Friday, September 7, 2012

On the varieties of experience

Figure I'd name the post something cool, even if the content doesn't live up :)

Suppose you see a red shirt during the day, and again (from exactly the same position) in the evening when the Sun is in a different spot. Are those two different experiences, or are you having the same experience in slightly different ways? The first, I hope.

Now suppose you see the shirt under the same lighting conditions, but once you're wide awake, and the other time drowsy. Same experience in different ways? No, still two different experiences.

In general, if two experiences can be distinguished in any way, they are different experiences. The only constant is the awareness that is "having" the experience, and it cannot be labeled in any way, because labels belong to experiences.

Not so hard to grasp, but it seems to make a difference during meditation. In the "awareness of awareness" shamatha practice I regularly do, it feels like awareness itself is changing from moment to moment, which is the only thing that could really keep me from full stability. If I could actually see that the awareness is never changing, then *snap* I'd be at the end goal (of shamatha, anyway).

Presumably this is the idea when Tsoknyi Rinpoche says (in his book Carefree Dignity) that when the division between stillness and thought occurrence falls away, this is the recognition of one-pointedness. He also suggests that during the similar vipashyana practice (in Mahamudra, anyway), the "maintained" awareness is replaced by an "automatic" awareness (he likens it to a doorman calmly watching guests come and go / opening and closing the door for all of them, vs. a laser sensor being there).
"Everything is just one continuity of being alert and awake. And this alertness or awake quality is completely settled, without your having to try to settle it."
Okay, so: tying your shoelaces with awareness vs. without awareness. Same experience in different ways? Again, different experiences, and in both cases there is an underlying awareness that is cognizant of them. In other words, even when you're "unaware" in my usual sense (which itself is a more subtle thing than in the colloquial sense -- which usually means completely zoned out), you're still aware in some sense.

So perhaps this particular vipashyana practice with awareness is a nice supplement and booster for the shamatha practice: find the awareness that is constant.

No big deal, I'll just go find the Tao now.

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