Friday, June 21, 2013

My speaking / teaching engagements in Singapore in July

I try very hard to turn down all speaking requests this summer so that I can have more time for my meditative practice (eg, I'm doing 2-3 hours of daily sitting meditation at my home temple). Here are the engagements I could not turn down.  Please feel free to come by.

6 - 7 July: I'm speaking at the 8th Global Buddhist Conference.  President Nathan will be speaking there too.  (link)

13 July: I'm teaching a full-day meditation workshop (10am to 4pm) on Joy.  Hosted by the Buddhist Youth Network at the Vimalakirti Buddhist Centre.  (Registration link).

21 July: I'm teaching a full-day meditation workshop (10am to 5pm) on Joy. Basically the same workshop as the one on 13 July, but hosted instead by Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery at its Dharma Hall.  (Registration link).

30 July: I'll be speaking in Nanyang Technological University's Eminent Speakers Series.

Update (2013/07/06): Added registration links.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Shinzen Young on the in and out of attention (and enlightenment)

Yesterday, I wrote about arriving at the mind of voluntarily quieting all narrative thoughts.  I sent it to one of my main teachers, the great Shinzen Young, for his comment.  As usual, he blows my mind with the depth of his wisdom.  In his reply to me (quoted below), he tells me that what I am experiencing is only one of four possible paths towards enlightenment ('enlightenment' with a small 'e'), and goes on to explain the other three.  Fascinating stuff.

As usual, Shinzen gives me blanket permission to make public anything he writes to me.

Dear Meng,

Thanks for the report. Clearly you are making significant progress (but you don't need me to know that :) ).

In terms of the way I like to formulate things, the insights that you're having are related to the interplay of inner activity (See In, Hear In, Feel In) and outer activity (See Out, Hear Out, Feel Out).

Attention is in some ways like a pendulum. Sometimes it gets tugged towards inner activity. Sometimes it gets tugged towards outer activity. However the physical pendulum metaphor is incomplete and misleading because for the attention pendulum there are two other possibilities. For one thing, it can be pulled in both directions at once (outer activates and at the same time inner also activates -- usually in reaction to outer). A fourth possibility is that both inner and outer activity contract to Rest/Gone simultaneously.

When outer expands but inner contracts, one has that delicious experience that you described. When inner expands and outer contracts, people typically are lost in the default mode network--memory, plan, fantasy, judgment, problem solving, confusion, etc. However, it is possible for outer activity to contract and inner activity to expand without necessarily being caught in our thoughts and emotions. The Focus In technique is designed to allow that to happen. This is one instance of the "divide and conquer" paradigm for enlightenment.

So one way that enlightenment can occur is when outer completely expands and inner collapses to zero, and we notice it. You're starting to taste that. Another way that enlightenment can arise is that inner expands, outer contracts, but there's huge concentration, clarity, and equanimity with regards to the arising of inner. Another way that enlightenment can occur is that outer and inner both simultaneously expand into activity but they're both in a flow state, so they become a single wave of emptiness. Another way that enlightenment can arise is that both outer and inner both simultaneously contract. There's no self and there's no world. One abides in the Unborn. Zen Master Línjì (Rinzai臨濟義玄) describes this in his Four-Fold Summary (四料简). (See addendum below.)

In your report, you describe how, when inner activity contracted, outer activity became more salient. But you also described how "giving yourself" to outer activity can cause inner activity to contract. And yes, you're right on both accounts, these are two sides of the same process.

Couched in my language, your experience of “seeing without seeing”, came about through expansion of conscious See Out and contraction of subconscious See In. By subconscious See In I mean the subliminal spread of visual associations. Hence the phrase "see without seeing" is logically correct. There are analogous experiences of hearing without hearing and feeling without feeling. (Or more generically “outing” without “ining.”)

Also, you got an important insight into the complimentary nature of samatha and vipassana. Actually, one of my pet peeves is that many people inappropriately separate these two aspects of practice. There are circumstances where the distinction between samatha and vipassana can be helpful but there are also circumstances where it makes no sense and can actually be misleading. My personal approach to this issue was called samathavipassana yuganaddha by Ananda (see Yuganaddha sutta) and Zhǐguān Shuāngyùn (止观双运) by the Tiāntái masters.

Another one of my pet peeves is the use of the phrase "direct experiencing." (Sorry about that :) ).  A more accurate phrase would be "experiencing outer activations without inner reactions." The reason why I object to the phrase direct experiencing is that it seems to imply that "experiencing outer activations without inner activations" in and of itself is the ultimate goal of the practice. As I see it, the ultimate goal of the practice is to dramatically elevate the base levels of concentration, clarity, and equanimity. A consequence of achieving that is the ability to experience outer activations without inner activations. But another consequence of that is the ability to totally allow inner activations to occur but without any identification or coagulation or unconsciousness around them and experiencing inner activity in such a state also deserves to be called direct experiencing. To eulogize Out and demonize In could cause an imbalance in a person's practice.

Having said that, I also must acknowledge another fact: by consistently experiencing outer activity without inner reactions, one can, with time, develop the generic skills needed to do exactly the opposite. And that's precisely the breakthrough that you're reporting. So good work and thanks.


The Four-Fold Summary* (四料简)
Zen Master Línjì (Rinzai臨濟義玄)


Shinzen's translation:

After evening practice, the Master addressed the community saying:
“Sometimes I rip away the person but leave the surroundings.
Sometimes I rip away the surroundings but leave the person.
Sometimes I rip away both the person and the surroundings.
Other times I rip away neither the person nor the soundings.”

A monk then asked:
“Can you say some more about ripping away the person but leaving the surroundings?”

The Master responded:
“Plants flourish beneath the torrid sun covering the earth with brocade, the lambent hair of the little child glistens as bright as silk.”

The monk asked:
“Can you say some more about ripping away the surroundings but leaving the person?”

The Master said:
“The king’s orders are obeyed throughout the kingdom. At the borders, the general has quelled rebellion.”

The monk asked:
“Can you say some more about ripping away both the person and the surroundings?”

The Master said:
“All lines of communication have been severed. Totally alone in One Spot.”

The monk said:
“Can you say some more about ripping away neither the person nor the soundings?”

The Master said:
“The king ascends the jeweled palace. The peasant sings in the field.”

* Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 47, No. 1985 鎮州臨濟慧照禪師語錄

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Becoming able to not think

In the weeks leading to December 2012, I begun having increasingly frequent moments during meditation where I voluntarily stopped thinking (at least the narrative / chattering mind became completely quiet) and the mind had enough clarity to abide in that space of no-thought.  But everytime it happened, it'd only last one moment, because the next moment, the narrative mind would say, "Hey, look, no thought!  D'oh!"

Starting 7 December 2012, I sat in a short 3 days retreat led by Jon and Will Kabat-Zinn.  I made a huge stride forward.  During the retreat, I became able to arrive at that mind of no-thought repeatedly, and each instance a little longer than it normally would (but still short enough to qualify as "a moment").  I investigated that mind and found that it has 3 features:

1. "Direct experiencing" is very strong, specifically the experience of sensation.  There is brain science that shows the "direct experience" network to be mutually exclusive to the "narrative" network in the brain, and I think I have discovered it experientially.

2. Specifically, audio sensitivity is very high.  In that mind, I became very sensitive to sound.  At first, I wasn't sure of the direction of causality, I thought it was attention to the sound that led to the mind of no-thought, since I was close to a water fountain at the time.  So I moved far away from it to a "quiet" spot and found that, in that mind, I became very sensitive to the air conditioning sound.  Hence, it seems like the no-thought mind lead to heightened audio sensitivity.

3. Seeing without seeing.  I had a very strange visual experience, which I could describe only as "seeing without seeing".  I could clearly see, but I could not perceive visually.  I investigated it and figured out what happened.  In that mind of no-thought, the gaze of the eyes was fixated on one spot.  I realized that when we "see" a scene, the eyes are actually scanning the entire scene and then the mind forms a mental picture.  When the gaze is fixated, the mind could not form the mental picture and hence it did not "see".  When I returned to seeing "normally" (ie, allowing the eyes to scan the scene), that subtle activity alone was enough to break the no-thought mind.

And then I realized something more profound.  I realized that what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls "awarenessing", which is being here now and attending entirely to the present (especially to sensations) creates the conditions for no-thought mind, which in turn creates the conditions for quietness of mind, which then creates the conditions for samadhi (concentration and serenity).

In other words, "awarenessing" is the secret ingredient in developing the ability to completely quiet one's mind of thought.  Wow.

Given that insight, I wrote to myself:
Having nowhere to go and nothing to do.
Sensual excesses vigilantly restrained.
Generously treating all with kindness.
Mind is ready.

Letting go of all past and future.
Joyously mindful of this present moment,
Every moment.
Right now.

I allow the mind to settle on its own.

Letting go of all desire to restrain the mind.
Just letting it settle on its own.
In whichever way it wants.
In its own time.

Thus, applying skillful effort,
Samadhi arises effortlessly.

(Since March 2013, so many things have been happening in my "real life" that I temporarily lost the ability to completely quiet my mind of thought, but happily, I know how to regain that ability as my practice deepens to match the increased challenges in my "real life".)

Update (2013/06/17): The great Shinzen Young comments on this.  See link.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Chinese (Traditional) edition of Search Inside Yourself launched

The Chinese (Traditional) edition of Search Inside Yourself was launched on 27 May 2013!  As of today (10  June 2013), it is #5 on the bestsellers list in the "Psychological Inspirational" sub-category at (link).  It is also #21 on the overall bestsellers list for new books (link).

The publisher says the book is selling so well it is already being reprinted.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chinese (Simplified) edition of Search Inside Yourself launched

The Chinese (Simplified) edition of Search Inside Yourself was launched on 1 June 2013!

You can find it on (here) or (here) or (here).