourself through discipline and containment. Ethical behavior needs to be an ever-evolving uplifting challenge, and an ongoing willingness to take refuge in the three jewels is essential. This form of insight cultivation has an open spirit that is brought to all the four postures of sitting, standing, walking and lying down, and situations you find yourself in throughout the day and night without picking and choosing. I gave the example of using the traditional form of insight practice called the three signs of being (trilaksana). This form of insight can easily take you to the metaphysical nature of your existence and even allow you to tweak the ‘nuts and bolts’ that hold it all together. But beyond using this skilful form, simply knowing yourself in all situations is still the most potent condition to be in to create the platform for change. From this position of being alive to yourself, looking deeply into yourself becomes possible in any of the four postures of your daily life. Bring order and create quiet periods to your day so you can be with yourself and simply ponder and get to know yourself and make friends with what you discover.

Because you are not using methods of insight (such as those commonly found in the developmental model) and following that alternative way of liberation (of the immanence model) you will not face the danger of retreating behind dualistic conceptual barriers, but you will need to understand that this practice requires you to be continually honest and very open and intimate with what you discover in yourself. Just being intimate in naked awareness with yourself at times requires great courage, as your darkness and demons pay you visits. Sticking with a completely open environment without compromise will show you that the so-called spiritual journey is actually more like an adventure that, without doubt, will eventually take you to the full and complete fruit of awakening.

 

Taken from ‘Blue Sky, White Cloud’