I will talk about Right Concentration or Right Tranquility.
Actually what I want to focus on tonight about Right Concentration
is the breath, our life breath. In every moment that we are
alive we must hold our breath in consciousness, and mostly
we forget we breathe it.
in this very fine and beautiful sea of gas, air, oxygen, nitrogen,
carbon dioxide, and a few other lesser inert gases, and six
or eight or ten or twelve times a minute we breathe this gas
into our lungs, and it goes all the way down into the little
sacs or alveoli, or whatever they're called, into the lungs
that fill up and exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide and cleanse
our system. And somehow we are so connected with this ocean
of air on the earth that we're like fish in water, we don't
notice it, we don't see it, and mostly we forget we breathe
it. Yet it's essential and it's so important in our physical
life -- and in some way to connect with it, to touch it, is
a way to open our spiritual life very practically, very straightforwardly.
friends whose baby was born out in the country with no doctor,
and it was born breached, and it was blue and wasn't breathing.
They gave this little tiny infant artificial respiration,
and they sat with with it and waited to see if it would breathe,
whether it would be alive, whether their son would be a part
of their family. They said that's where they learned what
it was like to watch the breath. It wasn't even their own
breath. It was like to really pay attention, to see if there
will be a breath. The baby's grandmother who had done a lot
of retreats, died of lung cancer a few years ago. She had
developed lung cancer earlier, and had a remission and did
her last dance rather wonderfully and admirably. Then when
the cancer came back and she finally died, in her whole last
week when her lungs were filled with fluid, she talked about
waiting to see if the next breath would come, whether she
would be able to breathe the next breath. She was so grateful
for the meditation she had done. She said otherwise it would
have driven her crazy, but here it was, it was something she
could really use, and she did that for her whole last week
of life. She died in a very beautiful way.
is kind of a mirror for us. Most of the time we don't look
in that mirror. It's the mirror of our energy, it's the mirror
of our openness. Feel how full your breath is at different
times. If you want to see what's happening in you, pay attention
to your breath. Is it real big, can you take a nice full sigh?
Sighs are wonderful. Do you know about sighs? Everybody takes
sighs, generally about once a minute, as far as I know. We
do! I noticed more because of my father being on the respirator
from his heart surgery two months ago when I was there. They
put a tube in his throat and they have this respirator which
breathes for you when you can't breathe. It has this funny
thing on it. It has a little dial on it which says, "Sigh
Adjustment," and you have to sort of get it right for
that person. It will make eight regular even breaths, and
then there will be this big breath that it takes for you.
It does that because it's part of the normal respiratory system
to take regular sighs, regular big breaths. It was wonderful
to see. It kind of made concrete this sense of what the breath
is when it is big, when you can sigh, it is a kind of letting
go. That's beautiful. So sigh. Let yourself sigh once in a
while. Make it your meditation.
is a mirror of how we are. Have you observed your breath when
you're afraid? What does it do? It gets short. What else do
you observe with your breath? It gets more rapid. Sometimes
it stops. Can you feel what it does in your body? For a lot
of people the diaphragm won't move hardly at all and there
will be a little breathing from the chest. All kinds of changes
happen with fear. Observe it. If you want to learn about fear,
one good place to start with is the breath. Or when you are
angry, what does your breath do? Or when you're passionate,
or when you're calm, or when you're in a traffic jam, what
does your breath do?
learn a tremendous amount in this very simple mirror of working
with the breath. You can learn about openness. How does it
affect your heart? When your breath is really open, what is
your heart like in terms of your feelings and openness, your
connection with people around? When you feel your heart closed,
without judging it, look and see what your breath does and
what it's like. Does this make sense to you, that you can
use the breath in some way? It doesn't mean to say that the
breath is always going to be wonderful and open -- That's
like saying your heart should always be soft and wonderful
and open. I don't know; it's not my experience. It's like
flowers, they open and close.
a very important and extraordinary lesson. I was sitting around
with Robert Hall, whom some of you know, who is a Gestalt
therapist and body worker, and one of the people who started
the Lomi School. He spent a lot of years in his own practice
of developing ways of working with the body, and opening,
and energy, and breathing. We were reading a book about the
life of Ramana Maharshi, this great Indian saint. And there
were some pictures of Ramana Maharshi in the last part of
his life with cancer, and his body was contorted and twisted
and it looked tight. It certainly looked like he couldn't
breathe very well, it looked like he couldn't move very well.
And the description from the people who were with him was
that he was in pain, and that he would go to sleep, and there
would just be these moans and things that would come out of
his body. And at the same time his eyes were exactly the same
as those pictures of five or ten or twenty years before. They
were wide and bright and completely clear, and there was just
this real sense of depth and love. Robert looked at that and
he said, "My God, here I am trying to get people to open
their bodies and it really has nothing to do with it, does
it?" That's not completely true. It is one end of the
spectrum, but it is also true that if you breathe and if you
open, and if you run, and if you exercise, that the physical
opening helps the heart and the mind to open.
the heart is the heart, and it can be open in fire and it
can be open in ease. But for most of us, and most of the time,
breath is a mirror. It's really something to work with. You
can work with it in martial arts as a way to martial your
power. You can work with it if you have meetings. If they're
boring or difficult, go to your breath, do ten breaths, where
you just pay attention to your breath, and you'll find all
your relationship to all the circumstances around you change.
It's a practical tool for living in the world. Now, what makes
it practical, what makes it useful?
it useful, aside from the fact that it's a mirror, is that
it's the place to learn the art of concentration. Concentration
has two parts to it. One part is the quieting or the tranquility.
Without that we don't so often hear the voice of God, as Mother
Teresa said. She says:
to find God -- or whatever you want to call it, our true
nature -- and this cannot be found so easily through noise
or restlessness. God or truth is a good friend of silence.
See how nature, trees, grass grow in silence. See the stars,
the moon, the sun, how they move in silence. The more we
receive in silence, the more we can give in our actual life.
part of this element of concentration is using the breath
to learn to become quiet or tranquil, to become still; not
to seek quiet so much but to slow down. Our culture is so
fast. We fill up our lives all the time. I know it very well
when I look at my schedule book. I lived for ten years without
a schedule book while I was teaching -- until I got married
and had a baby, and all that stuff. And it was really a shock
to get another day-by-day or week-by-week schedule and start
filling it up again. It's not just that. It's the speed of
the traffic, it's the speed of the news, it's the speed of
our interaction. Somehow in it, we forget. Do you know what
it means to go for a walk for a little while on Mt. Tamalpais
or down to Point Reyes or somewhere in the country, and what
it does for our ability to feel the sea of air that we live
in, or to stop and reflect what we care about in our lives,
or to feel the tension in our body, and somehow let it melt
a little bit, or to spend time alone, to listen? Somehow I
think that our speed is partly what makes the bombs. I don't
think we could do it if we were slower. I really don't. So
that's the first part of concentration, just slowing down
a little bit, letting things settle, stop waving our arms
part I want to go into in some depth for the next twenty minutes
or half an hour is really to talk about what it's like to
work with the breath as a vehicle for concentrating the mind
and heart. It is somewhat technical. I've given lots of other
kinds of talks. Hopefully, they are of some use for you if
you're doing some regular meditation.
the mind means to collect it, to have it become steady or
one-pointed, like a candle flame in a windless place, where
it's steady and it doesn't flicker so much. Every great spiritual
and yogic tradition works with concentration. Do you know
that? Whether it's the Hasidic prayers or the Jesus prayers
or mantras or the shamans who do certain kinds of incantations
or rites to concentrate the mind, not to speak of Buddhist
and Hindu yogas of every kind; they all work with concentration.
Do you know why that is? Do you know why? Does anybody have
any idea why? Why is concentration is so stressed to collect,
to concentrate the mind -- do the breath, do a mantra, focus
on a light, focus on a prayer, do it over and over again,
sit out in the woods as an Indian and roll a little stone
around a big one until your mind gets concentrated and you
have visions? Does anyone know?
Just to keep you present?
That's the first part of it. That's very nice. Because you
can't understand what's real or true except in the moment.
Otherwise, it is thought about past and future, so it's fantasy.
So that's one good reason. What else?
Gives you something to work with, collects your mind so you
can use it.
Collects your mind so you can use it, and it gives you Something
to work with, which means it gives you a vehicle to collect
it. Is that what you mean?
Okay. So that's another reason to concentrate, in order to
find a way to collect the mind. Collect the mind to be present.
Why else collect it, why else concentrate? Any other reason?
of all these yogis in Egypt and the Desert Fathers, in India
and the Taoist monasteries learning concentration exercises.
For me, it's like my energy is running off in all these different
directions, until I can collect my energy and focus it.
So it's a way of focusing energy. That's another good answer,
another good part of it.
like light energy, and it can be focused in several ways.
If you begin to concentrate it, it's like collecting light
energy in a laser. Instead of having it scattered in all directions,
if you concentrate, the power of mind becomes usable when
it's collected. You can train it at something and penetrate
it. Another image to use is that of a lens. If you concentrate
the mind, it's like grinding a lens. If you focus and you
concentrate, and you come back again and again, and it becomes
steady and still, you can see as if the mind were a microscope
or a telescope. You can see into all other realms of consciousness
through the power of concentration. Concentration is the main
vehicle in almost every yogic and spiritual school for altering
our level or our perspective of consciousness.
mind is scattered and filled with thoughts, mostly all you
see is your ordinary reality. Ordinary reality is real too,
but part of what helps free us is to see that it's relative,
that there are some other perspectives in life. And concentration
is the vehicle to discover those other perspectives. It's
also the way to learn to live in the present moment, so then
you can see what is true.
you were to start and work with concentrating on your breath,
what would the stages or steps be like as you followed it?
Here are some of the things: The first is that you just learn
to get here as suggested. Okay? You count one to ten, or you
count one to a hundred, or a hundred to zero backwards, or
you note the rising and falling of the chest or in and out
of the air, and finally you start to become more present.
lies in the middle of the dense forest.
Every year the ivy grows longer,
no news of the affairs of men,
only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
I mend my robe.
When the moon is out I read poems.
I have nothing to report, my friends.
want to find the true meaning,
stop chasing after so many things.
the first step for us in watching the breath, not chasing.
Here's an ad I just cut out:
TO GET WHAT YOU WANT:
it, you want something bad, a new car, a bigger house, a
more challenging job, a clean garage, a chance to unload
that stuffed wolverine. You want something and you want
it now. But it takes more than the power of positive thinking
to make your dreams come true.
level of working with the breath, of watching it, not chasing
after so many things, is counting, is watching the in-and-out,
it's just getting here with the reality of the moment, of
the breath coming in and out. That's already a lot, as you
probably noticed in sitting an hour and trying to work with
your breath. I don't mean that one exclusively works with
the breath, because in vipassana we work with sounds and thoughts
and feelings, but tonight I just want to focus on the power
of working with the breath.
you get here, you count, or you feel the in and out, or the
rising and falling. Then the second level is that you can
start to relate to the space between breaths. Has anyone done
that in working with the breath? So you see, there's the in-breath,
and there's the out-breath, and there's the rising and falling,
and as you get a little more silent you start to see, "Hey,
there's some room in there, there's some space." And
it has two important points. One is that it begins to teach
us to relate to something that's less than busy and full all
the time, just teaches us to relate to the elemental quality
of silence, of openness, of space, by feeling the space between
take enough time to sense space, we keep filling it up. So
this little thing in the breath has something to teach us.
Or if you like -- this is a technique that's useful for some
people -- you can begin to use that space as a way to further
continue the refined concentration by working with some points
of touch. For some people they just sense space, in-out, then,
"Ah, there's some space," and then the breath comes
again, out of nowhere. For others, because the mind wanders
a lot in that space, and it's difficult, they find it valuable
to be aware of the touch point, of the lips touching together,
or the hands in the lap, or the buttocks on the cushion --
in-out, touching, rising-falling, touching, in-out, lips touching;
so that things start to become continuous and the mind doesn't
Merwin in this poem says:
forget what time it is for an hour.
Do it regularly every day.
Then forget what day of the week it is,
and do this regularly in company for a week.
Then forget what country you are in,
and practice doing it in company for a week,
and then do them together for a week
with as few breaks as possible.
these by forgetting how to add
or to subtract.
It makes no difference.
You can change them around after a week.
Both will later help you to forget how to count.
how to count,
starting with your own age,
starting with how to count backwards,
starting with even numbers,
with roman numerals,
starting with fractions,
with the old calendar,
going on to the alphabet,
forgetting it all until everything
is continuous and whole again.
the second step, of somehow learning to relate to space or
things which are disparate, and our mind which is scattered
-- it comes back to being more whole again. So we start to
watch the breath, and we get to the point where we can let
go of the past and the future and be a little more present,
and there's the in and out, and we can relate to the space
between breaths, and we see the breath as the mirror of our
emotions. You can learn a lot. You can learn a lot by observing
anything. Here we're just going into one little aspect of
experience, our breath.
comes, as you can relate to the space and the touch point
more, you get to the point where you can let go more. It's
called, "Letting Go of Some Control." And in truth,
one of the greatest aids to concentration is relaxing. Concentration
isn't a forcing of your mind on your breath, or on the pain,
or on the pleasant sensation, or on the thought. It's much
more a sense of the opening, of the softening, of the receiving.
That's what allows the mind to settle, to settle on the breath,
to settle on the sensation, to settle on the sound. It means
our learning how to not control so much.
noticed, for many people, when you start to work with the
breath, there's this tendency to hurry it up, or to move it,
or to change it, how it takes a little while? It takes some
systematic training to work with the breath, where finally
it just breathes itself.
this friend of mine, an old Tibetan monk who I met in this
forest monastery. He was actually Hungarian but he ordained
with the Dalai Lama years before. He said the Dalai Lama let
him go up in the mountains and visit the hermits who were
in their caves, who saw almost no one. He went with one of
the Dalai Lama's teachers, Ling Rinpoche. He visited them.
He was kind of a neophyte at that time, just learning. These
people had spent 20 or 40 years in their caves or their little
huts. He said, "Well, what technique do you use?"
They said, "Techniques?" He said, "Yes. Do
you use a mantra, do you follow your breath?" He said
the first time he asked about that one of them just laughed
and laughed. He said, "The breath, it breathes itself."
That was all he said about it, the breath just breathes itself.
the letting go, of actually seeing that the world has a natural
order that runs itself. We try so hard to control it. Take
a rest, you know; put your feet up a little bit. You don't
run your heart or your liver, and they do real good without
you, you know. "Ah."
counting and there's getting here. There's the space between
and relating to space, and the touch point. And then there's
learning to let go and relax a little bit, and start to sense
the natural order rather than controlling. The breath is a
vehicle for seeing, like anything else. You can start to see
in a more refined way, you start to see the beginning and
the middle and the end of the in-breath, or the beginning
and the middle and the end of the out-breath. That's an amazing
thing. Most people never saw the beginning of a breath in
their whole life. Why is it valuable? Who cares? So what if
you can see the beginning of a breath, what's its purpose?
Anybody got an idea?
You see that it comes and goes, that things come and go.
That's very nice. That as you start to listen, if you really
concentrate, you see that wherever you are is being born and
is dying; that every breath is a birth and a death; every
movement, every sensation, every sound, every sight. You start
to relate to one thing that maybe we need to learn about --
besides love -- and that is birth and death; that is, the
arising and passing of things.
breath is teaching you about the thing that everybody wants
to know: What happens when you die? A lot of people do! For
some people it's the last thing they want to know. "Don't
tell me, I don't want to hear." But a lot of people want
to know. If you want to know, look at your breath, the beginning,
the middle and the end -- so you start to see it more clearly.
a beautiful sutra on the mindfulness of the breath,
and here the Buddha says to some monk: Go, you guys, and find
yourself some comfortable tree root underneath some tree out
there, and cross your legs and sit down and close your eyes,
and see if you can discover the whole nature of the world
from your breath. It bears great fruit; cultivate it regularly;
bring it to perfection. First, breathing in long, I know I
breathe in long. Breathing in short, I know it's a short breath.
Experiencing the breath in the whole body. Calming the body
with the breath. Observing the breath as it arises and passes,
calming the mind using the breath. There's this whole set
of instructions, two thousands, three thousand years ago saying:
Okay, if you want to understand about life and death, very,
very simple, here you are: go take this and work with the
breath. Sit down in some quiet place and you will begin to
stage is refinement -- seeing the beginning, the middle, the
end, what breaths are long, which ones are short, when it's
held, when it's released. Then more refinement, which I'll
get to: the four elements, and the mind and body. I'll get
to that in a bit. So you start to refine it. You see, "Oh,
here's birth and death; here's the beginning and end of things."
next stage is what I call Training the Puppy. It's like, "Okay,
stay," and the puppy gets up. "Stay," and it
gets up and runs around. "Stay", and you do it a
million times, and since the inner puppy is much more recalcitrant
than the outer puppy, it finally starts to begin to learn.
What's involved in training a puppy? Has anybody ever trained
a puppy, outwardly trained a puppy? First of all, it takes
some patience, doesn't it? Okay. And you have to be willing
to let it shit all over a little bit if you want to have a
puppy house broken or sit down.
it's true with the mind. As you start to concentrate, you
will meet a wall or a sea of resistance. It's called kilesa
in Sanskrit or Pali, which means "hindrance" or
"defilement". It really means "burning in the
mind." For example, if you try to do a kind of macho,
and muscle your way into concentration, which you can do if
you want -- you can experiment with it. Say, "I'm just
going to concentrate on the breath and not let my mind move"
-- try it for an hour, and you will see what I mean about
fire, because it is very hard for the mind to slow down. It
has its own momentum like a flywheel. Your mind will kick
up and throw out every reason to stop. There will be old angers,
new desires, pains in the body, sounds, reasons to move, and
every possible thing other than feeling the breath. It's an
interesting experiment to do, just to try it, not because
that's really the way to learn to concentrate -- you'll wear
yourself out. There is a way to do that, but it's very, very
hard. Why not take it a little easier? It actually doesn't
take that much longer as long as you're persevering, but you
can do it. And what you discover, even when you do it more
gently, is that as you start to collect it, all the resistances
come up: fear, desire, anger, distraction, plans, or memories.
what it means to concentrate the mind is to purify it. I don't
use that word so often, but it's an important one for this
learning how to deepen meditation. Purification means that
there are all these forces of grasping, of fear or anger,
or whatever, that keep pulling us in every direction, and
to collect it or to balance it means not that we get rid of
these, but that we learn somehow to let them come. And almost
like the fire that comes and burns through, we don't grasp
it -- we let it come and we let it go.
the breath, if you start to work regularly with the breath,
maybe you do it half of every sitting, or some part of your
practice, then all the things which we call for the moment
kilesas or fire or hindrances, they will all reveal
themselves to you. The purification is to honor them, to give
them a little kiss when they arise, let them go gently, to
see them, and then come back again to the breath. And they
are powerful. They are the force that kind of pull the mind
around in circles.
thing in training the puppy is that you come to your resistance
and you learn about what it means to work with resistance.
If you struggle against it, it makes it twice as hard, and
if you do it gently and say, "Oh, there it is, there's
desire or anger wanting to take me away again," you let
it go, and come back. You can really learn how to train the
puppy, how to train the heart.
gone through the resistance, then the next thing that happens
in training the puppy is a sense of interest. Then it's borne
more fully out of this. There are two ways to express it.
The first is that as you get through the resistance, even
watching the resistance is actually very interesting. Has
anybody ever seen what it's like when they try to put their
mind somewhere or what it does? It's like a fish out of water
for awhile, it just flops everywhere. Look at it! It's interesting
to see what it is that keeps us out of the moment.
awhile, as you do it, and you keep bringing it back again
and again, the breath starts to have its own interest, which
is like reading Agatha Christie. In the beginning the story
may or may not be interesting but as you go along and you
get the plot and you get all the intrigue, you really start
to wonder who did it and what's going on. Similarly with the
breath. At first it's difficult, but if you work with it for
a while, it actually starts to become interesting. And just
when you're reading Agatha Christie near the end and someone
walks in the room, you don't even hear or see them because
you're so interested in "who done it."
finally get through some of the resistance and you really
start to concentrate on the breath, it gets interesting, and
all of those other things which had disturbed you pass away
much more easily, and you actually enjoy feeling it and seeing
what it's doing.
kind of interest one sometimes needs to go through is the
Zen story of a young boy going to this master who has a monastery
on a stream, and saying, "Please teach me." And
the master says, "You're not really sincere." "What
do you mean I'm not sincere? I want to learn." The master
says, "Go away." And the boy comes back again and
again. Finally, this young boy comes and says, "I really
want to learn." The master says, "No, you don't,"
and he grabs him and throws him in the water and he holds
his head down under the water. The boy is kicking and screaming.
Finally he lets him up when he's just about blue and out of
breath. The boy asks, "Why did you do that?" The
master says, "When you want to learn what I have to teach
as much as you wanted that breath, then you can come and I'll
teach you." That actually comes of itself.
is something that also can be cultivated, can be nourished,
can develop. If you work through these things that come, and
you stay with it, there's an interest that comes all by itself.
It's one of the factors of enlightenment; it starts to come
training the puppy, working through the resistance, having
the interest arise, and then you get to what Suzuki-roshi
calls, "Burning Completely." He says:
to not leave traces with your thought, when you do something,
do it completely with your whole mind and body. Like a good
bonfire, you should not be a smoky fire, but learn to burn
yourself completely. Throw yourself wholly into whatever
an art, that's a gift, to love a person, to take a walk on
the beach, to paint, to dance, to do your taxes, but to do
them completely and not do something else at the same time.
If you'll save a little more money when you pay attention
that way, I don't know. But do things really completely.
training the puppy, going through the resistance, and discovering
that the breath actually has a lot to teach you, that it's
interesting. Then the next is coming to rest. When you've
finally done that, and you start to get interested, and you've
done it for awhile, you come to rest on the breath. It's like
what Don Juan says, "Stopping the internal dialogue"
of trying to plan, and remembering or going off into the past
and future and worrying, all of those things. No trace of
thought, finally coming back to where there is less desire,
instead of trying to keep bringing your mind back. At first,
it's like a mountain, and you climb up to the top and you
balance and stay on your breath, and then you fall off into
sleep or restlessness, and then you struggle up, and there
you are with the breath or in the moment, and you fall off,
and after awhile it becomes like a valley. You do it again
and again and again. Finally, you actually start to settle
on the breath. It's like the mind comes to rest in the body.
It will go off in sleep or restlessness or desire, but then
it slides back down and you come to rest in the moment. And
it's delightful, coming to rest!
the coming to rest, then come the Factors of Enlightenment.
There comes lightness and joy and a tremendous sense of ease;
and the body, once it starts getting concentrated, changes
completely. Even if you wanted to slump, you can't. The energy
opens up, the breath opens up, and you just sit up straight.
You can sit up straight for hours when the breath is open
and you're concentrated. It happens all by itself. You don't
need so much sleep either. That's good when you have babies
and things like that. It happens all by itself.
something else comes -- light. When you really concentrate
on the breath, or whatever, this very peculiar thing happens.
With your eyes closed, there comes light in the mind. Some
people see it as clouds, some see it like headlights turned
onto them; some see it as a bright sky or sun; some see it
initially as colors of green or blue, but later on it turns
into white light. I don't know why, but when the mind is concentrated,
it fills with light. It's not that far away. It's really accessible
to a lot of people.
I was reading these essays by Lewis Thomas. In one of them
know, we're so afraid of God in this country, in this century,
in this scientific mind that we have. Even though we talk
about the creation of the universe -- the scientists call
it, "The Big Bang" -- there is no bang. For sound,
which is a very gross level of energy, you need air for
sound waves to travel. There was no air. it was empty dark
space. There were no ears to hear it. There wasn't sound.
What it really was, instead of a big bang, it was the great
a more accurate description, whether it's true or not, of
what that first cosmic explosion was, or whatever you want
to call it. It's a little scary to call it "The Great
Light," it's a little bit too spiritual. So we'll call
it "The Big Bang." It's sort of like a tank or something
like that, and scientists can relate to it in some way. So
what happens? You come to rest and you come to this sense
of peace and then spontaneously in the mind comes light. It's
this fantastic thing. That's part of the reason why all these
yogic and other traditions also work with concentration, because
it opens the mind and the heart to allow our natural light
to shine. And it's literally light. I mean, you can sit in
the dark and it seems like lights are being shone on you,
many, many kinds of light. The mind becomes stable and joyful,
rapture comes when it's peaceful.
there joy when the mind is concentrated? Does anybody have
Freedom from yourself.
That's a good one. Getting away from oneself is always a treat.
It's a natural state.
It's a natural state, so there's rest. There's another simple
There's nothing else you want.
There's nothing else you want, which is to say, when you're
really concentrated, the rent check, your girlfriend, your
difficulties with your parents or your children, next year's
travel plans, all are gone because there's no thought. The
past and the future have disappeared, and when they're gone
it gets very groovy. It gets real quiet and very happy because
there's no worry and there's no fear. Fear is always about
something that hasn't come, so is worry, so is desire.
kind of the anatomy of what the present moment can have for
you in some ways. You get to this level of lightness, joy.
Now, the ability of mind is another thing that happens. If
you train concentration, you get to a point where this amazing
thing happens, where you decide, "I want my mind to be
here, to listen to sound." You put it there when it's
trained in concentration, and it just stays there, and you
listen as if you'd turned the radio to a particular station
and it just stays there. There isn't thought or restlessness
and interruption; it just stays there. Or you say, "I
want it to focus on this," -- small or large -- and the
mind becomes malleable, shapeable, movable. It's the most
delightful thing; it's fantastic. And you can do that.
kinds of education aren't part of our school system, but they
are really our birthright. It's the training of our own heart
and our own mind so it becomes joyful and light, peaceful
and malleable. Then what happens? Guess! Are you ready?
You try to hold on.
You get attached, that's right. It's called, The Corruptions
of Insight which arise, the defilement of Spiritual Materialism
in its refined form. You say, "This is groovy, I want
more of it." It's like any other drug. And you get attached
to the light, or the lightness, or the joy, or the peace,
or whatever it is, and then you find that you're stuck there.
So you have to discover even in that moment that there's some
deeper level of freedom. You're still working with the breath
and all these states come and you try to hold them. Let them
just come and go. Those too are not freedom; they're simply
very groovy states of mind. They're very pleasant, they're
illuminating, light and peaceful but they're temporary. Has
anybody had a state of mind stay? Somebody last week yelled
out "ignorance". In general, it's not the case.
Do you know what I mean?
do this, and you get to where the mind becomes stable and
clearer, and so forth, and you're with the breath and it becomes
so fine. It's like the tiniest leaves or the littlest movement.
It's almost like the body breathes rather than the breath
breathing, or the spring air comes and breathes you. It's
wonderful. And the state of mind is very peaceful and you
stop grasping it.
reach what's called Access Concentration. "Access"
means it gives you access to all the realms and all those
weird spiritual texts and things you read about, because at
this point there are very few thoughts. You rest in the present
moment. The mind is very clear, and tranquil, malleable, alert
and mindful spontaneously, without struggle. There's a kind
of clear seeing. Then things start to reveal themselves to
you out of this Access Concentration. It's almost as if the
mind or the lens is clear, like a crystal goblet, and you
can see deeply with a microscope or a telescope way out into
heard of the biologist named Agassis? There's a big museum
of glass flowers at Harvard. He was one of the great botanists
around the turn of the century and before. A student of his
went to begin his training as a botanist in the l880's, and
Agassis took him and said, "You want to learn to be a
botanist or a biologist. Here, take this fish," and he
took this kind of dead fish and sat it on a piece of glass
in front of him, and he said, "Study it, observe it,
and tell me what you can see about it." Then he went
away. He left the student there in the morning and he went
away for the whole damned day. The student stayed there for
awhile. He looked. There's a dumb dead fish, right? He really
got bored and more irritated that his mentor and teacher didn't
come back. "What did he want? Sure it's a fish, it's
got fins, it's got eyes, it's got scales, it's got six fins,
it's a six-fin fish, and it's got a little yellow over here
near the gills, or something like that." There was nothing
especially interesting about it. It was like many he had seen
before -- scales, mouth, eyes, yes, a tail. In an hour he
thought he had seen all there was to see. Time rolled on and
the teacher didn't come back for a long time. He was getting
angrier and more irritated. Finally, after he had gotten back
from lunch, he was so discouraged. He wished the dumb old
man had given him something more interesting. Then in order
to kill time, he sat down with a piece of paper and he started
to draw the fish, "Alright, I'll draw it." In drawing,
he began to notice things. He discovered, for example, the
way that the scales overlapped one another, and then he began
to see as he drew the eyes that the fish didn't have any eyelids.
Then he began to see the textures of the veins in the scales.
He kept on looking and drawing and it got very interesting
to him, and he drew for the whole afternoon into the evening.
came in and looked at his drawing and said, "You haven't
even begun to look at this fish yet." The guy was heartbroken.
The teacher said, "I'll come back in a couple of days.
You let me know what you can really see in the fish."
He spent two more days drawing different sides and aspects
of the fish. And he said those three days, that particular
training was the foundation of his entire graduate work and
his whole career as a botanist.
not taught that so much in our culture. But here we are with
the breath now. We're up to the level of Access Concentration.
As you sit and start to get quiet, you're at the level where
you're in the present moment, not so distracted by other things,
and really with the breath, what can you begin to see? You
see the four basic elements that make up the physical world,
what Plato called, "Earth, Air, Fire and Water, and maybe
the Egyptians or the Indians throw metal in there as well.
I don't know why. More or less the same system. They aren't
some theory -- earth, air, fire and water -- they are a description
or actually how you perceive physical matter.
hand on the floor for a second. What do you feel? Tell me
what you feel.
Hardness or softness. What else do you feel?
Temperature. What else?
Rough. Okay, so there's the texture. What's the roughness?
Go into it with your attention. What does roughness actually
Highs and lows.
Okay. So it's shape, but it's also different areas. Pay attention.
See if it's not different areas of where it's hard here and
soft there; just hardness and softness alternating. What else
do you feel? So there's temperature, and then different areas
of hardness and softness. Anything else?
So you feel whether it's moist or dry.
So there's movement, the solidity or lack of it. Anything
What's the space? I don't feel space.
Between the hardness.
So you feel points of hardness and lack of it. Okay. What
else? One more thing to look for especially. It's still, it's
not moving. Can you feel that? Okay. Do you feel "floor"?
Anybody feel "floor" or "carpet"? No such
thing for your hand, but there is this hardness and softness.
with the breath, if you observe it, instead of there being
an in-breath or an out-breath or a rising or a falling, if
you look at it closely like the guy looked at his fish, what
do you see? You see what's called the Fire Element or the
Temperature Element. Sometimes parts of it are cool or hot.
You see temperature or you experience temperature. You see
the Earth Element, which really is the element of hardness
and softness, and sometimes there's pressure, which is more
hardness, and sometimes there's not much pressure in it and
it's soft, or there are little dots of pressure and space
in between where there's less pressure. So you see hardness
and softness in the breath, you experience hot and cold, you
experience fluidity, the Water Element. And the Air Element
is really the element of motion or vibration, so you experience
it when it's still or when it's vibrating or moving more.
ever experience anything else through their physical senses?
Temperature, pressure, hardness and softness, movement, solidity,
vibration. So what happens when you observe just this simple
thing of the breath and your mind is concentrated? Play with
it in your sitting. It doesn't have to be that concentrated,
you just have to get here some. You can start to see that
what you thought was breath or floor or wall through your
body senses is actually this play of the basic elements. You
can find everything that Plato and the Chinese philosophers
and all these other people who are physicists have looked
at. What is basic sense perception made of simply in the breath?
There is no breath. There's coolness, there's little tiny,
very soft pressure; there's vibration and movement; that's
all. You know in the belly there's expansion, which is a different
shape of that same pressure, and hardness and softness. That's
it! And the whole world, instead of being solid, starts to
reveal what its nature is, which is the play of the physical
start to see the mind, the Mental Elements. This is called
nama and rupa. Rupa is the Physical Elements
that you perceive, and when you look closely they're all a
dance, they're all changing. There's no floor, there's no
wall, there's just changing sensations. This is using the
mind as a microscope. When you start to look closely and to
experience it, it seems solid on this level, which it is,
and you can use your mind the same way someone uses a microscope.
You look down into the pond water and you see it's alive with
things. And if you look at anything closely with your concentration
and awareness, it dissolves into a changing dance of sensations.
And then the Mental Elements, which are feelings and reactions
and the consciousness which knows it. I won't go into that
so much tonight, but you start to see the play of these two
things, of Physical and Mental events. That's all that there
is, this dance of light and shadow and the perception of it.
You see more deeply the arising and passing of things then,
so you get to a deeper level of birth and death, and you see
that not only every breath, but every sense door, every sound,
every sight, becomes vibration. Everything that you look at
from that refined quality of the breath starts to teach you
the movement of life; Impermanence; The Dance.
learn so much just watching your dumb breath, really, and
there's a lot to be seen in it. And at times admittedly it's
boring. You learn about boredom when it's boring.
the last thing to say about it tonight, just to go into this
a little more, is that at that point one also has the possibility,
besides the discoveries of insight, of seeing that it's really
changing, arising and passing mental and physical states,
empty of any person, no separateness at all. All the kinds
of wisdom that one reads about are available in just observing
also enter all the realms of what are called jhanas
or high states of concentration. When the mind becomes so
settled on the breath, then there arises joy, rapture, tranquility
and concentration, and the concentration is applied and it
stays there; it's sustained. You can turn your mind to space
and just experience what it's like to be with space without
any wandering of mind, the formless jhanas. You can
turn your mind to a color, blue or green, and develop it until
the whole mind becomes filled with a particular color and
the energy of that color. Then, when you do this, and you
cultivate it really well, you have Access Concentration. If
anyone is interested in this level stuff, most of which I
have not done -- I've played with it a little bit, not the
powers part -- in this book, "The Path of Purification,"
there are chapters on how to develop concentration, and then
ones with all the psychic powers, because all the powers of
mind come from the power of concentration; how to read other
people's minds or how to walk on water or how to do all these
things. I don't know whether you can really do them. I haven't
seen many of them done except maybe reading of minds. But
it's said that they all come through this tremendous power
to walk on water apparently, if you want to know, is to develop
concentration to this very high degree where the mind is totally
stable on the Earth Element until you become like the earth
itself, and then you focus on the water and you walk on it.
One of the teachers where I studied in the Sun Lun Monastery
days, although concentration of mind and some of the insights
and opening are very possible, many, many people can do
that, the level of concentration for the supernormal powers
are difficult to acquire.
say that one practices the Earth Element exercise and gains
a mastery of it. To do the psychic power stuff, you not only
have to be able to attain these very high levels of stability
of mind, but you have to master it so you can go in and out
of different ones in a moment's notice. Suppose you've mastered
it, and I know a few people in Asia who have mastered these
things to some extent.
us say that such a yogi then goes to a pond and seating
himself near it, arouses in himself the element of the earth
meditation. Then looking upon the waters of the pond, he
endeavors to turn them into earth, so that he may walk across
them. He will find these days at most that the water thickens
to a slushy earth which cannot really uphold his feet when
he attempts to walk on it.
yogis in other countries have done better than I, but I
believe the times not so opportune as they used to be.
one poem from Kabir to end, and you may have heard it before.
This is Kabir, a wonderful Indian poet. He's talking about
a clay jug, which means one's own body or a clay jug; it doesn't
matter; they're the same. He said:
this clay jug, there are canyons and pine mountains
and the maker of canyons and pine mountains.
All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds
of millions of stars.
The acid that tests gold is there,
and the one who judges jewels,
and the music from the strings no one touches,
and the source of all water.
want the truth,
I will tell you the truth,
The God whom I love is inside.
you see that in your body or in a cup, whatever cup you want,
all seven oceans and hundreds of millions of stars? You can,
through your inner vision, through the eye of concentration,
birth and death, and every realm of existence is possible
through this collection and concentration and focusing of
the energy of mind. Like a laser, like a telescope, like a
microscope. I'm not suggesting that you do all that yogic
stuff. It's fun but it takes years and lifetimes to do some
of that stuff. It's good, it's nice to do. However, in a much
more practical way, you can work with the breath. You can
take half of your meditation every day, fifteen minutes or
half an hour. You can work with it when you are running or
jogging. You can work with it when you're in a meeting, how
to calm down. When you get really quiet, and you take some
time to meditate for part of a day or you sit, then you can
start to really study it like it was that fish or like it
was a flower. And in it you can learn a lot about birth and
death, about all the resistances and the fears and the fires,
and what it's like to let go of them and to rest in the present
moment. You can learn a lot about the elements that make up
who we are, the physical elements, the mental elements, consciousness
itself. All of that can be revealed in the simple thing of
observing the breath.
it to you tonight as something to talk about, to give you
some sense and maybe a little inspiration, that even in this
very rote and simple exercise, there are worlds to discover.
Just as if you could take a flower and pick it and really
look in it and understand that one flower, you could understand
everything in one flower.