Our Pristine Mind: A Practical Guide to Unconditional Happiness (2016)
Enlightenment: Fully Awakened Pristine Mind
23. THE SECOND STAGE OF AWAKENING
AS WE BECOME more practiced in abiding in Pristine Mind for longer periods of time, gradually our mental environment changes. Unlike the first stage, where mental events have full control, the second stage is marked by thoughts and emotions losing their strength to a noticeable extent.
This does not mean mental events do not still arise. They do. But a substantial reduction occurs in the disruption they cause in our meditation experience, because the three aspects of our realization are deepening, becoming more pronounced, and we are remaining in Pristine Mind for longer periods of time. The power of our meditation and realization fuels our awakening because our mind is pristine to a greater degree in almost every moment. While our mind may not often be completely pristine, it is no longer totally obscured as it was when we began our practice. Our mind is covered by a mere haziness, with fewer formed thoughts and mental events. Our thoughts and emotions no longer have much strength or control over us because they no longer get all our attention.
When we were at the first stage of awakening, we may have experienced Pristine Mind from time to time, but most of our attention was on mental events; therefore the mental events were stronger and more powerful.
In the second stage of awakening, mental events get less of our attention, because we are more immersed in our Pristine Mind. As a result, thoughts, emotions, and tendencies are not always present in our mind; they lose the prominence they had in our mind. While this is bad news for our ego-based mental events, it is good news for us as meditation practitioners. It is the critical sign of the second stage—the loss of strength of thoughts, emotions, and other mental events.
This is also the first true sign of awakening. If we want to know whether our meditation practice is going well, we should look for this sign: How powerful are our mental events? If they still have the same power, especially if we have been meditating for many years, it means our meditation is not working and we should consult with a qualified teacher. But if they have less power, if we have more control over our mental events, it means our meditation practice and our mind are improving.
Mipham Rinpoche says that at this second stage, thoughts, emotions, and other mental events will continue to arise and buzz around our mind, but they are much more bearable. They are not as harsh or as hard to bear as they were at the first stage of awakening. Even though the waves of thoughts and emotions continue to rise and fall from time to time, we are more able to be tolerant with the knowledge that they will pass and we are not overwhelmed by the experience. If we can imagine the way a horse barely pays attention to a fly, casually chasing it away with a wave of its tail, in the same way, thoughts may buzz past our consciousness from time to time, but they do not cause a strong and disruptive reaction. We notice them but stay attuned to our awareness, or at least quickly return to it.
As we remain in Pristine Mind for longer periods of time, our state of mind shifts. Mipham Rinpoche compares it to a spring breeze. In the winter, the harsh, cold wind wields sharp gusts that cut to the bone and are hard to bear. But when spring comes, the environment and temperature change, so the wind does not wield those disrupting weapons any longer. Instead, the spring wind is a gentle, light breeze.
Similarly, through our practice of Pristine Mind meditation, our mental environment becomes warmer and softer. There is a noticeable shift in our perception. Any mental events we experience are comparatively smooth and create less turbulence. When mental events arise, we are aware of how they function, and we know about their fleeting and ephemeral nature. We know that if we dismiss them without paying them much attention, they cannot be as turbulent as they once were before we understood them. They feel softer and gentler.
Encouraged by seeing this change in our experience, we will feel more enthusiasm for our meditation practice and more delight in our actual meditation itself. We begin to gain confidence in our meditation.
As Mipham Rinpoche says, gaining this enthusiasm and confidence in our practice is the greatest gift one can receive. This is an experience one cannot buy at any price. This is the precious gift that arises at this second stage on our journey to enlightenment.
TRANSFORMATION AND LIBERATION
Three transformations must occur through our meditation practice for us to become enlightened: our experience of Pristine Mind must manifest and deepen; the strength of our distorted mental events must dissipate; and our good heart must expand.
These go hand in hand with one another. These transformations cause a profound shift in the mode of our perception as they evolve. Under these circumstances, and only under these circumstances, enlightenment can happen.
These transformations make themselves known in the following way. As our thoughts and emotions change from negative to positive, the contents of our mind change; splendor, clarity, beauty, and love slowly replace the agitation and fear of the world we once created with our mental events. As the contents of our mind shift, the way we perceive shifts. Instead of seeing things through our ordinary mind’s distorted filter of habits, beliefs, and negative emotions, we see things more accurately and clearly.
And the more our perception shifts, the more the contents of our mind shift. This is a positive feedback loop between our perception and the contents of our mind that leads to continuous improvement. They feed each other as part of our process of change. Prior to our commitment to meditating, this reciprocal process worked in the opposite direction; when we perceived things negatively through the filters of fear and the futile desires of ordinary mind, then the contents of our mind became more negative. As the contents of our mind became negative, we perceived our world more negatively. Now we are reversing that process. It is really that simple.
The more we perceive our true nature, the more all these troubling experiences we had, which still dominated our life as a beginning meditation practitioner, slowly but noticeably begin to dissipate. All habits and negative emotions dissolve because they cannot exist independently of our attention. They arise from our misperception of their importance. So now that we see accurately, they all fade away and dissipate.
The shift in our mental environment changes the tone of mental events. They no longer have the power to make us suffer or make us confused. They are no longer able to affect us. This creates a real and significant improvement in our mental and emotional experience: our mind becomes more healthy and natural. Such a shift in perception slowly continues, and complete enlightenment comes yet closer.
KNOWING OUR INTERNAL WEATHER
The primary and most noticeable difference that we will see between the first stage and the second stage is that our distorted mental events begin to lose their strength. The other significant difference is that in the second stage, we become an expert in our understanding of how mental events arise and disappear. We truly understand how mental events operate, work, and function.
Meteorologists are experts at understanding weather patterns. A meteorologist understands air pressure, temperature, and cloud formation, and how certain conditions create certain weather. In the same way, as we meditate more and more, we become more and more familiar with the “weather patterns” of our mind. We know what conditions lead to what types of internal weather. We become an expert in how various experiences arise and disappear. With that understanding of the internal patterns of mental events, we gradually reduce their disruptive effect on our reconnection with the pristine state of mind. This makes a tremendous difference in our experience of the world.
We learn that if we disregard our Pristine Mind and follow our mental event, the mental event gains more power over us. Once we become absorbed in it, the more we take it seriously, the more power it gains. But now that we notice that fact and understand how our mental events operate, we can liberate ourselves from the power those events have over us. So whether our mental events are positive or negative, they don’t affect us as much because we know how they appear and disappear.
If we practice meditation, mental events simply cannot operate during that window of time in which we are meditating. If we meditate for twenty to forty minutes every day, there is a regular break in our mental events. They are losing their territory and their control over us. They may regain control from time to time, but they are not in full control anymore. The more we abide in Pristine Mind, the more we realize mental events are like an illusory army that we increasingly are able to vanquish, merely by paying less attention to them.
It is important to emphasize that at this second stage of awakening, it is not that we just think of mental events as illusions, but we actually experience increasingly that all mental events are illusory. They are like the pesky fly buzzing around the horse, which pays little attention to it. The mental events are noticed, but they hardly disrupt our more natural state of mind.
This is the way enlightenment occurs—gradually. Everything we see, think, and hear shifts more and more with time.
At the second stage, we, as the practitioner, feel more mentally, emotionally, and spiritually powerful because our mental events have softened. We feel a greater sense of well-being. Our happiness is more stable because mental events can no longer undermine, disturb, or rob us of our happiness or dictate our experience. All of these things occur naturally when our mental and emotional experiences, our mental events, lose their control.