Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness (2016)
Enlightenment: Fully Awakened Pristine Mind
22. THE FIRST STAGE OF AWAKENING
THE FIRST STAGE of awakening described by Mipham Rinpoche is the experience of someone who has just begun to practice Pristine Mind meditation. In this stage, the beginner has recognized their Pristine Mind and is just starting to have momentary experiences of resting in their fundamental nature. They are beginning to have some experiences of awakening. In many ways, however, they are still just like an ordinary person caught in the limitations of the ordinary mind seeking happiness in the world of samsara.
As a beginning practitioner, we may glimpse the true nature of our Pristine Mind in a moment of realization. We may even be able to rest in Pristine Mind for a few minutes during meditation. But, as a beginner, our mind is still chaotic and largely uncontrollable. At this first stage of awakening, even though we may have recognized our Pristine Mind and can access it from time to time, our mind is still mostly lost and aimlessly drifting all over the place, like a feather in the wind.
Mipham Rinpoche says that at this first stage, our concepts, thoughts, emotions, and other mental events seem to be harmful obstacles to our experience of Pristine Mind. Our thoughts are judgmental; our moods vary from elation to melancholy. Many thoughts make us uncomfortable, self-conscious, or angry, while other thoughts make us anxious, worried, or sad. There is an almost constant turbulence in our mind. That is why we say our thoughts arise as harmful obstacles, even if some of our thoughts appear positive. When we are a beginning meditation practitioner, our experience is mostly just like anyone else’s experience. We may have had a little bit of an experience of Pristine Mind, but we have not yet experienced the big change that occurs when we are further along in our connection to our Pristine Mind.
Mipham Rinpoche says at this first stage, our mental events are like waves on the surface of the ocean, with thoughts arising continuously, and it’s difficult to calm them down. Mipham Rinpoche says there are so many emotions, habits, and tendencies. Also, he says our mind is like a piece of paper blown about by the wind, buffeted by circumstances. This is what it is like for most people in ordinary mind. People have hopes and fears accompanied by many different forms of mental and emotional discomfort. In such a state, no matter who we are, when all these thoughts and emotions are rampantly out of control, a beginner suffers just as other people suffer.
At this stage along the path to enlightenment, when habits, thoughts, and emotions arise, Mipham Rinpoche says, we have difficulty recognizing that these things are just mental events. It is hard to remember that they are just our own projections and our own perceptions.
When we are a beginning meditator, our mental events are still very hard to tolerate. Just because we begin meditating today does not mean that tomorrow our mind will be comfortable. It takes time to change. If we practice diligently, changes can occur quickly, but in the beginning, we will all struggle. This is normal and not something that should discourage us.
When we first start to meditate, we still have the same hopes and fears and anxieties that we did before we started. Mipham Rinpoche says that especially at this time we need to be patient and continue to remain in Pristine Mind. Do not follow mental events, be aware of whether or not mental events are taking over our awareness, and be mindful. If mental events have clouded our mind, we need to recognize that and remind ourselves that they are just events, and return to abiding in Pristine Mind as best we can. Our frustration at this time is normal. It by no means implies that we are failing at meditation or cannot make progress.
When a student asks their teacher, “What do I do when my mind wanders?” the answer is that no matter what occurs, simply recognize this and return to awareness; remain in Pristine Mind as best as you are able. When our mind wanders or any sounds or sensations occur, we should try not to identify with that mental event, not follow it, and not get caught up in it. We just try to remain in Pristine Mind; then everything else takes care of itself. We remain present and try to be aware of our awareness and nothing else. There is nothing more we need to do.
Mipham Rinpoche says, “Don’t get upset if many thoughts arise.” We should not become discouraged or feel like our meditation is not working. We are simply not yet at a stage where we are free from thoughts arising. We are not yet able to see the effects of meditation working. It is working, however, even though we may not feel like it is.
The best course of action is to be patient, continue to remain present, get more familiar with our pristine awareness itself, and persevere. We are not wasting our time. We are giving our mind time to settle.
Losing patience after first starting to meditate would be like going for walks for a day or two and then thinking, “Oh I still haven’t changed. I can’t run a marathon yet. My health will never improve. Exercise isn’t working.” We need to learn the proper techniques and take the time to build endurance if we are going to see results. When we begin meditating, it is similar.
At first it can be challenging to maintain our meditation for even ten or fifteen minutes. It feels as if time passes so slowly because when we first start meditating, our mind is very active. It is the ongoing mental activity, our mental events, that makes our meditation feel like a struggle at first. But at that time especially, we need to have great patience. We need to continue practicing meditation and not give up or lose hope, but be patient. Mipham Rinpoche stresses that at this stage patience is the key to progressing on the path to enlightenment.