Introduction: The Lam-Rim Graded Stages and Levels of Motivation
This evening we’re going to start our seminar on a very vital topic. The topic is how to meditate on the voidness of a false “me” experiencing the four noble truths. That sounds complicated and it is complicated. I won’t fool you into thinking that it’s simple; it’s not simple. But it’s very vital that even if we are not ready to be able to do this type of meditation, that we at least have a clear idea of what type of meditations we’re aiming to be able to do.
The basic teachings of the Buddha were the four noble truths. That was the first thing that Buddha taught and is the structure for all his teachings. We have true sufferings, true origins of suffering, true stoppings of suffering, and the true pathway mind – that means an understanding that will bring about that true stopping. It is structured in terms of cause and effect in a very logical way. The origins of suffering are the cause of true sufferings, so that’s the deluded, the disturbing side; and the true pathway minds, the true understandings, bring about the attainment of true stoppings, so that’s the liberating side. We want to be able to understand and focus on these four very deep profound ways.
When we look at what is the pathway that will lead to liberation and enlightenment, we see that there’s the presentation of the so-called five paths. "Path" is just a very literal way of translating the word; but actually we’re talking about levels of mind, level of understanding or realization, with which we work as a pathway that will bring us to the next level and the next level and the next level. So there are five levels. At our present state, our present condition, we are quite far from being able to even get that first level.
In order to attain that first level – first of the five – we need to have developed the proper motivation. Motivation builds up tremendous amounts of positive force – a proper motivation builds up a tremendous amount of positive force. That’s usually called "merit." With a sufficient build-up of positive force, we’re able to cut through a lot of our mental blocks that prevent us from gaining some understanding. We work with the graded stages of the path. That is graded – again the word "path" – pathway minds, in order to expand our scope of motivation, basically.
We work on the initial level to attain better rebirths because we realize we have a precious human life now, and we need to be able to continue having precious human lives in the future because it’s going to take a long time to attain liberation and enlightenment. And we understand the details of karma:
- Destructive behavior is going to bring us worse rebirths.
- We really fear that because then we won’t be able to continue progressing on the path.
- We are working then to realize that it is possible to avoid these worse rebirths because we put a safe direction in our life. That’s called "refuge" – the direction indicated by Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. When we feel like acting in a destructive way, we understand that that will be self-destructive. It will lead to worse rebirths. We won’t be able to continue on the path. So we exercise self-control not to act out what we feel like doing. It’s destructive.
When that’s really very stable within us, then we are going to progress to developing this intermediate level of motivation. We realize that any type of rebirth that we take – one of the better ones, one of the worse ones – still is filled with problems and suffering. We understand the mechanism of how uncontrollably recurring rebirth works – that’s samsara, uncontrollably recurring rebirth. We understand that through the mechanism of the twelve links of dependent arising.
- We understand how our unawareness of how we exist brings on disturbing emotions.
- The disturbing emotions bring on the compulsiveness of karma. That’s what karma is talking about – compulsiveness, compulsion that drives us to act either in a negative way, a destructive way; or in some sort of neurotic positive way like in perfectionism – "I have to be perfect, I have to be so good."
- We understand how all of that functions to lead to uncontrollably recurring rebirth through these twelve links.
- We develop this determination to be free of this and to attain liberation. That determination to be free is what’s usually called "renunciation."
We understand how to do that, how to attain liberation, through the three higher trainings:
- Higher discriminating awareness – of how we actually do exist. In other words, to refute how we don’t exist, what is impossible
- Higher concentration – to be able to stay focused on that
- Higher ethical self-discipline – to develop the mindfulness and alertness in terms of our physical and verbal behavior that we can then apply to our minds for gaining concentration, higher concentration.
Even gaining liberation is not going to be enough, so we see that everybody else is in the same situation. Through either the seven-part cause and effect meditation or equalizing and exchanging self with others, we develop
- Love – the wish for everybody to be happy and have the causes for happiness
- Compassion – the wish for everybody to be free of suffering and the causes of suffering
- The exceptional resolve – that we resolve that "I’m actually going to do something about it." We make this very definite decision. With love and compassion we intend to help others, we intend help them over their suffering. The exceptional resolve is when we definitely make up our mind, "I’m definitely going to do it."
- Bodhichitta – we focus on our own individual enlightenments which have not yet happened but which can happen on the basis of our Buddha-nature factors.
- This is referring to the two networks, the so-called "two collections:" the network of positive force that we have and the network of deep awareness
- The fact that the mind in its nature is pure, so voidness of the mind
- And the fact that the mind can be stimulated through the enlightening influence to grow – grow in terms of developing good qualities, grow to develop the good qualities that it has in potential.
Then we take bodhisattva vows. We commit ourselves to actually following the path that will lead to enlightenment, and we practice in terms of the six far-reaching attitudes – the so-called "six perfections."
In five minutes, that’s the lam-rim. In meditation, as my teacher said, you should be able to go through the whole lam-rim like that. In the time it takes when you put one foot in the saddle and put your foot over the horse, you should be able to go over all the points of the lam-rim and just generate it like that.
These five pathway minds that I spoke about, we can progress on them in three ways.
- If we develop this determination to be free, to gain liberation, we do that on the basis of hearing the Buddha’s teachings when the Buddha’s teachings are still available, then we are a shravaka – hearer.
- If we develop that determination to be free when the Buddha’s teachings aren’t around – in the so-called dark ages – then we are a pratyekabuddha.
- And when we aim to attain enlightenment we're a bodhisattva.
Labored and Unlabored Determination to Be Free and Bodhichitta
That means that we have to have either this determination to be free or bodhichitta as our motivation. When we have to work through various stages in order to reach that level of mind where that motivation is sincere, that’s called "labored development" – it's labored, with effort, go through step by step. So, to develop determination to be free:
- We go through the twelve links of dependent arising – very very important to understand
- We conclude that "This is really boring and horrible, and I want to stop it forever"
- We understand that it’s possible to get out of it. It’s not just wishful thinking.
We work ourselves up like that and we come to that determination to be free; that’s labored development. Either we heard the teachings of the twelve links – Buddha’s teaching were available, we're a shravaka; or we didn’t hear the teachings but from instincts and so on from long long ago past lives – because there are no teachings available – we sort of figure it out.
Now, we work more and more on this labored stage of going through this line of reasoning and so on, and eventually you reach the point where it is unlabored. "Unlabored" means that you’re just able to develop just by remembering – "Ah, determination to be free," there you have it. You don’t have to go through the line of reasoning to be able to build up to it. Like hopefully we try to do with the whole lam-rim; you just, boom – you have it, a state of mind. This might seem very very far away from where we are now, but this is what we’re aiming for. It’s important to know what we are aiming for. Then you can aim for it. If we don’t have a clear idea of what we’re aiming for and how we’re going to get there, we’re just sort of groping in the dark. Then it’s just sit and quiet your mind and feel nice. I mean, come on; that’s not going to get us terribly far. Maybe it will reduce our stress but only temporarily.
When we have unlabored determination to be free, either as a shravaka or pratyekabuddha, then we get to this first pathway mind. The same thing with bodhichitta; first we have to work to build up to that state of bodhichitta – and remember, it's very important to understand what bodhichitta is. It’s not compassion and it’s not love. It’s based on compassion and love; it’s far far more than that. It’s focused on our own individual enlightenments, which have not yet happened,
- First with love and compassion and that exceptional resolve – "I want to benefit everybody."
- Then understanding what enlightenment is, how it’s possible for us to attain it.
- And then aiming for it on the basis of our potentials, our Buddha-nature factors that will actually enable us to reach that.
- And we develop the emotion – love and compassion etc. – in an emotional way. That’s with the seven-part cause and effect – "Everybody’s been my mother and they’ve been so kind" – it's very emotional. But it has to be supplemented by equalizing and exchanging self with others – that’s the rational way of developing love and compassion: everybody’s equal, everybody wants to be happy, nobody wants to be unhappy, everybody has the same rights – it’s very rational, not emotional ("Everybody’s been my mother, they’re so kind"). You need to two of them, emotional and rational. One is going to be a little bit lopsided. And there’s the eleven-part meditation that combines the two.
So we work with this labored – you have to go through it again and again to get up to that state of bodhichitta. And when it is unlabored – in other words you can just get it all the time, it’s there; all you have to do is remind yourself – then we have unlabored bodhichitta and we get to this first of the five pathway minds. This is Mahayana. This is very important for what we are going to be doing with these five pathway minds, and that is actually our topic for this weekend. This was just a little introduction.
I’d like to discuss and present to you, once we have this unlabored determination to be free and unlabored bodhichitta, then what do we do? That is sort of like a preliminary, a prerequisite. I hope you can appreciate that when we actually have these states of mind – these realizations that are sincere, unlabored – how sincere we are then in working to attain liberation or enlightenment. You really really want it, there's no fooling around. It’s no longer, 'Well, I don’t have time;' 'I’m too busy with other things;' 'I don’t feel like meditating.' We’re beyond that level. Now we’re really serious about it, and we’re prepared.
The Five Pathway Minds
Now, these five pathway minds, this is the ordinary jargon, the way that they’re translated, but I don’t find that communicates very much. We have a "building up pathway mind;" it’s not a path, it’s a mind, a level of mind that’s going to take us to the next level. We’re building up something, not accumulating like packing a suitcase, but you’re building up through stages. What are we building up to? We’re building up to a combined state of shamatha and vipashyana.
- Shamatha is a stilled and settled state of mind – stilled of all mental wandering and dullness, settled on an object.
- Vipashyana is an exceptionally perceptive state of mind.
I’ll explain these shortly. I just want to present the five paths first. Either we have attained shamatha already before we attain the building up pathway mind; or now on this stage we will attain shamatha and we will also attain vipashyana. When you have the two together then you go onto the next level. We attain a joined pair; a joined pair means you don’t attain the two at the same time. First shamatha; then on top of it, vipashyana.
Then the second pathway mind I call the "applying pathway mind." That’s usually called "preparation" but the word actually means "applying." What you’re doing is applying this conceptual – now it’s conceptual still – combined shamatha and vipashyana over and over and over again until you get it non-conceptual. Then you’re at the next level.
When it is non-conceptual shamatha and vipashyana, then we attain a "seeing pathway mind" – we see non-conceptually. We will get to what is the object of all of this that we’re focusing on; I’m just talking now about the state of mind. Then we start to attain true stoppings.
The next level of mind is called the "accustoming pathway of mind" – that’s usually called the path of meditation. You are accustoming yourself to non-conceptual cognition with shamatha and vipashyana, so that you attain a true stopping of all the levels of true causes of suffering. When you’ve gotten rid of all the obscurations that are preventing liberation – you’ve gotten rid of them, attained a true stopping of them, the so-called emotional obscurations – then you have attained liberation either as a shravaka or pratyekabuddha. It’s called an arhat.
If you attain in addition true stopping of the deeper level of obscurations, the so-called cognitive obscurations, then you’ve attained enlightenment – you’re a Buddha. That level of mind of either an arhat or a Buddha is called a "pathway mind of no further training." You don’t need any further training; you’ve achieved the goal.
Focusing on the Four Noble Truths
While we are progressing through these five pathway minds – regardless of which track we’re doing it on (shravaka, pratyekabuddha, or bodhisattva) – what are we focusing on? We spoke about developing shamatha and vipashyana; our object that we’re focusing on are the four noble truths. Conventionally what they are, each of them has four characteristic features – so-called sixteen aspects of the four noble truths. And each of the four noble truths are devoid of four characteristics that it doesn’t have.
We are focusing on what these four noble truths are, with these sixteen aspects; and we’re also focusing on how these four noble truths are devoid of an impossible “me” – the voidness of a false “me” that is experiencing each of these four noble truths. Who is suffering? Who is building up the causes of suffering? Who will achieve a true stopping of suffering? And who will develop the understanding that will bring this about? “Me.” But not the false “me” that doesn’t exist. So we are focusing on the voidness of a person experiencing the four noble truths. That’s as much as we do if we’re aiming to be an arhat. If you’re aiming to be a Buddha you also have to understand the voidness of the four noble truths themselves: that suffering doesn’t have impossible existence and the cause doesn’t have impossible existence, etc. etc. That is what we are meditating on when we have this unlabored determination to be free and unlabored bodhichitta, and we’re doing that with shamatha and vipashyana.
Building Up and Putting the Pieces Together
I hope that you start to appreciate that in order to be able to do this we need to have built up many many pieces that we can then put together. So although the topic of the seminar is really very advanced and I will explain it in a fairly sophisticated way and you are forewarned – I don’t expect and you shouldn’t expect that you’re going to be able to actually follow everything – but what I would like to be able to convey to you is the importance of really studying and learning the Dharma. What His Holiness the Dalai Lama says over and over and over again: you have to learn it, which means that you know it. And only if you know the pieces of the puzzle – Dharma is like getting many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – only when you know all the pieces can you start to put them together. That is the real training. The real training is to figure out how the different pieces go together.
The initial training of course is to gather the pieces, to build up the pieces. What are the pieces? The twelve links of dependent arising, the four noble truths, the seven-part cause and effect for bodhichitta; what is shamatha?; what is vipashyana? – all these things you need to have on your finger tips even if you haven’t attained them. To attain these is very difficult; but at least know what they are so that then you can start to see how to put them together. The more that you actually not only study and meditate and think about all of this, but the more that you actually go out there and help people – do something productive – the more positive force it builds up so that you’ll be able to understand more.
Study, think, meditate, but actually don’t just sit in your room and study, think, and meditate. Go out there and help people. Do something productive. It is absolutely 100% true; you have to build up positive force, otherwise you’re not going to be able to understand things. You help others, you go out, you think more of others; it opens up your mind, opens up your heart. The more that your mind is open the more that you can understand. You don’t have these mental blocks of “me,” “me,” “me”; "I want to do it for myself." "You’re always thinking of yourself, always selfish," and so on – your mind gets very closed; it’s very limited; it’s very tight. You won’t be able to understand. It’s a mental block, an emotional block. It’s not just a matter of relaxing. That’s not enough. Actually we have to get out there and sincerely help people, even if in the beginning you have to force yourself to do but you don’t really feel like it. So what? You do it anyway because in the process of doing it, even if initially you have to force yourself, your hearts starts to open up. That really is the key to being able to understand. Without that positive force, without that open mind that you get from that, you’re always going to be stuck.
The Four Close Placements of Mindfulness
Now, we have an awful lot to cover in terms of how you actually meditate here. As I said, what we are doing now is meditating on the four noble truths with this building up pathway mind. So now we are doing this with this strong motivation of unlabored determination to be free or unlabored determination plus bodhichitta. Now, with that building up pathway mind, what do we practice? We practice the four placements of close mindfulness, it’s called. I will present just the Mahayana path. The Mahayana way of meditating on the four placements of close mindfulness is quite different from the Theravada way of meditating on them.
The four close placements of mindfulness are on the body, the feelings, the mind, and the mental factors.
- The body represents true suffering
- The feelings represent true origin or cause of suffering
- The mind represents true stopping of suffering
- The mental factors represent the true pathway, the true path leading to the true stopping of suffering.
It’s quite specific what we’re doing. You have to understand then how to focus; what are we doing? First you have to be able to focus on, what are these? What are body, feelings, etc., and the four noble truths? How do you focus on these? For that we need to know, how do you meditate? Tsongkhapa states it very very clearly. We need to be able to know what we are focusing on, and how the mind takes that object, which means how it pays attention to it. That’s a mental factor. Another thing that we need to have just like that would be the fifty-one mental factors and to know all the different components of the five aggregates – that also you need to be able to work with. So you have an object that you’re focusing on, and you have a way of paying attention to it – how you understand it, basically.
Focusing on the Body with Shamatha and Vipashyana
Now, we want shamatha and we want vipashyana. Often people use the word shamatha and vipashyana meditation and practice and so on for the stages for building up to the actual state of shamatha and the actual state of vipashyana. What is that state of shamatha? It is a state in which the mind is totally stilled and quieted down and gotten rid of all flightiness of mind, with which your attention flies off to some object of desire; it's under the influence of desire and attachment that is specified within the category of distraction. You can be distracted while meditating thinking of some other meditation, or distracted because of anger – we’re not talking about that. We’re being distracted because of desire; that’s specified because that desire, when you understand the twelve links of dependent arising, is what’s going to activate the throwing karma for next rebirth. So it’s much more dangerous than anger or any of these other disturbing emotions.
The mind is stilled or quieted of flightiness, and also mental dullness – when the hold on the object gets too weak. In addition to just perfect concentration – that’s called samadhi – you have an exhilarating state of mind and body, in which there is an exhilarating joyous feeling of body and mind. You feel totally fit like a fully trained athlete so that the attention, the concentration, can stay fixed on an object – a positive object – for as long as you want. That’s shamatha. It is attained conceptually. It’s a conceptual mental consciousness, which means that you are focusing on some sort of mental representation of something. The direction of our energy is inward; it’s withdrawn, but not too withdrawn. If it’s too withdrawn, that’s dullness. It's like you’re focusing on your body through some sort of mental image of the body. It doesn’t have to be visual, mentally visual; just some sort of mental thing of the body.
That body we understand to be true suffering. That’s how we pay attention to it. And each of the four noble truths has four aspects that it has and four that it doesn’t have. So you distinguish – the mental factor of distinguishing – you distinguish these characteristic features of being:
- Miserable, in other words subject to the three types of suffering
- Devoid of a coarse impossible self
- Devoid of a subtle impossible self.
As for the first feature, not only does it change from moment to moment, but slowly it is going to the point where the body is going to end. It’s falling apart; it’s going to expire like a bottle of milk. It’s definitely going to expire but it doesn’t have the date printed on it. So it’s not static; that’s the thing that it is not.
Or, it’s miserable, it’s suffering. Why? Birth, sickness, old age, death – these type of things – it’s horrible. It’s not true happiness (it’s so wonderful, body beautiful, etc.) You're focusing on the body, so your energy is drawn in, to some mental object of the body. It doesn’t have to be what you look like but how you’re thinking of your body. And we’re aware of these four aspects that it has and the four that is doesn’t have – being clean, in the nature of happiness, static and having an impossible self. We are now paying attention to it as this is really suffering; it’s a drag, terrible. You develop shamatha on that, which means that you stay focused on the body with that understanding. And when you get actual shamatha, with this exhilarating state – joyous body and mind – it is not a disturbing state. You shouldn’t think oh you’re so fantastically happy. It’s a very calm state.
Then you add on top of that vipashyana, which maybe you trained in before to work up to it, but now you can add it onto that. So, within this state of being totally fixed – this is this stabilizing meditation – we're fixed on it, it's stable – within that, now you add the discerning meditation, the so-called analytical meditation, which doesn’t mean analytical. That’s a misleading way of translating it. It’s not that you analyze; that’s what you do when you think about it to try to understand. It has to be unlabored; you don’t have to go through the line of reasoning anymore. You are able to now use discriminating awareness to be able to detect the individual details of this object that you’re focusing on. You can detect it in fine detail – the four characteristics that it has, the four that it doesn’t have – which you’ve understood and really digested before, and which you just focused on without this fine detection when you were doing shamatha.
So the energy is quite different here from just shamatha. With shamatha, the direction of the energy is slightly withdrawn, slightly going in. You’re in a sense lost in the object. Now, within that, the energy is going out with vipashyana; it is now detecting within this state all the fine details. Of course we’re not verbalizing any of this in our head. We’ve gotten past that level long ago, in which you have blah blah blah going on in your mind. When we attain an additional sense of exhilaration, of fitness – that your mind can discriminate and discern anything – that’s vipashyana.
So, that’s combined shamatha and vipashyana; that’s what we’re aiming to achieve. You’re focusing on first the body as true suffering.
Focusing on the Feelings
Then you focus on the feelings of some levels of happiness or unhappiness – that is the true cause of suffering. How is that the true cause of suffering? You have to have understood the twelve links of dependent arising. Feeling some level of happiness or unhappiness – that’s link number seven. Link number eight is thirsting – that’s usually translated as "craving" but the Sanskrit word means to be thirsty. You’re thirsty when you have happiness; you thirst not to be parted from it. Like you’re really thirsty, you have just one little sip of water and you don’t want to be parted from it. It’s not that you want more; you don’t want to be parted from it. It’s very important that the thirst is for some negative thing – "I don’t want to be parted, I don’t want to be parted from the happiness." And when we have unhappiness, we thirst to be parted from it.
And when we're in these higher states of mental constancy – the so-called dhyanas, which are deeper than shamatha, it’s the next steps beyond shamatha – we’re going in that direction of being more and more withdrawn. But it’s not going in the direction of more subtle for the clear-light mind – highest class of tantra. The clear light mind is more subtle than the disturbing emotions. These dhyanas, these levels of mental constancy, still have some of them. It’s different. So when we experience this sort of neutral state in these higher states of concentration, then we thirst for the non-degeneration of them.
So, when we focus on happiness, unhappiness, or neutral feelings, the cause of suffering is our response to them. That’s thirsting, and that’s link number eight. Then link number nine is the so-called "obtainer attitude" – obtainer emotion or attitude. It’s usually called "grasping" but that’s very imprecise. It’s obtaining; it will obtain for us the next rebirth and there’s a whole list of these them, of these obtainer emotions and attitudes. The most important ones for our discussion are desire for that object that we experience with happiness; or desire to be parted form the object that is causing us unhappiness; or this deluded attitude toward a transitory network – towards our aggregates basically, with which we’re always throwing out the net of "me" and "mine" onto everything that we experience; "me," "My happiness," "me" – "I don’t want to be parted from it."
So, when we focus on our feelings in this placement of close mindfulness – and it has of course fours aspects that it has and four that it doesn’t have – we’re understanding how thirsting and the obtainer attitude toward them is the true cause of suffering because what that does is it activates throwing karma for next rebirth; so, uncontrollably recurring rebirth, via the twelve links of dependent arising. The four aspects it has are feelings being:
- The cause of suffering – since thirsting for them activates throwing karma
- The origin of suffering – from which the suffering of samsaric rebirth arises over and again
- The strong producer of suffering
- The conditions for suffering – the simultaneously acting conditions needed for rebirth to occur.
Focusing on the Mind
Very briefly, we focus on the mind just in terms of the nature of the mind – the conventional nature, the rising of holograms and cognition without some separate "me" that’s the controller or observer etc.; and the voidness of the mind. And we focus on the mind as representing true stopping of suffering. We're referring here to the purity of the mind – the natural purity and the attained purity when you get rid of the obscurations.
The four aspects of the mind, representing the true stopping of suffering and its causes are that the purity of the mind is a state of:
- Stopping – opponents have stopped true suffering and its true causes so that nothing remains
- Pacification – because true suffering and its causes are gone forever
- A superior state – immaculate and blissful since it is parted forever from what caused suffering
- Definite emergence – from the suffering of samsaric rebirth, because it will never recur.
Focusing on the Mental Factors
And then, the mental factors – referring here specifically to discriminating awareness. That’s usually translated as "wisdom" but that’s too vague. Distinguishing, the aggregate of distinguishing –usually called "recognition" – you distinguish a characteristic feature of something. It’s this and not anything else. Discriminating awareness adds certainty to that. And so here what you have discriminating awareness of is how we exist. We don’t exist in some impossible way. We do exist in a possible way. So, we focus on that discriminating awareness with the understanding – the way that we pay attention to it – in terms of true pathway mind leading to the stopping of suffering. We focus on discriminating awareness within ourselves – basically our intelligence – as the true path. And again, each of the four noble truths have four characteristics that they have and four that they don’t have. It’s important to learn them.
Discriminating awareness of emptiness is:
- A pathway mind – for leaving the state of being an ordinary being and becoming an arya and beyond
- An appropriate means – for discriminating the appropriate true origins of suffering to be gotten rid of and the appropriate opponent forces to rid the mind of them
- A means for actualization – of non-conceptual cognitions to actualize the attainments of becoming an arya, an arhat and a Buddha
- A means for definite removal – forever, of all obscurations preventing the attainment of those goals.
[See: The Sixteen Aspects of the Four Noble Truths]
Summary of the Four Close Placements of Mindfulness
So, now we start to understand the four close placements of mindfulness:
- The body – that’s the aggregate of forms, in terms of understanding it as true suffering.
- Feelings – that’s the aggregate of feelings; understand it in terms of true cause of suffering.
- Mind – that’s the aggregate of consciousness, you understand that in terms of true stopping of suffering.
- And discriminating awareness, which is adding certainty to distinguishing – distinguishing is the aggregate of distinguishing, the so-called "aggregate of recognition;" and discriminating awareness – that’s the aggregate of other affecting variables. And we’re understanding that in terms of true pathway mind.
Bringing "Me" into the Meditation
Now, within that, “me” as the one who is experiencing this – what are we experiencing? What are we focusing on? We’re focusing on the five aggregates, aren’t we? As represented by these four objects that we’re placing close mindfulness on. So, the relationship of the “me” with the five aggregates, while understanding the four noble truths in terms of those aggregates. So this whole discussion that you have studied of the relationship between the self and aggregates – are they one, are they separate and so on – this is the context within in which it is meditated upon. This is where it comes.
You understand the five aggregates in terms of the four noble truths, and you understand the “me” – the person – as the one who is understanding and meditating on these, either suffering – the first two noble truths, suffering and its true cause; or experiencing true path and the true stopping. And that’s what we have to work on – to get rid of impossible ways in which that “me” who’s doing this meditation and has this understanding, exists. Because when we focus with either shamatha or combined shamatha and vipashyana on these four placements of close mindfulness, the five aggregates, either we focus on just conventionally what they are – so the sixteen aspects; or we focus on their being void of an impossible “me,” impossible person; or, the Mahayana way, in addition, they’re also void of themselves existing in some impossible way.
That’s our introduction and we have to vacate the room. So, just to give you the context of what we are talking about, you can see that it is essential, if we are going to meditate on the four noble truths, to know what is the real thing, the actual meditation on the four noble truths; and then to understand who is it that’s meditating on this, and how do I exist. Who’s experiencing this? And then how does what I’m experiencing exist as well?
But on this weekend we’ll just focus in terms of “me” – how the person who’s doing this, experiencing this, exists.