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Like Wind in a Vast, Empty Sky

vast empty sky

Live Guided Nondual Meditation with Michael Taft

Streamed live on Jan 6, 2022

Hey everybody, welcome to tonight’s live nondual meditation with me, somebody or another sitting in a room somewhere talking about something. “A somewhat something moving a dream like on a fading road” as Lalla wrote in her spontaneous poetry from the Kashmir region–I forget how long ago that was. I think it was at least in the 1500s maybe even earlier. (Note: actually the 1300s)


Anyway, here we are tonight and I would love to begin meditating with you now. So let’s go ahead and do that. Sometimes we spend a lot of time talking about our posture, tonight I’m going to just say “get in a meditation posture. You know what to do.” And then other times, after we get in our meditation posture, I spend a lot of time we do visualizations – what we might call ‘resource building’ or if we were speaking more traditional language, we might call it some kind of a Yidam practice or Ishtadevata practice, i.e. deity yoga. But tonight what we’re going to do instead is, once you get settled into your posture, we’re just going to start. And first of all I want you to just check in with yourself in the most general sense. What does it feel like to be you right now? Or you’d be asking yourself “what does it feel like to be me right now? What’s it like to be me right now?” And of course you don’t ask that in words. It’s more like a general tune in thoughts, emotions, the body… just checking in with everything. How’s it going? And again the answer isn’t words or some kind of checklist. It’s just feeling how it’s going, tuning in, dropping in. You just do that briefly.

And then from here what I want you to do is to think of things you’re grateful for. They can be small things like “I’m grateful for the peanut butter sandwich I had this morning”, “I’m grateful for the smell of petrichor on the ground outside, that after rain smell” or it can be “I’m grateful for air in general” and “grateful for food in general”. You can make it large or small, grandiose or kind of micro. But either way I want it to really mean something to you. That’s what’s important. What it is, is not important. What is important is that you actually feel gratitude. And so I want you to sit here for a couple minutes bringing up things you feel grateful for. You can visualize them. You can think about them. You can remember them. And I want you to feel that gratitude warming your heart, warming your heart region. Just feel gratitude right now. Let’s do that together.

And you might just notice that as you feel more gratitude, there might be a hint of a smile coming… the feeling of a smile in your mouth, where you might feel kind of weepy–in a positive way–around your eyes, and your heart softens, it warms up and it softens and you start to feel that glowing kind of sensation in your heart. So let’s just continue picturing, remembering, appreciating things that we feel gratitude for. Really feel that gratitude.

Okay, good. Now you can let go of the visualization and the remembering and all that. And I want you to just sit and meditate upon that gratitude in your heart, the gratitude in the chess region. Just feel it glowing. Feel it. Feel the gratitude. Don’t get into a lot of thoughts about it. Now don’t think a lot about it. Just feel that pleasant warm melty heart sensation and really let it fill awareness. Let it fill your whole awareness. And just sit with it in a really relaxed comfortable open manner.

Fabulous! Now, let’s begin our usual sequence with shamatha with an object. Just focused relaxation. The mind is clear and bright. And we are meditating on a particular object. In this case, I want you to be meditating on the body sensations of breathing. But let’s breathe in a particular way. You want to make this comfortable. You want to make it work for you. Don’t do it if it doesn’t work. But what I want you to do is a normal in-breath and then a really long out-breath as long as you feel comfortable. So you’re breathing in normally and then the out-breath is long, long, long. And on that long out-breath, if you want to make it even longer, you constrict your throat so that you’re breathing–you’re breathing in the way that it would make your voice sound like that if you were talking. So it’s kind of a Darth Vader sound. And that’s called ‘ujjayi breath’ in Sanskrit; ujjayi. And so on the out-breath, you’re just holding that part of your throat a little bit tight so that it’s allowing you to do really long out breaths. Now I don’t want you to do an out-breath so long that it’s uncomfortable. But I want you to do an out-breath that is maybe twice as long as you’re in-breath or something like that–it doesn’t have to be exact. And then you are meditating on the sensations of breathing. Okay, so let’s begin there. If you want to, you can use a label “breathing in” on the in-breath, and then on the out-breath you might have to say it a couple times “breathing out, breathing out, breathing out, breathing out.” Mental labels will help you stay with it. So, let’s begin there.

Good, now on the in-breath I want you to notice the end of the in-breath, and then on the out-breath keep waiting for the end of the out-breath, end of the out-breath, end of the out-breath, and really notice, really notice when it finally, finally, finally, finally ends. Okay, so you’re feeling the breath all the way through but you’re giving extra attention to the end of the in-breath and the end of the out-breath. And that’s going to help you stay with it. All this breathing is through your nose by the way, not through the mouth – all through the nose.

Now, let’s continue to meditate on the breath. But I want you to make sure you’re not coming from like a place inside your head and beaming the flashlight of attention on the breath. This is from vast spacious awareness. Imagine in a way the whole room or even the whole sky is feeling the breath. And it’s not really imagining. Just notice that awareness is broad. Awareness is vast. It’s boundless and that feeling of the breath simply arises inside awareness. Awareness is aware of it naturally. You don’t need to focus. You don’t need to make it like a spotlight. The awareness is just wide and the feeling of the breath rises in awareness. Still keep doing the long out-breaths. But just notice that you’re meditating on the out-breath from this very wide awareness.

Just keep allowing awareness itself to be aware of the breath sensations. It’s very simple. Going even more deeply, even more richly, even more completely involved with the breath sensation, but allowing it to just arise in awareness that is already aware.

Feel how good that feels to just allow the breath sensations to arise in awareness, really noticing the end of the in-breath, really noticing the end of the out-breath, and doing those long, long, long, long out-breaths. They get very settled and get very still and very bright. Awareness itself is very bright, very vast, very wide, very effortless.

Feels so good. Now, what I want you to do is allow the breath sensations to now move into the background. And allow just that vast spacious awareness itself to be in the foreground. I find this much easier to do with my eyes open. But your mileage may vary. You can do this with your eyes open, your eyes closed, your eyes half closed, whatever works for you. But what I want you to do is ‘just allow awareness to rest in awareness’. There are other ways to say this. We can say ‘allow awareness to notice itself’ or ‘allow awareness to focus on itself’ or ‘pay attention to itself.’ This is a little misleading because of course there’s no tightness or attention in awareness aware of itself. But still, have the awareness just focus on itself. Or another way to say it is to ‘simply show awareness to awareness.’ All right, so we’re just resting in awareness aware of itself. Anything else that comes up: thoughts–we’re not paying attention to those; feelings–we’re not paying attention to those; the breath sensations–we’re not paying attention to those; external sights and sounds–we’re not paying attention to those. If we notice ourselves paying attention to any of that stuff, we just release that attention, we just drop the ball and come back to awareness aware of itself. This is the least effortful meditation in the world because awareness is already aware. So awareness is effortlessly aware of itself and not getting involved with anything else.

Okay good, now, continuing to just rest as vast spacious awareness, we’re going to now move into vipassana. So there is a little bit of effort here. And I want you to notice that we’re going to do it all at once: Everything arising in awareness is empty. If it’s a thought that arises in awareness, it’s empty. If it’s an emotion that arises in awareness, it’s empty. If it’s a body sensation that arises in awareness, it’s empty. If it’s a thought about ‘how I can’t do this’ or ‘this is difficult’ or ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ or ‘this takes me forever’ or ‘I’ll never get there,’ those thoughts are all empty. Even ideas about the surrounding world – like
the world around you, all empty; sounds of the world around you, all empty; images of the world around you, all empty. Everything that arises at all in awareness is empty. Remember, empty doesn’t mean it’s not there. It just means it’s like an ephemeral projection in awareness. You just notice its wispy, ephemeral, nebulous, undefined nature. So we’re resting as awareness like the sky, just this vast, blue, empty, open sky, and all the experience that’s arising is just like wind moving in that sky–empty, empty, empty, not different from the sky and also having its own sort of movement, its own sort of wave or ripple. So just notice the emptiness of all arising and allow yourself to, allow awareness itself to become quite absorbed with this ‘seeing of emptiness’ which will feel like seeing wispiness, seeing indistinctness, seeing the changingness, the impermanence, seeing the fact that things come and go, but seeing that even while they’re present. They’re nebulous, indistinct, dreamlike, rainbowlike images.

If you’re caught up in thinking, just notice the emptiness of thinking. Thinking is just wind in an empty sky.

If emotions keep grabbing you, you keep getting absorbed into emotion, it’s like taking the whole sky and suddenly cramming it down into an emotion – just come back to being the sky and
notice that emotion is just empty. It’s just wind moving in the sky – swirling, changing but not really different than the sky and not really able to trap the sky. The sky of awareness is always boundless. It’s always vast. It’s always clear. It’s always bright.

Everything that arises is empty, empty, empty, empty – just keep feeling, keep noticing awareness noticing that emptiness. The sky noticing its own winds. They don’t interrupt the sky. They’re not different from the sky and yet they have their own movement, their own swirling paths. Everything that arises is completely empty. Keep noticing that over and over and over and over and over. If you want you can even use a label like ‘empty,’ ‘empty,’ ‘empty’ to note these.

Thoughts are empty. Feelings are empty. The story of yourself is empty. Your personality is empty. The world around you is empty. Ideas about the world around you are empty. Ideas of time, ideas of space all empty. It’s just a vast sky of awareness with all these winds arising in it and the winds are all empty. And now I want you to notice the emptiness of some particularly
interesting arisings. Notice now the emptiness of the sense of effort, the sense that you’re trying to do something – in the sense that you have this intention to make something happen. Now again remember, emptiness doesn’t mean it’s not there. So you can still have the effort, you can still have the intention to make something happen, but notice that it’s empty. It’s just wind in the sky. It’s not different than awareness. It is in essence unfindable and yet you can still experience it. But notice that that sense of trying, that sense of effort, that sense of grinding, that sense of doing, it’s all empty. Notice its emptiness. And when you notice its emptiness how light it becomes–meaning buoyant and not heavy. It becomes very light this sense of doing.

Good, so any sense of effort, any sense of trying, any sense of doing–it’s just empty. Now, notice that the sense of being a doer, the sense of being the one making something happen, being the one who’s trying to meditate, being the one who’s trying to sit here, being the one who’s trying to do it right, being the one who doubts they can do it, being the one, being the one, being the one…that sense of being a doer is just empty in the vastness of vast spacious awareness, in the open sky, that brilliant, clear, bright, awake, aware sky of awareness. When the sense of being the doer comes up, the one who’s doing, notice, it’s just wind in the sky. It’s just wind in the sky, utterly empty.

Good, now notice even the sense of doing a meditation at all is empty. That’s just an idea. Doing a meditation at all, anybody doing anything, but especially the sense of a doer, in the sense of me doing a meditation, now that’s all just an idea. That’s empty, empty, empty wind in an open
sky. That vast crisp sky of awareness is not changed by the wind in any way. No effort, nobody making an effort, no meditation at all, all empty.

Now, just let go completely back into shamatha without an object–back into dropping the ball. But notice, nothing changed. We’re not doing a meditation. Everything’s completely empty. There’s simply a vast open sky of awareness that’s already completely aware of itself. Awareness aware of its own awareness without any effort, without any doing. Everything absolutely empty in this vast sky of awareness. What is this? … This has always been here–wide open, utterly awake, utterly clear, perfectly pristine. There’s nothing to do. There’s nothing to change. Everything arising in this is empty of its own accord, already empty upon rising, no effort required.

Rest here in nobility, in simplicity and dignity an empress of all of creation needing nothing, doing nothing, wide awake, absolutely vast in endless emptiness.

Pristine vast awake awareness, absolutely pure, absolutely effortless, absolutely restful, absolutely awake. I’m going to read some verses from the tibetan master Jigme Lingpa that refers to this awareness:
Awakening mind is the essence of all experience.

He says ‘awakening mind’ – I say ‘awakened awareness’ or ‘awake awareness’.

Awakening mind is the heart of all buddhas, the heart of all awakened ones.
Awakening mind is the life force of all beings.
Apparent and ultimate are not found in awakening mind.

Practice or not practice — attention goes beyond.
Act or not act — decisions melt away.
Empty or not empty — awakening mind is beyond.
Be or not be — there is a vastness wherein
These differences fade away.

Awareness — not a word, not a thought, no description at all —
Has as its axis no corrective, no holding a position.
Its nature is bare, steady, fresh and unfolding,
A vastness free from all effort and complications.
Rest where there is no change or time.
Rest right there in your own pristine awareness that has been here since beginningless time.

[Note: read from Ken McLeod’s “A Trackless Path”]

Good, now just notice a sense of gratitude arising in this awake awareness – a natural easy open gratitude, a gratitude for life, gratitude for breath, a gratitude for the opportunity to meditate together, a gratitude for the opportunity to connect with sacred teachings. And just feel that gratitude, just of its own streaming through awareness, arising and streaming throughout the infinity of awareness.

Dharma Talk

Okay good, now let’s bring the guided meditation to a close. But notice that nothing changes. Pristine awareness is still there, vast spacious awareness is still vast – it always is. We’re not making it that way. The meditation practice doesn’t somehow make awareness vast. Awareness is naturally spacious, naturally boundless, and timeless. So even though we end the meditation, nothing has changed. And remember, we noticed that even the sense of being a doer doing something is empty. So not only were we in quotes “not doing meditation” but now, whatever we’re doing now–like me speaking to you, you listening all of that–is done without any effort. All of that is happening without any doer. All of that is simply arising within this crisp, clear, fresh, bright, vivid awareness that is always there, absolutely sweet, absolutely easy, absolutely open. Nothing to change, nothing to fix, everything alright just the way it is. Just notice that now.

This is nondual or essence tradition meditation. Some of these traditions include the Tibetan traditions of Dzogchen and Mahamudra. There’s Hindu traditions of Advaita Vedanta and also nondual Shaiva Tantra. And some Chinese Taoist principles, even the Bhagavad Gita, another Hindu classic, all of these are traditions that made talk about nonduality talk about awareness slightly differently, but honestly, they’re all getting at the same thing. And when we practice here we’re getting at that same thing. And that same thing is the primacy of awareness itself, that everything we experience arises in awareness. If we’re going to talk in a Buddhist way, and we don’t have to because we could talk in a Hindu way, we could talk in a Taoist way, we could talk in kind of a western secular way, but just for a minute, we’ll talk in a Buddhist way. If we’re going to do this kind of practice we must take seriously the idea of bodhicitta, the idea of Buddha nature, the fact that we already possess pristine awareness, that we already are fully awake and buddhas from the very beginning. That’s how this meditation works. That’s why once we see the emptiness of the churning of the mind. Again, emptiness doesn’t mean it’s not there. That’s just one of the meanings of emptiness, but that’s not what we mean. It’s still happening, it’s just that it’s different than what we think it is. Another meaning of emptiness is, we can say ‘oh, that’s just empty’ and in English that can mean ‘it doesn’t matter’ or that ‘it’s not important’ or that ‘it’s false’. We don’t mean emptiness that way either. We mean that in this primacy of awareness everything that arises is simply like a show, like a magic show, like an image, like an experience arising in awareness. It’s not separate from awareness and it’s also not somehow outside of awareness. As I’m always saying ‘you are not in the world, the world is in you’ and what I mean by that is, we have the idea that we are awareness and awareness is behind my eyes and that’s a brain and the brain is in my head and the head is part of the body and the body is in this room and the room is in the world around me–that’s the way we think about that typically. But that way of thinking about it is inside out. It’s the other way around: the brain and the head and the body and the room and the world around is all inside awareness. Meaning, here is the awareness and all the stuff that’s happening is simply like a picture show, like a magic show, like a movie inside of awareness.

And don’t take my word for it. This isn’t some weird abstract concept. Just notice. This is just what we see when we notice the emptiness of thought and feeling and personality and the emptiness of body sensation and the emptiness of the world around us and the emptiness of space and time. You will then be left with the obvious, obvious direct experience: oh, it’s all happening in awareness. It’s like being in a video game. Let’s say you’re playing some kind of first-person shooter. And you’re in that game and you’re running around the environment and you’re shooting stuff and blowing stuff up and healing yourself and healing others and getting more ammo–all that stuff that you do in one of these first-person shooters–getting inside vehicles, crashing the vehicles, repairing the vehicles… getting wiped out over and over again and respawning all the time. You’re so involved and then… your dog barks and it just snaps you out of it. And you’re like ‘oh, all of that, all of that experience is just happening in the light of this monitor. It’s just photons in this monitor that’s all it is.’ Now, that’s not to say it’s nothing. It’s happening, there’s all kinds of information there, there’s all kinds of stuff going on. Again, it doesn’t mean it’s nothing. But it means it’s all just this flow of photons that you’re experiencing. In the very same way like these virtual worlds that we experience in the computer or in a video game or on like a PS3 or an Xbox or whatever, these give us a good metaphor for our own experience. We get so wrapped up and ‘oh, I’m doing this and I am me and I’m tracking my hit points you know my health points and all the skills I’m racking up and all the achievements I’m racking up in this kind of game of life’ and then someone just points out: ‘hey! Notice, this is all just a stream of experience happening in awareness. That’s all it is. And you go ‘Ohh!!’ and for the first time, maybe the very first time, you realize what you really are. It’s so different than what you have
thought you were. It’s so different than what you’ve been taught you are and what you have thought you are for your whole life. You think you’re thoughts and you think you’re feelings and the story. ‘This is the story of me and this is the story of where I come from and what I’ve done and all my achievements and what I’m involved in and what I care about and all that’s there.’ It’s not that it doesn’t matter. All of that is there. But it’s all just–I’m gonna mix metaphors here–it’s all just photons in the bright sky of awareness. It’s all photons in the bright sky of awareness.

So, when we do these meditations it’s not about ‘oh me, my mind, my body, my story of me, I’m gonna look at awareness.’ That’s like saying I’m gonna take my flashlight and find the light. The flashlight is the light. The thing that’s looking for awareness is awareness. We don’t need the person in the loop. The thing that’s looking for awareness is just awareness itself. And in the light of that awareness we notice, the person is just this flow of activity, this flow of activities, flow of thoughts and feelings and stories and stuff happening. And the world is the same. It’s just a flow of experience arising in our awareness.

And once you see this, you can never unsee it. You can forget it, you can get lost again, but it’ll always be haunting you forever. And you’ll come back to it over and over again and go ‘that’s right, that’s right’. Maybe you’ll be sitting on the beach and all caught up in your stuff. And you just look at the ocean and you look at the sky. And there are seagulls just kind of gliding on the wind and there are pelicans in their formation and just beautifully soaring right over the water gliding really, really, really low over the water. And then there are dolphins and there are waves, maybe there’s some surfers–can you tell I live in California?–and, you know, you’re just hanging out on the beach. And you’ll just remember ‘oh that’s right, that’s right. Awareness. I am awareness’ and of course, even that’s not an identity. We don’t want to reify awareness, but it’s a lot closer to what we really are. It’s a lot closer to what we really are, to that raw, clear, bright, pristine awakeness, awakeness itself. And remember, in Sanskrit the word for awake is “buddha” – that’s why they call him that. When I’m saying awakeness, awakeness, awakeness, I’m saying bodhi, bodhi, bodhi, bodhi–which is another way to say buddha. So bodhi-citta, bodhi-sattva, the buddha-nature. That’s what we’re talking about–just your raw awareness. It’s not hard.

This is not hard. If you get caught up in thinking about it, you’re doing the wrong thing. Just come back to just awakeness, right now. Notice, right now, that you are having an experience. Notice, you’re awake. And notice, that experience includes body sensations that are just a kind of flow of experience in awareness. It includes emotions that are just a flow of experience in awareness, like I kept saying, like wind in the sky. Or you’re having thoughts that are trying to figure this out. It’s a joke. They’re just a flow of experience in awareness. Same with the exterior world, all the flow of experience in awareness itself, all utterly empty, utterly effortless, utterly beautiful. They’re not different than awareness. They are awareness. We don’t want to make a god out of awareness. Although you can, lots of traditions do. And even if you do make a god out of it, just notice that that’s empty too. In other words, it’s not a concept of god, it’s just awareness itself. It’s just awareness itself.

Let me read this verse again. This is from this great book ‘A Trackless Path’. It’s by my good
friend Ken McLeod, He’s a Mahamudra and Dzogchen meditation teacher or used to be and a very very skilled Tibetan translator. So, he’s translating this poem by this Tibetan master Jigme Lingpa. And this is a poem about Dzogchen practice – so one of these traditions. And he’s trying to talk about how radical it is to be coming from awareness and to have that awareness itself, that pristine awareness. It’s already there. It’s our–it’s always been there. There’s nothing to do. and when we come from this radical perspective, everything shifts. So let’s just hear this verse again. And I want you to just listen. Don’t think about it. Just listen – awareness aware of these verses:
Practice or not practice — attention goes beyond.
Act or not act — decisions melt away.
Empty or not empty — awakening mind is beyond.
Be or not be — there is a vastness wherein
These differences fade away.

Awareness — not a word, not a thought, no description at all —
Has as its axis no corrective, no holding a position.
Its nature is bare, steady, fresh and unfolding,
A vastness free from all effort and complications.
Rest where there is no change or time.
Rest where there is no change or time.

It’s a brilliant verse. It’s a brilliant person. And Ken (McLeod)—if you get the book which I recommend you do—he then talks about ways how we can unpack that verse and understand what Jigme Lingpa is saying. But notice, he’s saying, there’s a vastness wherein everything is sort of there and not there, at the same time, a vastness wherein even space and time don’t make any sense. That’s the vastness of awareness. All these traditions agree that the closest metaphor to awareness–if we want to think about awareness of being like something–is space. It’s like space. Space has no boundaries, space is vast. That’s why I have a class called Vast Sky Mind, that’s why all these teachers talk about vastness because it’s like space. And the only difference is that space itself–we think of that as kind of dead like a brick or something–whereas this awareness space is awake, it’s gnostic. It has knowing. It’s awake. So all the things arising in awareness are known, they are experienced.

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