Review and Questions
We started with the first exercise of practicing how to enhance this deep awareness that we have that is like a mirror. What is important to remember here is that it’s not just like a mirror and it’s not just like a still camera; it’s more like a video camera. So we’re taking in information that’s constantly changing. And it’s not just visual information, but it’s also audio information and other information as well. And, like the video camera, it takes in all the information without commenting and without judging; just takes it all in. And that is always current; it’s taking in the current information. We also saw that, in order to do this, we need a quiet mind and a caring attitude in order to pay attention and have interest. That interest in the fact, if we’re doing this in terms of others, that they’re human beings who have feelings, just as we do.
Now in order to be able to actually be successful in enhancing this type of mirror-like deep awareness, we need to obviously have a great deal of practice, as you might have noticed in the first time of doing this. If this was the first time of doing this type of practice, it’s not so easy, particularly because we tend to have a great deal of comments and judgments in our way of regarding others. We do not need a group in a meditation center in order to practice this. This type of practice can be done all the time – whenever we’re having a conversation with somebody, whenever we’re with somebody, whenever we’re in a store. Wherever we might be when we’re seeing other people, we can practice this.
Each of our sensory gateways or sensory channels can take in all the information anyway, but the point is that we can notice and learn from each of them more and more. This is demonstrated by the fact of let’s say we lose one of our senses. If we’re blind, for example, then our sense of hearing becomes far more developed and we get much more information from our hearing than we might have had before. Or if we lose our hearing, we get more information from our sight. So, like that, it’s just a matter of training this mirror-like awareness which is there, so that we notice more and more.
Before we go on, then, do you have any questions or comments about the exercise that we did this morning?
Question: You say that all of these perceptions happen simultaneously. Are you talking only on a mental level? Because physiologically we know, for example, that seeing is just wavelengths and different colors and brightness that come to our senses. Or, for example, that hearing takes some time before the sound comes in and it travels to the brain or whatever. And similarly with the other ones. So physiologically every sensory stimulus takes some time to get to the senses and then we sense them. So is it physiologically or just mentally that it all happens simultaneously?
Alex: I imagine that you are referring not to the different senses but, within one sense – all the various mental factors that are involved with that. And also the different types of deep awareness. Are they simultaneous or not? That’s a problem with translation, actually, and definition. In Tibetan, when we say simultaneous, what it means is that it’s literally at one time. And then the question is: how is time being defined here? And the way that time is being defined here is one phase of time – I can’t really find the correct word at the moment – but within one small section of time, they are occurring together. So if we were to divide it down into microseconds, we might find that they occur one after another in succession; or several are occurring really exactly simultaneously, and then the next ones, and so on. But they go together to form one tiny unit of time. So one always has to look a little bit more closely at the definitions there. But it’s not that they’re happening in completely different phases; they go together.
In other words, we are talking about a small unit of time. The smallest unit that we can perceive. So, for instance, if that unit is defined in terms of the time of a finger snap, then we might not be able to perceive the tiny microseconds that make up that sequence that produces a finger snap, so we would say that it all happens at once, but actually one could certainly divide it into microseconds. Because it’s difficult for us to perceive. However: hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling a physical sensation – these are occurring at the same time, literally. I mean, there are some theories that say that they alternate very quickly, but a lot of theories within Buddhism say that actually they’re occurring all at the same time – it’s just a matter of how much attention we pay to each of them. Certainly we know that from our experience. While you are talking to somebody – if we have all our senses – you both see them and hear them at the same time.
Question: What kind of influence or effect can our making judgment and comments have in our mind, karmically speaking, and in our relationship to the Dharma, and our progress regarding our Dharma involvement?
Alex: When we look at judgments that we might make, or various attitudes that we might verbalize in our minds, while we are seeing other people – or reading, or things like that – that certainly can have a karmic influence, a karmic result, because we’re talking here about mental actions. So, for instance, if we think with a distorted antagonistic attitude while we are listening to some teachings or reading some Dharma book – in other words, when we’re thinking “This is really stupid,” and “How ridiculous!” and so on – that certainly has karmic effects. Or if we are interacting with someone: if we judge them as a really horrible person or an enemy, then we are thinking of ways – while we’re listening to them – of how we can hurt this person; what can we say or do that would really harm them. So that certainly has negative karmic consequences. Similarly, if we judge them to be very sexy and attractive and so on, and all we’re thinking while we’re interacting with them is how could we seduce them, that also, obviously, will have karmic effects. Or how can I sell them something. That has karmic effects, doesn’t it?
Question: Is there a difference between making comments about ourselves and about others? And finally, can making comments to ourselves about ourselves help us in any way?
Alex: Well, when you talk about making comments about ourselves and so on – we haven’t gotten to this yet, but I was planning to get to this tomorrow. How we apply these five types of deep awareness to ourselves as well, not just to others, and the need to care about ourselves and the effect of our behavior on ourselves as well. After all, I’m a human being, like everybody else, and I have feelings too. The way that the attitude that I have toward myself and how I treat myself is going to affect my experience of life, just as it would affect somebody else’s.
Now, of course, if we make negative comments and negative judgments about ourselves, particularly verbally, while we are interacting, then – I suppose it depends on whether it’s constructive or destructive – but if we keep on convincing myself “Oh, I’m such a loser. This other person is not going to like me,” and so on, that certainly would affect our interaction with that person and build up strength and a habit of low self-esteem; lack of confidence.
But if in a situation we say something stupid and then afterwards we say in our heads “Boy, that was stupid. You’re such an idiot” – again, taking time out to scold ourselves might not necessarily be the best strategy here. We know that was stupid. You just don’t continue speaking that way to the other person. Sometimes it’s helpful to say “stop,” particularly before we’re going to say something stupid, but afterwards it doesn’t help to scold ourselves, does it?
One must let stupid things just pass. If you make a big deal out of it and dwell on it, not only do we then just feel very, very guilty, but it really makes a hindrance in our continuing interaction with our life; with others. That is very important, actually. If we make a mistake or somebody else makes a mistake, we acknowledge it, try not to repeat it, and then go on. Let it go. Don’t make a big deal. It’s like if we’re dancing with somebody and we accidentally step on their foot; we say “I’m sorry,” and then you continue dancing. But if you apologize for five or ten minutes, it just becomes ridiculous.
Now, on the other hand, if we congratulate ourselves in our heads – “Wow, you really said that well. You really did very, very well” – that tends to make a great amount of arrogance and pride: “Oh, how smart I am.” But best of all is not to be self-conscious, whether it’s in a positive way or in a negative way. It’s best not to be self-conscious, you know, like when you are with somebody; if we say “Aren’t we having a good time!” that completely ruins the whole situation, doesn’t it.
Now there’s something different from this, which is called rejoicing. We can rejoice at the positive things that we did, that we’ve done, but that’s not the same as dwelling on it and making a big deal about it – talking about it in our heads.
Let us go on, then, with equalizing deep awareness.
Equalizing Deep Awareness
With equalizing awareness, as we have been describing, we regard or look at – if we’re with a group of people – several people together; put them together. If it’s just done in terms of ourselves or with one person, we can put together different ways in which we’ve been acting, in order to understand the pattern. But we tend to be limited in this, in the sense that we are, from one point of view, limited in terms of how many people, for example, we put together in a group. For example, if we put people together into the group of those that I would like to help, we might not put everybody into that group.
Also the type of way in which we see others as equal might be limited. We might be seeing them as equal just in certain regards but not in other regards. And that, of course, brings in reality awareness as well. For example, we might be in a store and there’s a big line at the checkout counter, and we have to wait on line. So we might be able to regard everybody on the line as being equally on the line, but we might be limited in terms of seeing the equality of everybody in terms of everybody is in a hurry and would rather not wait on line and would like to get their turn quickly. Because of that limitation, we get very, very impatient and we get annoyed with the other people on the line.
We’re talking not just in terms of putting others together into a group; we’re having equal regard toward others, also including ourselves with others. Or if we’re with a group of people, do we pay equal attention to everybody? Let’s say if we’re a teacher and there’s a class. Do we pay equal attention to everybody or just to our favorites? If it’s just to our favorites, it’s a fault in the equalizing awareness.
If we were to develop this equalizing awareness more and more, to the point at which we are a Buddha, then we would have equal regard for everybody. We would put everybody together and have equal love toward everybody, equal compassion toward everybody. We would understand that everybody is equally devoid of impossible ways of existing, and so on. We wouldn’t leave out anyone. We wouldn’t ignore anyone or forget about anyone, including that little bug underneath the rock.
So that is what we are aiming for, the resultant level of this equalizing deep awareness. And we can train ourselves to be able to strengthen this equalizing deep awareness by using it. When we are in a group, we could train here to look at others in the group – try to have equal regard, equal attention, and so on, toward everyone. We don’t have to specify in which ways everybody is equal – that’s going a step further – just the very basics of regarding everyone equally.
So let us practice that.
By the way – just as a point of interest while we’re organizing ourselves in circles – is that if we look at intelligence and what is the most important factor for describing what is a really very intelligent person, it is this equalizing awareness. It’s the ability to see patterns and new patterns, to put more and more things together and discover the equality. If we think of someone like Einstein, or someone like that, who’s able to then come up with a mathematical formula that describes something that nobody was ever able to organize before, and describe what is that factor that is so intelligent about them, it is the ability to have this very, very strong equalizing deep awareness. Or come up with a new psychological theory or a new social theory. That’s equalizing awareness; being able to see a pattern.
So, in this exercise, what we want to do is – of course, with the basic foundation of a quiet mind and a caring attitude – to look around the circle, and see as many people as are in our field of vision as equal. We don’t have to specify the ways in which they’re equal. Like they’re all women, they’re all human beings, they’re all Mexicans, they all want to be happy and don’t want to be unhappy. We don’t have to go that far, but just regard them as equal.
This equalizing awareness could be based on the visual information of seeing them, but it can also be based on the audio information if we’re with a group of people and we’re just hearing each person speak. Then, likewise, we can have equal regard for all of them, not just listening to the ones that we like. After all, if we go back to the point that we made about what is the conventional “me” – what is a person – we can impute a person or me or you on the colored shapes that we see when we look at the person, or we can also impute a person or you on the sound of the voice that we hear. After all, when we are speaking to somebody on the telephone and we’re just hearing a sound, we think that we’re speaking to a person, don’t we?
Actually that’s very weird, the telephone, if you think about it. After all, it’s just a vibrating piece of plastic that is stimulated by electrical impulses, and yet we think that we’re hearing a person and we’re speaking to a person. That’s pretty weird. That’s the power of imputation. We are imputing a person onto the vibrations of this piece of plastic. Interesting. Now you get into maybe a little bit deeper understanding of what we mean by imputation.
Now we quiet down by focusing on the breath, looking down. Obviously when we’re interacting with people we can’t call a time-out while we focus on our breath, but here for the purposes of an exercise it’s helpful. Not like time-out in a football game. And then, with the quiet mind and the caring attitude, we look around the circle. And the two or three people that are in our field of vision – or if we’re listening to a group of people, the two or three people that we hear, voices that we hear – we try to regard them as equal. Obviously it’s more effective if we have a very diverse group, but we’ll do whatever we can now.
We can remember our example from the March of the Penguins, the hundred thousand penguins on the ice. If we were to look at them, we would see them all equally – wouldn’t we – all as equal. Likewise, all these humans. And just as with penguins – to our eye they all look exactly the same, and to our ear they all sound exactly the same; so no one penguin is special, but we could take any of those penguins home and have it as our pet and have love for it, couldn’t we? – to the penguins, we all look exactly alike too. All humans look the same. So we could have equal love and care for anybody; we could help anybody. What difference does it make? We’re all the same.
And then we look down, focus on the breath, and let the experience settle.
This type of equalizing deep awareness is something that we can very easily practice when we are in a crowded store, when we’re in a movie theater, a bus, a train, an airplane; any sort of area where there are a lot of people. When we are stuck in traffic, everybody is equally stuck in traffic; everybody equally would like to not be there.
Individualizing Deep Awareness
We’re now up to the individualizing deep awareness. With individualizing awareness, we are aware of one person or one object as individualized from other objects within a group. And often this is quite limited with us, on a basis level because, for instance, we go to a restaurant and somebody comes to wait on us at our table, and we just see this person as yet another waiter or waitress. We just see them as part of a group, and we are not really being aware of them as an individual person. This is not just yet another waiter. This is a human being and has a family, has a life; has everything, like we have. This is an individual person, not just a waiter.
When we have this individualizing awareness, that forms the basic foundation for having respect for the person. If we don’t have that individualizing awareness, we really don’t respect that person as an individual person, do we? This is important in terms of – If we’re working in a store, it’s not just yet another customer; it’s an individual. If we’re working as a doctor, it’s not just yet another patient; it’s an individual. If we receive an e-mail from someone, it’s not just yet another e-mail, but it’s an individual person – an individual e-mail – and we need to respect it. It’s on the basis of this individualizing awareness that then we can have – together with the equalizing and mirror-like awareness – the appropriate response.
So let’s go back to our circles and we will practice this with each other.
I think that I should mention, of course, that on the resultant level we would be able to, as a Buddha, see and respect the individuality of everybody. Because, after all, a Buddha has equal love and compassion and concern for everyone. But, in addition, a Buddha teaches each person as an individual, in accordance with what level they can understand and their backgrounds, etc.
Again, we begin by looking down at the floor, and quieting down by focusing on the breath. And then, with the quiet mind and the caring attitude, we can look around the circle at each person and try to see them as an individual, to respect each as an individual, in other words. Individualizing awareness. Although we have equal regard for everyone, we’re individualizing them with respect. And this would work equally as well just with hearing, with listening. It’s not just yet another telephone call, yet another voice, but we would individualize each telephone call – each voice that we hear – with respect for the individual. We don’t need to know who the individual is, but what we need is the individualizing awareness with which we respect them as an individual, whether we’re responding to a voice or seeing someone. For both. So look around with the individualizing awareness, please.
And then we look down, focus on the breath, and let the experience settle.
Did you find that you were able to do it? Did you get a general idea of what we’re talking about here?
Question: Should you use some characteristic features of the person in order to individualize them, or should this be independent of any characteristic feature from the side of the person?
Alex: Well, that gets into a deep philosophical discussion of are there distinctive characteristic features on the side of a person that makes them a unique individual by its own power. But if we follow the Gelug Prasangika point of view, then these individualizing characteristics are, again, mentally imputed.
Now that doesn’t just mean making a clever metaphysical distinction here, but it implies quite a different way of relating to people. If there was some specific identifying characteristic on the side of the person that makes them an individual, then we’re always looking to try to find, well, what makes this person so unique – what makes them so special? Whereas if we view this in terms of mental labeling, then it’s just an attitude toward another person of respect. It doesn’t matter what the individualizing characteristic is; we can impute this one or that one. So when we think of everything in terms of only imputation, then the emphasis is always on our attitude toward others, not on what’s so special about this one or that one from their own side. It’s the attitude. It doesn’t matter who we’re seeing.
Your question thus illustrates a very important point here. We are studying, very often, all these very, very subtle distinctions in metaphysical systems within Buddhism, with all these tenet systems. And we might think: What relevance does this have on anything? Maybe it just trains our intellect. But actually the consequences of each view – in terms of our attitude toward others and how we relate toward others – is very significant. Now we just have to take it further – the next step – that if we actually thought this way, with this metaphysical view, how would it affect how we interrelated with others?
This is the very, very interesting and exciting challenge of studying these different tenet systems. It’s not just to pass an exam and be able to answer questions. The point is once we can understand the system, and we get enough of it, then to go to the next step – which is what would it be like to actually view the world in this way and how would it affect my interactions with others and my attitude toward myself. This becomes the really exciting part of these studies. So it’s important not to ignore that aspect and not to just leave it at some intellectual level.
Accomplishing Deep Awareness
The next type of deep awareness is the accomplishing awareness. This is the awareness with which we relate to someone. And so it is really the awareness with which our energy goes out – our attention goes out – to the other person with the intention to relate to them; to do something with them.
Now how do we relate to someone? This is based on having all the information with the mirror-like awareness, being able to see the patterns and put them together into a group, and then respecting the individuality of the person. Based on these three then we know how to respond. And we all have this ability. We all do this, all the time because when we meet, let’s say, a baby, we interact with the baby in a certain way. If it’s an adult, we speak to the adult in not the same way as we speak to the baby and not the same way as we speak to the dog. And if it’s a policeman or a government official, we don’t speak in the same way as we would speak to our maid. We’re able to relate to each person in a different way that is appropriate.
That individualizing awareness is very important here. We might equalize with equalizing awareness that we’re speaking to a child. But each child is different. It’s not that “Ah, here’s a child,” so every child I speak with this way. Or “Here’s a person who is upset,” so every person who is upset – Well, I’d look on my computer: that’s solution number 233. So I always use that one when I meet someone who’s upset. It doesn’t work like that. We need to customize our response in terms of the individualizing awareness.
So this is the accomplishing awareness, the awareness with which we relate. What’s really very important here to emphasize is, on the very basic level, the willingness to relate to each person in accordance with what would be appropriate to this person. That again requires interest and caring and a quiet mind, doesn’t it? As I said, when we have this awareness, it feels as though our energy is going out to each person in an appropriate way.
So let’s try this… And on a Buddha level – I’m sorry – on the Buddha level, then, a Buddha is able to teach and relate to everybody in the appropriate way. That’s how a Buddha teaches everyone with skillful means: skillful in using appropriate methods. When we talk about skillful means, this is not a very good translation because we put the emphasis on the methods; what we’re talking about is the mental factor of being skillful in using appropriate methods.
We will now try this accomplishing awareness – that’s the awareness to relate to each other in a circle, starting first by looking down at the floor, focusing on the breath, and quieting down. If we need more light, perhaps somebody could put the light on in the various areas of the room. That, by the way, is an example of what we’re talking about with accomplishing awareness. You see the information – that it’s dark – you put it together with other information, you individualize, and you know what to do, which is put on the light. You don’t make a big deal about it; you just put on the light.
So, having quieted down, then we look around the circle at each other with this accomplishing awareness to relate. There’s this willingness to relate to each person in an appropriate way. We might not know what that appropriate way is – that’s the reality awareness – but at least that willingness to relate is the most important thing, isn’t it? Then as we interact with the person we’ll figure out how.
And then we look down and focus on the breath and let this settle.
We notice with the great lamas that they are different with each person that they meet. They relate to each person quite individually. Some people – some students – they have to be very gentle with; some, they have to be very strict with; with some, they’re very friendly; with some, they’re distant. With each one, they are responding in an appropriate way. What’s really quite remarkable about them is how they’re able to change instantly from one way of interacting to another. And we are capable of doing that too. When we drive our car, for example, the situation is constantly changing and we respond accordingly, don’t we, in terms of the traffic; in terms of whatever. But the willingness has to be there, doesn’t it, to respond to whatever’s happening and to respond in an appropriate way. If we respond to everything by just beeping our horn loudly and driving as fast as we can, that’s not going to work.
Reality Deep Awareness
The last type of deep awareness is the reality awareness. Here what is most useful, I find, is to work with the reality awareness that things are changing. Now what is the implication of this? The implication of this is openness.
Obviously we have this while we’re driving. We have to be open to different curves on the road and the traffic conditions, and then we respond accordingly with them and we change. But often this awareness is very limited in us. For instance, many of us tend to treat our children, as they get older, as if they were still twelve years old. Even though they’re twenty-four, we treat them like a twelve-year old. That causes a lot of problems, doesn’t it? We need to be – with this reality awareness – aware of the changes in this person, to see that they are open to change, and then that we’re open to change in response to that. That’s important when we’re having an interaction with somebody and their mood changes. We have to be aware that this person is open to changes in mood, depending on how we interact and many other factors. And we ourselves are open to changing, in terms of how we respond to the changes of the situation. This openness is very, very important.
I have a friend who advises me in various matters – concerning my website, for example – and he will give a suggestion and give some reason to try to convince me that this is a good decision to take. And I say to him “Yes. I accept your advice. I’ll do that,” but he will continue to try to convince me for another fifteen or twenty minutes. It doesn’t matter how often I say “I accept what you say.” He doesn’t change. He’s not open to accepting that fact. He continues to try to convince me. We might find ourselves falling into that same syndrome: we’re explaining something to someone and they say “Yes. I got it. I understand it,” and yet we continue to explain; continue over and over again. Or how about when we say to our hostess that we’ve had enough of the food and we don’t want any more, and they continue to insist that we have more.
So this is the reality awareness, to be open to change, and to let the other person change, and to be open to be flexible in ourselves to change. And if we were to perfect this, as a Buddha, then we would be able to change instantaneously with each moment, and be fresh in each moment, and open to every tiny little change that’s going on, so that we could respond appropriately.
Now we might object here and say “Well, doesn’t that make us into some sort of mirror? That all we are is a mirror, and we reflect and respond to everybody. What about being myself? Don’t I need to be true to myself and always be myself to everybody?” That of course leads to a big discussion of the conventional “me” and how do I exist, and what does it mean to be myself. Is there a “me” that’s separate from all of this, and that we are being untrue to that real “me”? And now I’m a different “me” when I am being kind with you or strict with you? Or is the conventional “me” just whatever can be imputed in terms of each moment of experience, in terms of how we’re responding, and that’s “me.” There’s no separate “me” that I have to be true to that’s separate from this. We need to relate all the various topics within Dharma to each other. All the pieces of the puzzle fit together. They fit together in many ways.
So let’s look at each other now, in the circle, with this reality awareness; this openness. It’s an attitude with which we are open to the reality of the other person as they change, and open in terms of being flexible as to how we’re going to respond.
We start as always by looking down and focusing on the breath. And then we look around the circle with this attitude of openness – this reality awareness – with each person, but maintaining the quiet mind and the caring attitude. As we’re doing this – if we are successful with doing this, we’re very relaxed. If you’re tense then you’re holding on to something – “Oh, I don’t know what to do” – you’re holding on to some sort of fixed idea. If we’re really open, we’re totally relaxed.
And then we look down, focus on the breath, and let the experience settle.
All Five Types Deep Awareness Networked Together
Okay. This is the reality awareness. And I think we can appreciate that, when we’re talking about these five types of deep awareness, they all need to work together. And all [five] together, as with each of them individually, [work together like a single] attitude that we have toward others. And as we’ll explain tomorrow it can also be directed toward ourselves. When we have that awareness, or that state of mind [of all five types of deep awareness together] – it’s hard to really put it into words, isn’t it, but it [becomes in itself] a way of being aware of others; an attitude toward them. And it all goes together very, very well; they network together. So, with this [multifaceted] attitude, we approach the world with taking in all the information; having equal interest, equal regard toward everyone; and respect, within that, for each individual; and willingness to respond in accordance with that; and openness toward them and to the whole situation.
I meet you and – of course, I have a quiet mind, a caring attitude – I’m open to take in all the information as it changes. And I’m equally interested in you and concerned with you as I am with anybody else. I respect your individuality and I am responding in accordance with that individuality of you; equal to anybody else, but based on the information and being open as it changes. So it all fits together. It’s one state of mind really. This is what we’re aiming to train. The more and more we train this and practice this, then further and further we will develop along the spiritual path toward Buddhahood. At Buddhahood, we’re able to do all of this perfectly. And we have the working basis for all of this now because we have a basis level of all of these five types of deep awareness.