Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness (2016)
Meditation: The Journey Deeper into Pristine Mind
11. GUIDED MEDITATION
The Experience of Pristine Mind
IN PART TWO, we went through a guided Pristine Mind meditation for the purpose of realization—to realize that Pristine Mind is the true nature of our mind, that ordinary mind is not who we really are, and that mental events have no objective reality of their own. Now we will engage in a second guided meditation—to journey deeper and deeper into Pristine Mind in order to experience its great benefits.
Each time we meditate, whether for realizing Pristine Mind or journeying deeper into Pristine Mind, we need to follow the same techniques. When we first realize our true nature, we use these techniques, and when we are abiding in our true nature, we also use these techniques. Whether we are just entering meditation or pursuing the experience of Pristine Mind all the way through to enlightenment, we must use the same four instructions that follow below.
In preparation, sit anywhere comfortable, such as a cushion or a chair, and relax your body. As mentioned earlier, this is always the first step to meditation. It does not matter where you sit, as long as you are comfortable. Relax your body. Make sure that there are no uncomfortable sensations or tensions in your body. Keep your eyes open. Silence your voice. Rest your speech, let yourself be quiet, and breathe in a very natural and relaxed way.
“Relaxing” does not mean we go limp and drowsy. Instead, our body and mind are alert and awake. We are relaxing from stress but not dulling ourselves or abandoning our awareness and succumbing to sleepiness or mindless daydreams. According to a well-known saying of the Buddha, we should be neither too taut nor too loose, like the well-tuned strings of a musical instrument. We are actively focused and alert. We are even enthusiastic about what we are doing.
While we remain alert, we allow our mind to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually calm. We let go of any internal chatter by allowing all mental and emotional dialogue to subside. We do not try to engage in any thoughts or emotions. We just abide in alert awareness; we are conscious of our awareness. This is the preparation that we need for the true experience of meditation.
To continue to uncover our pristine, clear, calm state of mind, we need to orient our meditation around the four steps introduced by Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava.
First, Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava says, Don’t follow the past.
We should not begin to wander in the direction of memories, thoughts, emotions, and images associated with the past. Instead, bring your mind into the present. The more easily and fully we arrive at the present moment, the more of our meditation time can be spent in the experience of Pristine Mind. Our ordinary mind makes it very difficult to stay in the present moment. One way it does this is by taking us back to the past. When we are fully in the present, we are prepared to journey into Pristine Mind.
Second, Guru Rinpoche says, Don’t anticipate the future.
Do not let your mind begin to wander in the direction of future concerns and plans. If it does go in that direction, simply return to the present moment. We need not be concerned about anything in the future right now because at this moment, we are doing meditation. Meditation takes place in the present moment where Pristine Mind is experienced.
If we follow these first two steps, our mind is no longer caught up in the past or in the future. Most mental events, most negative thoughts and emotions, most things that disturb us, most unhappiness and sadness, come from focusing on the past or future. To clear these mental events before they even start, we need to release our focus on the past and future during meditation. We just bring our mind into the present moment.
The third step, Guru Rinpoche says, is, Remain in the present moment.
Just be present. Remain fully and vividly present.
Being present is an active process. It is a journey into an increased awareness of the present. We are not preoccupied with the past or the future because they take us away from this active focus on our own present awareness. We actively participate in that journey by focusing on our actual present awareness itself, all the while staying awake and aware. When we do that more and more successfully over a sufficient period of time, we begin to connect with our Pristine Mind, which is inherently present, here and now. This is not a passive experience in which we let our mind either lapse into dullness or run amok with thoughts and feelings. It is something we energetically pursue with great motivation and enthusiasm.
The fourth and final step in Guru Rinpoche’s instructions is, Leave your mind alone.
Once we are fully present, what do we do with our mind? There is nothing to do with it. Just leave your mind alone. We continue to remain in the present moment, as we have described above. Be present and leave your mind alone without fabricating, without elaborating in any way; simply remain in that state. Just as we can leave our hand alone, we can leave our mind alone. If we leave our hand alone, we are not shaking it, making gestures, twiddling our thumbs, or lifting a cup. Leaving our hand alone means not doing anything with it. Just leave it there. Similarly, leaving our mind alone is not engaging in thoughts, emotions, memories, or future plans. Just leave it there so that we can be in the meditation experience.
After we follow these steps for five minutes or so, then true Pristine Mind meditation experience can begin. Once we have consciously remained in the present moment and left our mind alone for a few minutes, our mental events, our internal dialogue, our thoughts and emotions, all slowly subside. They subside because they cannot continue when we leave our mind alone. Mental events need an object to survive; the more we are present, the more our mental events subside. We have fewer and fewer overpowering mental events and swirling, stormy emotions. When we are fully present, when we completely leave our mind alone, all mental events subside.
When our mental events subside, what is left? What remains when emotions, thoughts, and belief systems dissolve? What is left is pure consciousness, pure awareness, Pristine Mind without layers, without distortions, and without obscurations. There is no mental or emotional pollution in that moment because it all subsides during each moment that we spend in the natural state of mind. Pristine Mind surfaces, and we experience it directly.
Once we experience that pristine state of mind, we simply stay there. We become familiar with it and abide in it as much as we can. This is meditation. Other than being who we really are, being in our pristine state of mind, there is nothing to meditate “on.” While our pristine fundamental consciousness is innately present, it is meditation that reveals it. It is our meditation that lets us become familiar with it, familiar enough that one day it will be the way we naturally are, even without meditation.
That’s what meditation is: in meditation we are actually remaining in Pristine Mind; we are not meditating on anything. Once we are in Pristine Mind, we just remain in it and continue the journey. We continue to not get caught up in mental events, not get caught up in the past or future. We develop intimacy with our natural state of mind.
There are no thoughts or emotions or other mental events to entertain in this state. It is much more comfortable than our ordinary state of mind. There are no ups and downs, no mood swings, and no good or bad states. It is clear like the blue sky. It is not like taking a nap or resting temporarily to get away from the turbulence of ordinary mind. Meditation provides much, much more for those who understand it and practice it.
DRIVING THE PRISTINE MIND HIGHWAY
One time I was traveling from Boston to Montreal to teach, and we were using the GPS in the car. I remember the GPS saying, “Continue on highway 89 for 50 miles.” To reach our destination, we had to continue on that highway. If we had gotten off the highway, we would have had to return to it in order to reach our destination.
In the same way, when we practice meditation for thirty or forty minutes, we are continuing on the Pristine Mind highway for that period of time. When we are meditating, our internal GPS is saying, “Continue in Pristine Mind for 30 minutes. Do not exit.” If our thoughts arise and we follow them, that means we are exiting. If we exit accidentally, then we need to come back to that Pristine Mind highway and continue on our way, so that we do not become lost. Then, if we just remain there, journeying on that highway, we progress toward enlightenment. We simply move through an increasing awareness of our present awareness, experiencing our capacity to be aware. Do not worry if thoughts arise. Thoughts are like exit signs. We just need to be aware that we do not exit and get lost. We may pass many off-ramps, but as long as we do not take them, we are fine. If we are always attentive to the longer journey, then we are in a good place, even if thoughts do arise.
The further we drive on that Pristine Mind highway, the more the environment changes. That drive I took along the East Coast was beautiful. As we passed through each landscape, a new and beautiful environment surrounded us. Similarly, when we are on the Pristine Mind highway, our view of the world around us becomes more and more beautiful. We pass all our old habits and belief systems and the residual debris of mind until the most majestic experiences become our way of perceiving the world.
LEAVE YOUR MIND ALONE
In his instructions for resting the mind, Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava says, “Leave your mind alone.” In meditation we should have no fabrications, no resistance, no wandering, and no concern. Just leave your mind to be the way mind is naturally—calm and clear like water.
When there is too much going on in our mind, when our mind is distracted, unhappy, or stressed, if we are moody or agitated, what we need to do is leave our mind alone. At those times our mind is like water that has dust and debris stirred up in it. We must let the dust and debris settle to return to the calm and tranquil state that is actually inherent to our natural condition. When we do, the agitation, despair, and fatigue evaporate like a mirage when we approach it.
How do we clarify murky water? We don’t shake it. We don’t stir it. The best way to clear the water is just to leave it alone. Let it settle, and the water will naturally clarify itself. The water slowly regains its transparency after all the dust settles.
In the same way, when our mind is cloudy, unhappy, or agitated, the best way to improve it is to leave it alone and let it settle. Once we return to the present moment, there are no more mental elaborations; there are no mental contrivances, no judgments of any kind. Once we just leave our mind alone, then all these distortions and agitations settle down and the mind slowly regains its calm, clear, boundless state. A happy, clear, open state comes to the surface.
Leave your mind alone. So often, we mess with our mind and let ourselves be swept away by its troubled states. That’s why we are so stressed and fearful much of the time. The working of our ordinary mind, which we tend to take as a given, is the origin of so many of these feelings, the mental junk and garbage that we call suffering. It does not have to be that way. Pristine Mind meditation is the highway to the essence of our nature, which is pristine and changeless.
Sometimes we may think, “I’m not doing anything to make problems for myself. I’m just stressed out.” We don’t think we are contributing to the cause of these feelings. We think we are just unhappy, stressed, or angry. We believe we are innocent bystanders to our experience, but that is not true. The mind is constantly creating the very suffering that we think we have nothing to do with. We may be sitting on the couch, seemingly passive, but actively thinking, “He did this. She is doing that. I don’t like any of it. How did this happen?” Internally, an enormous amount is happening. We are pondering so many situations and dwelling on so many problems. We think this is all an involuntary and inevitable response to life, but leaving our mind alone is really all we need to do to release all stresses and other mental agitations. We do not need any other antidote. We need nothing but our awareness of the present moment of our Pristine Mind.
What is most important to understand here is that any fixation, fretting, or lingering is a form of messing with our own mind. What we need to do is remain in the present moment and not manipulate our mind in any way. Then our mind naturally becomes more clear and relaxed without our having to do anything. This all happens automatically. Our mind naturally becomes clear and pristine—calm, clear, and boundless.
How do we treat our mind properly? “Leave your mind alone.” All disturbances and agitations come from not leaving our mind alone. Therefore, the way to resolve these problems is to leave the mind alone. That is the most natural way to prevent disturbances in the mind.
Once the mind is able to remain calm, clear, and boundless, everything is fresh and new in our experience. When we remain in Pristine Mind, all forms we see, all sounds we hear, all tastes, all sensory experiences, take on that fresh, sublime quality. After we exercise or do yoga and take a shower, we feel relaxed yet awake. There is a feeling of being present. It is similar, but much more profound, when our mind remains in the pristine state. Everything is vivid, boundless, and clear. We are refreshed on every level. Thoughts, emotions, and habits get old. Beliefs get stale. But when we remain in Pristine Mind, everything we experience has that same new, fresh, energized quality.
When we remain in that clear state, there are no judgments, there are no labels, there is no place to create and focus on negative experiences. The only thing to do is to maintain present awareness. Then everything we experience takes on that tone.
Once we learn to remain in Pristine Mind in our meditation session, then that pristine quality extends to our whole experience, our whole world. Thus, the reason we meditate is not to experience Pristine Mind only during formal meditation, but to have that experience carry over after meditation. Our experience will gradually carry over so that at all times we can access that fresh, clear experience—even when we are not meditating.
AN EGO-FREE ZONE
The Pristine Mind experience is an ego-free zone. An ego-free zone means that ego, an unhealthy sense of self, is not involved. In all our daily activities, ego is always involved, but in Pristine Mind there is no ego. There are only four avenues through which ego can operate: emotions, habits, beliefs, and thoughts. But in the pristine state of mind, none of those things exist, so ego cannot survive there. Without ego, there is no low self-esteem, no puffed-up arrogance, no false sense of self, nor any other unhealthy sense of self. Pristine Mind is a very comfortable state because no uncomfortable sense of self exists. It is a tensionless state without self-consciousness.
When we are meditating, we remain in that ego-free zone without rigidity or tension. We feel buoyant and unbounded. Neither a superiority nor an inferiority complex can take control. We are in a state of real rest, both mentally and emotionally relaxed, because these tensions and unhealthy senses of self no longer operate in Pristine Mind.
In fact, as we eventually discover, ego does not even exist; it is just a misperception. Once we have realization and we meditate, we directly perceive the truth, and the misperception of ego cannot survive. When all mental events are gone, then what is left is who we really are, what we truly are. Mental events, like those that constitute our ego, are temporary, artificial experiences. But when those are done and gone, what remains is Pristine Mind.
As our meditation progresses, the unhealthy sense of self gradually disappears. All the extremes of a sense of self—from self-conceit to self-loathing—dissolve during meditation. When we are meditating, that sense of self fades away. When we are no longer meditating, it comes back again. But that changes as well over time, depending on how familiar we are with the nature of our mind. The more connected we are with Pristine Mind, then the more confident we feel in that state and the more we develop a healthy sense of self. With a truly healthy sense of self, we realize that even our sense of self is a mental projection. Our self-perception is flexible and fluid. Our confidence does not depend on a rigid sense of self.
When we transcend mental events by practicing Pristine Mind meditation, it is like reaching cruising altitude in an airplane. There is no turbulence whatsoever in our mind. We are free from disturbance and distraction, flying in a pristine state, completely serene, tranquil, and majestic. We effortlessly maintain that pristine state that is who we really are when we are not distracted by mental events.
An airplane can sometimes smoothly cruise for hours in the sky. Similarly, we have that same kind of experience when we become proficient in our meditation. For twenty minutes there is no turbulence in our mind, there are no mental events. It is a completely boundless, buoyant, and fulfilling experience. That is what it is like to remain in our natural state, our Pristine Mind.
Remaining in our natural state, remaining present, is not a blank or vacant state of nothingness, nor is it dull. We do not shut down our senses. In fact, we have the opposite experience. When we rest in Pristine Mind, we are much clearer and more present than when we are dwelling on mental events. We feel vibrant.
It is when we are dwelling on mental events that we are not present. They distract us from any deep and vivid experience of the present moment. To some extent we ordinarily do not really know what is going on around us. But while we rest in the present moment, we are aware of everything that goes on in the space we are in. We are not caught up in those things; we are just aware of them.
Meditation is not a dull or trancelike state, not a blank or unconscious state, and it’s definitely not sleep. These are the opposite of the meditation experience. Instead, in Pristine Mind meditation we feel the freedom to be in that moment, free from all entanglements of mind, free from all distortions, elaborations, and contrivances. It creates a very relaxed, open experience. We are more present and able to live very comfortably in the present moment.
Even if we do not seek enlightenment, if we just want to feel happiness and joy and connect well with other people, Pristine Mind meditation is the best method. To connect with ourselves comfortably, or connect with other people with compassion and ease, we must first clean up the distortions of our mind. This is the function of Pristine Mind meditation.
Meditation is the best way we can improve ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If we want to enhance our life, there are many different ways we can try to do it, but the real miracle for transforming our life is meditation.
Without meditation, our mind is always in “ego mode,” and it is never relaxed. If we want to have a beautiful and comfortable mind, if we want to present ourselves beautifully and comfortably to the rest of the world, we need to practice meditation. The more we remain in the meditation experience, the easier it is for us to connect with other people, and the more comfortable other people feel around us. The more disturbed our mind is, the more things we are worried about, the more we dwell on difficulties, then the more uncomfortable we become no matter what the circumstances. All of these problems that result from our undisciplined mental events can be remedied by meditating properly.
A BOUNDLESS EXPERIENCE
In Pristine Mind meditation, there is nothing to meditate on. Simply allow your awareness to be present. Allow your awareness to be free. Notice your awareness.
The most important component of meditation is to get comfortable being in the present moment. We are not paying attention to the breath or sensations or any other object.
Do not make the scope of your meditation too narrow. Do not try to force your mind or your visual focus to stay in one spot or in one particular place. Physically we can be very still, but mentally we might be entirely lost. Our awareness itself is the critical thing we are trying to abide in and become familiar with. We are simply hanging out with our pristine awareness and getting to know it more and more.
After meditating properly for ten to twenty minutes, we feel the boundlessness of our mind, at which point we simply maintain that experience. We do nothing but remain there. When we look out across that meditation experience, there is nothing to focus on. Allow your awareness to remain naked and free. Maintaining that state is meditation. Become comfortable and familiar with that meditation. We are not forcefully trying to do something. If there is effort involved in meditation, then it is awkward and uncomfortable. This meditation should actually feel effortless. It is a relaxed yet alert experience, spending time with our pristine awareness.
After we gain some experience doing this meditation, time starts to go by very quickly whenever we are meditating. It flies by. It feels as if we can continue indefinitely and that we want to keep going. We feel like staying there and not coming back out of our meditation. In meditation, when we feel like we want to remain in meditation, it is extremely positive. When we get to that point, it is a very good sign.