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Inquiry Practice

inquiry practice

Streamed on Dec 23, 2021

Guided Nondual Mediation by Michael Taft

So, as usual, take your meditation seat. And your meditation seat can be seated. You can be sitting, but you could also lay on your back. As long as you are able to stay awake, able to stay alert and awake on your back, you’re fine to meditate on your back. You can also meditate standing up. Standing up is a great way if you can stand up in this alert relaxed posture. It’s a great way to stay awake if you’re having trouble with drowsiness. So, stand up and meditate. As usual this will be an hour of meditation so be ready for that. 

If you’re going to do seated meditation, I would recommend having a meditation cushion that you’re sitting on, either a zafu or a gomden. And if you don’t know what those are, look them up, but the zafu is essentially the thing that’s shaped like a legume. It’s kind of a pillow. And then a gomden is like a brick shaped zafu, invented by Trungpa Rinpoche, interestingly specifically for westerners. These days, I tend to sit on a gomden. I like those, they’re really, really nice. So, that would be ideal because it gets your butt up, which allows your legs to go down so your knees can be lower than your hips. When your knees are lower than your hips, it rotates your pelvis a little bit, so you get that nice curve in your lower spine. So, if you have it, sit on your meditation cushion, if not, sit in a chair but don’t lean against the back of the chair. Sit, I’ll demonstrate, sit forward in the chair and don’t lean against the back and then you cross your legs on the floor like that, and that keeps you nice and upright. 

And using your muscles to keep your spine upright will keep you more alert, right? We want to be alert and relaxed. That’s the basic stance of meditation; alert and relaxed. And so as I’ve often mentioned, our bodies can partake in that alert relaxation by being both upright, that’s the alert part, and also physically relaxed, and so that’s the beginning of a good embodied, somatic aspect to our meditation, right? Our bodies and our minds are really one thing. They’re not separate. So when we sit in a correct posture it already helps our mind. If we sit both upright and relaxed, it helps our mind be both alert and relaxed, so the body and the mind work together in our meditation. The other thing we want to do with our bodies is be very, very still, not tense tight stillness, but the stillness of complete relaxation. 

So tonight I’m gonna just throw out a meditation image. I want you to sit like a mountain. Sometimes we sit like an ocean. Sometimes we sit like the sky, or whatever. Tonight I want you to sit like a mountain. When you think about how a mountain sits, it’s completely relaxed but it’s also upright, right? It’s higher than the ground around it. It manages to stand but it’s as relaxed as it can possibly be. Meaning the slopes are just as at an angle, that is, as relaxed as the rock needs to be. And also and more interestingly in this way of talking about it, of course, this is not geologically true but in the way of the metaphor the rock is immovable and unchanging and that’s the metaphor we want here. We want to imagine ourselves seated, sitting in a way that is immovable. We’re not just any old mountain, we’re the world mountain or Mount Meru or Mount Olympus where it’s sort of the center of the world. 

And so the whole world rotates around. Everything’s changing, everything’s doing its thing, the dance of the world is taking place and yet we, seated on our meditation seat, are Mount Meru. We are Mount Olympus. We are seated at the unmoving center of the world and that’s the idea we’re utterly, utterly motionless. And then what I’d like you to do is to remain nice and still for the whole meditation.

Okay. Nice. And still you’re gonna see me drinking from my grown-up sippy cup, and i’ll do that right now, and that’s because I need to talk for the whole time. And if you know the the air-blown heat is on in this house and if I try to talk the whole time without taking a drink, my throat gets really dry, so I have to take a drink so I’ll be moving. I’ll be breaking my own rules but that’s because I’m leading the meditation–but that’s because I’m the boss–no, it’s because I’m leading the meditation and I just have to allow my throat to do its thing. Okay. But you on the other hand should not move if possible. Don’t move for the entire time. That would be great if you were just perfectly still, perfectly still in a way that felt really, really good. Again, this is part of how the embodied or somatic component of the meditation mirrors the mental or cognitive component. We have the body be nice and still and that helps our body be still or remain still.

Okay, and then from here, as usual, I’d like you to bring up an image of the ground of being, an image of your own already existing Buddhahood. We could even say an image of your own god-like nature, which already exists, right? We’re not inventing this, we’re not making it up. Awareness, the power of your own awareness is already there. It’s not something you’re building or cultivating, it’s just something you’re learning to recognize. Okay. So I want you to bring up an image of that. And the image we’ll use today is the image of a beautiful diamond, okay? Whatever shape diamond you want. It’s a diamond that you visualize in front of you. You can do this with your eyes open or your eyes closed but imagine this incredibly gorgeous, lovely, bright, brilliant diamond. It’s perfectly clear, it’s shining with light, and it’s a symbol of your own already existing total awakening. And so what I want you to do here is picture that in front of you, and just notice this beautiful diamond and see it glinting and shimmering and glowing with its own brilliant awakening, its own brilliant depth and clarity. 

Okay, and from this diamond I want you to picture a beam of light coming from the center of the diamond into the center of your forehead, and the diamond is filling you with its wisdom, the wisdom of a Buddha, the wisest wisdom there is. It’s filling the mind with wisdom. It’s filling the mind with perfect clarity and it’s filling the mind with a kind of suppleness. The mind can do anything you want it to because it’s got this Buddha suppleness or what we would call pliancy. Okay, so into your mind–and this is again this is your own Buddha nature–you’re feeling the properties of your own buddha nature. So allow that beam of wisdom to come into your mind and just feel the wisdom filling the mind. Allow that beam that also includes tremendous clarity to fill your mind.And notice the clarity filling the mind and then also the beam includes pliancy. It includes a kind of mental suppleness. Your mind isn’t stuck. It’s not somehow fixed. It’s able to do whatever you want it to do, whatever you need it to do. It can change in whatever way it needs to change to do everything we need it to do.

Okay, so just sit for a moment visualizing this beam of wisdom and clarity and suppleness or pliancy coming into the mind from your own Buddha nature, from your own–we could say, if we wanted to sound theistic, we could say from your own god-nature. But it’s really just the power of your own pristine awareness.

Okay. Good. And now from this diamond in front of you allow another beam of light to come out and strike you in the heart. And this beam of light is filling you with love. It’s filling you with joy. It’s filling you with a tremendous peace and it’s filling you with good will towards others, right? Goodwill towards men and women, goodwill towards beings. It’s filling you with compassion during this holiday season so you’re feeling your heart open. The grinch’s heart was two sizes too small but after he heard the Who’s singing, after he stole Christmas, he hears all the Who’s in Whoville singing and his heart grows three sizes. So it’s an extra–it’s actually one size bigger than it needs to be. It just opens up. And I want you to have that size three heart, just absolute open, gushy, mushy heart of love, and joy, and tremendous peace, and just kindness. I mean compassion is such a precious word, it makes it sound so sort of like such a big deal. It’s just being nice, just being kind. It’s not that hard. Give it a shot. 

So feel this heart opening coming from the diamond representing your own already awakened mind, your own already awakened being. Good, now also from this diamond in front of you this beautiful radiant clear delicious diamond another beam comes out and strikes you below your navel. So maybe an inch or two below your navel and you feel just that one spot inside the lower dantian. You feel this beam of energy hitting you below your belly, and you feel how it fills your body with health, fills your body with life, fills your body with a sense of play and spontaneity. Play comes from feeling alive, feeling full of vim and vigor, right? When we don’t have any energy it’s very hard to play but when we feel like we have a lot of energy play and spontaneity, and just openness, and freedom, and lightheartedness comes about.So as you feel this beam of life energy coming into your lower belly region you feel yourself filled with health, filled with strength, filled with life, and of course you get that sense of playfulness, and spontaneity, and openness. So notice that now.

Good. Now, as usual, I want you to take the wisdom in the mind and bring that down into the heart. Sometimes it’s called the heart mind and bring that energy, and health, and strength, and playfulness from the belly, and bring that into the heart. So it’s one ball of pristine awake Buddha nature in your heart. And in fact, on the next breath, we just breathe in that vision of the diamond, so that this brilliant, radiant, lovely, precious diamond in our heart is just radiating out our own already existing enlightened nature. And you feel it filling your body as usual with wisdom, clarity, pliancy. You feel love and joy and peace and caring and kindness and you feel healthy and strong and vivacious but all those things together also really bring you the feeling of confidence. I want you to feel confident. I want you to feel competent. You have all–because you have already existing Buddha nature, because your pristine mind, your pristine awareness is there–you absolutely have everything it takes to do anything in meditation. And because you’ve got the pliant mind it’s even easier. You can just allow some of these meditative insights to unfold. 

Okay, so just radiate that, radiating out, radiating out, now radiating out all through the body, all through the being, all through awareness, your own awake awareness, your own pristine nature, your own buddha nature, radiating forth now. And just feel that that’s you. That’s who you really are. That’s not some kind of fantasy. That’s not imagination. That’s who you really are. The actual fantasy is about being the story of you. That’s the fantasy, the dream that you’re buying into on a daily basis. Whereas this Buddha nature–this is what you really are. This is your deep being, pristine awareness itself, timeless, boundaryless, deathless awareness. 

Good. Now from here we’re just going to spend a few minutes doing our shamatha with an object. So I want you to do slow, deep breathing if that’s comfortable. For some people that’s not comfortable but I’d like you to do slow, deep belly breathing and let the out-breath be longer than the in-breath. And for some folks you can–it’s going to feel comfortable to let the out-breath be a lot longer than the in-breath. I don’t want you to push it. I don’t want you to strain in any way. It should feel very comfortable but do a nice deep, deep, deep belly filling in-breath and then let the out-breath be long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long. And if you want to, on the out-breaths, to help control your breathing and give it more length you can do ujjayi breath, right? 

So remember how to do ujjayi breath? You do the thing with your throat–I’ll do it right now while I’m talking, it’ll sound funny–you do the thing that makes you sound like that when you talk but you’re just doing it breathing. So it’s like you just got that little tightness in your throat and it allows you to regulate how fast the breath is going out. And so you can do really, really long out-breaths that way. It’ll just sound like a hiss. You don’t have to do the sound I was doing. It’s just hiss like. It’ll sound like the surf going out after a wave the way it comes in and then with the ujjayi breath it’s like the sound of the surf going up. So, deep in-breath long, long out-breath and I want you to be meditating on the feeling of that breath. If you really want to get into it, really get focused, really look for the end of the in-breath, make sure you’re meditating then you notice the feeling of the end of the in-breath.  And then you’re following that out-breath, feeling it, feeling it, feeling it, feeling, it feeling, it feeling it, feeling it and noticing the end of the out-breath.

So as long as you notice the end of the in-breath and the end of the out-breath and everything in between then you’re nice and focused. You’re doing shamatha with an object on these long breaths. So I’ll just be quiet now for a while while we do that together.

Now stay with it. Don’t let yourself get distracted. Stay with the feeling of the breath. Notice the end of the in-breath. Notice the end of the out-breath. Feel everything in between and also feel how good it feels to do these long in-breaths and long out-breaths. And make sure it does feel good. You don’t want to be straining. You don’t want to do anything that’s uncomfortable. You want it to feel really delicious. And again, I always like adding in this ujjayi breath especially on the out-breath. You can do it on the in-breath too but especially on the out-breath and that will help you get really, really long out-breath, which is very good for settling and relaxing. Now at the same time that we’re settling and relaxing, notice that the mind is getting brighter, the mind is getting clearer, the mind is getting more awake. We don’t want to settle in in such a way that we get sleepy. We want to be bright and crisp and clear.

Okay, good. Now let’s move into shamatha without an object, or as I call it, dropping the ball. So the idea here is that we let go of concentrating on the breathing and we just allow awareness to rest in itself. Now awareness resting in itself means that we just relax the mind. You probably should do this with your eyes open, it’s easier. You just relax the mind and rest awareness, right? And remember you are pristine awareness. That’s your Buddha nature. There’s nothing you need to do to make awareness more aware. There’s nothing you need to do to somehow make awareness bigger. It’s already vast. It’s just about relaxing, allowing your mind to relax and open and just resting there with bright, clear, vivid awareness, but awareness of just awareness itself, so if the mind grabs onto anything at all drop that. If the mind grabs onto a thought just let it go. If the mind grabs onto emotion just let it go. If you start trying to follow the breath just let it go. If you start trying to do something just let it go. And especially if you’re trying to figure out how to do it just let it go.

There’s no figuring this out. This is just awareness resting in itself and we just allow our mind to be vast and open uninvolved with anything, utterly free. And if it starts to collapse and get tight and starts to think, just relax, let go of that thought and come back to the mind just being open. It’s already open. It’s already vast and spacious. Just notice that and rest in that. It’s not a doing, it’s a resting. So let’s do that now.

Remember if you’re doing anything at all just let go of it. That’s the whole program here for dropping the ball. Even the dropping is just a kind of relaxation. It’s just a kind of letting go. It’s the–when we try to do something that we’ve kind of left the meditation and so the minute you find yourself attempting to do something just relax, just open, just drop the ball. Don’t even struggle to drop, just relax and open. That’s it.

Okay. Now we’re going to do a more active meditation here. We’re going to do

inquiry questions. We haven’t done this in a while. I love doing inquiry questions and I’ll show you how to do it as we’re doing it. Okay, so the very first inquiry question is where is your mind? Or, if you’re asking it to yourself, “where is my mind?” So how do we do this? Well, here’s how; you don’t do it, you don’t try to figure it out, you don’t look for the answer in your memories, you don’t try to have an interesting philosophical answer, none of that. If you go up into thinking, that’s not how we do this, this is an inquiry question, so you just search inside your experience.

Okay. Just directly search. So as I often say, it’s like a where’s Waldo thing. If I say–if you open the book and look at the picture and I say, “where is Waldo?” You don’t go to Wikipedia and try to look up the right answer, or you don’t you know remember, “oh, I learned someone said that Waldo this or Waldo did that.” You just look. That’s it, that’s inquiry practice.

Okay. So I want you to search in your own experience now. Where is your mind? Find your mind. Do it now.

Again there’s no figuring this out. This is direct experience. You’re just scanning through your own being attempting to locate your mind. Just keep searching. Find the mind.

Okay. Good. Let’s let go of that question for a moment and just meditate on breathing for one minute.

Okay. Good. Next we’ll do the classic, the most classic inquiry question there is, which is; who am I? And so again, just this is a where’s Waldo. I don’t want you to think about your name, or your body, or where you’ve come from, or anything like that, your history, your family, or something like that. I want you to look directly in your own experience. Who am I? Who am I?

And look, feel, inhabit who am I? Look now and then keep looking at this. Look again like you’re kind of trying to find your keys on the floor in the dark. Keep looking, keep looking, keep looking. Who am I? Who are you right now?

This one is really interesting. We think we know the answer to this but the more you look the more you look who am I it might become less and less clear. Because all the answers that come to mind like I am this and I am that, those are just thoughts. Who are you when you really look? What do you find?

Okay. Good. Now just rest for a minute feeling your breath come and go.

Good. Now let’s try another inquiry question, one that I really like and this one is; what is this? What is this? So just ask yourself that question and then look in your own experience. What is this? What is this? What is this? Keep asking the question and keep looking directly. And remember the more that your mind tries to find an answer through thinking, through memory, through reasoning, through all that, you’re just wasting your time. Instead, look directly in experience. What is this? Stick with it, what is this? Look, experience, feel, notice, what is this?

Okay. Good. Now let go of that and just concentrate on relaxed breathing for a little while. 

Good. Now remember when we tuned into our Buddha nature the Buddha nature is playful? So remember this is a playful exercise. If you’re trying to break your mind on this just give up on that. This is playful. We’re looking, we’re experimenting, we’re noticing.

Okay. So the next inquiry question is; what is awareness? What is awareness? So just again, we’re not trying to answer that with ideas, we’re not trying to answer that with theories, we’re not trying to answer that with our mind in terms of thinking at all. I want you to notice in your own experience playfully, spontaneously, right now.

What is awareness? What is awareness? We could even ask what is aware? Look now, look in your own experience. Feel, notice what is aware?

Okay. Good. Now let’s let go of that and come back to our own already fully awakened, utterly pristine, Buddha nature. We could almost say our already existing godhood, the sense of timeless, spacious freedom, vast awareness, tremendous kindness, total openness, playfulness, spontaneity clarity, and even health and strength in the sense of liveliness in the body. And I want you to tune into that right now and again feel it as a big ball of energy in the heart. Feeling wisdom, feeling clarity, feeling love and kindness, feeling joy, feeling healthy and happy, feeling strong, and lively, and playful, and spontaneous. And I—just because you are a Buddha—I want you to use your Buddha power to just radiate that out to the whole world right now. Not only taking it in yourself but radiating out to the people, and cats, and dogs, and beings in the room around you, the house around you, but also the plants, and animals, and humans in the neighborhood around you, and the world around you. This is not only compassion, although it includes compassion, it’s kindness, it’s love, it’s wisdom, it’s clarity, it’s peace. 

And particularly for this holiday season let’s really concentrate now on that flavor of Buddha nature that we would call peace on earth, good will towards everyone. So it’s a feeling of tremendous peace and tremendous kindness, right? Or friendliness. Goodwill is really just simply friendliness. What we would call metta or maitri, it’s friendliness, right? That’s how we translate that word. So, peace on earth, and friendliness towards all beings, and I want you to just radiate that out because you can’t help but radiate it out. It doesn’t even take any effort. That’s what your pristine, already existing, totally complete and perfect awareness nature, your Buddha nature, your godhood is about, right? Effortless peace on earth and kindness and friendliness to all beings. Just radiate that in all directions now with me and feel it pouring out effortlessly. All beings everywhere. They’re contacting back and there’s just a sense of tremendous peace, and kindness, tremendous peace and friendliness. We want good things for all beings everywhere.

Okay. Good, let’s let go of that now and we’ll bring the formal part of the meditation to a close.

But, of course, nothing has changed. Your already existing pristine awareness, your Buddha nature is still there, still fully on. It’s not something you just contact somehow mystically through meditation or something that you make happen. It’s always there, right? And it’s always who you really are. You know this feeling of being a body and a mind with a history? That’s cool. That’s part of it, but the bigger wholeness of you is this tremendously awake pristine awareness.

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