Mindfulness now is a buzz world. Taken form a traditional context it turned into an umbrella term and gained so many meanings that its hard to find the original one now. In this text I would like to speak about the approach of my master, a self-realized human being who has developed numerous techniques for contemporary people who live in cities, have jobs and families and raise children — and still want to finf there true nature, awakened and ever present.
Text © Anastasia Gosteva
To read this text in Russian please go to this page (Прочитать этот текст на русском можно здесь ) –https://vnimatelnost.com/2014/06/17/что-я-имею-в-виду-когда-говорю-о-практи/
Mindfulness in this context is understood as the natural state of a human being — the one which can’t be described through the means of language but can be pointed out at. (I met the same understanding of mindfulness in a book of a dzogchen master Tsokny Rinpoche. In Fearless Simplicity he writes: “The Dzogchen teachings actually mention four types of mindfulness: deliberate mindfulness, effortless mindfulness, true mindfulness and supreme mindfulness… Deliberate mindfulness is used in shamatha training, while effortless mindfulness is during vipashyana in the Dzogchen sense. From a Mahamudra perspective the true mindfulness is during One Taste while king-like supreme mindfulness is during Nonmeditation”).
I feel important to say that master firmly rejects to write whatsoever and in eight years (the text was written in 2015) he never allowed me to make an audio record of his speaking — because everything he says is only valid in this precise moment, for me personally or for people present in the group. And any attempts to do some writing on this subject are just about to stoop on the level of the conceptual mind, that only allows to give a hint about something, but doesn’t allow to give the whole understanding. Reasoning is important, but only as an extra instrument to the methods that helps us to recognize our innate awakened nature, and as addition to the transmission of a certain state during group practice.
This short text is just a poor hint for the explanations and teachings that my master gives and that I was lucky to receive in the past eight years. I am convinced that this text could have been completely different if written by other students of him.
Mindfulness, as understood in this approach, is the non-existence, the true nature of a human being, the pure absolute non manifested potentiality, the natural state of men. It is the seventh of the subtle bodies of a human. Everything we are trying to say about mindfulness is limited and inexact but at least we can try to draw some parallels. It is like a mirror — when a mirror reflects matter then a world of forms appears and a human being discovers itself as a physical body. When a mirror reflects energy — then worlds of energies appear and a human being discovers itself as two subtle energy bodies: etheral or emotional and astral or intellectual. When a mirror reflects consciousness (the individual one and the divine one) then the world of consciousness appears and a human being discovers itself as awakening (athma-samadhi and paraatma-sadadhi) and enligthening (brahma-samadhi and parabrahma-samadhi).
The mirror doesn’t cling to these images, it’s absolutely free. It can contain the infinity of images, and when they disappear it has no influence on the nature and the state of the mirror.
This can also be described in other words — when our attention is steadily directed to the world of forms, we think of ourselves as of physical bodies. When our attention is directed to the world of energies, we discover ourselves as emotions, thoughts, and subtle psychic phenomena — moods, feelings, sensations that precede thoughts. When our attention is directed to the consciousness — individual and divine — we discover ourselves as awakening and enlightenment. But a human being is not its body, nor energy, nor consciousness.
When attention is directed towards attention, it reflects itself, and only Ultimate Mindfulness as our primal nature is left – empty, self realizing and possessing endless energy. Master keeps repeating that we should not stop on enlightenment and it’s 52 stages and certainly not on awakening that is often mistaken for enlightenment in our contemporary world. We must move on and discover ourselves as this Ultimate Mindfulness itself. The Ground as it is called in Dzogchen. (Considering the fact that starting from a certain level it’s hardly possible to speak of any musts at all!)
At the same time we ALREADY know ourselves as Mindfulness. Without it we couldn’t live, perceive the worlds of matter, energy and consciousness. We are always attentive without being conscious of it. We are not equal to the Mindfulness. This is why it is not something alien to us that needs to be acquired as a result of a practice. On the contrary, there’s nothing more simple and easy than being Mindfulness. And this is why it eludes us, because we are always busy with something more important and more substantial. And we have been busy with this during millions of lives, thus creating a certain inertness of attention.
Seven levels of mindfulness
When we start from such understanding of Mindfulness, it becomes clear that there’s a huge difference between turning attention to the present and observing body sensations, emotions and thoughts and being the Mindfulness, residing in our primal nature. And more over there is a difference between experiencing the awakening as a peak experience and residing in this state steadily during the whole day and posteriorly 24h/7.
And here is a very brief description of the levels of mindfulness according to master:
- Absentky-mindful person – a child from birth to age of 2-3 years. Attention is out of focus and the child only learns to discover self as attention, mostly in an unconscious way. He or she learns how to direct attention on purpose. The physical body.
- Poorly mindful person — all the attention is directed towards the outer world and also towards thoughts and emotions. Attention is narrow-banded and focused and it is always reflected in the sight of a little attentive person – it is always direct straight and focused. But even this focus is not kept long by a person – the outer world and factors of the environment rule his/her attention, so he or she is easily and often distracted. The emotional body.
- Mindful person is not just someone who brought the attention back to the present on the level of body, emotions and thoughts. A mindful person knows how to direct the attention to consciousness (to discover self as consciousness itself) and resides in this state naturally for 4 hours a day continuously. And the first, basic method given to the newcomers is the method of directing attention to the consciousness. The sight of a mindful person is slightly unfocused at 90°. The intellectual body.
- Very mindful person remains naturally resting in consciousness during 8 hours per day. And although consciousness is unlimited and any talks about its levels is just a convention, a very mindful person resides in deeper layers of consciousness than a mindful person. Often during transition from a mindful to very mindful, the practitioner experiences past lives memories and different phenomena of clairvoyance or clairgnozis. These phenomena are just side effects of the practice and not at all its goal. And as master warns us and prepares for it, there’s no attachment to this experience created. You could also say that a very mindful person is someone who experiences the process of heart opening, what is the beginning of awakening. When the heart is fully open we discover ourselves as love and we feel that the whole world is love, even unanimated objects. The sight is unfocused on 180º. The fourth (mental) body.
- Super-mindful person is an awakened one. The very first experiences of awakening can also occur at earlier stages, with very mindful person, but they are not steady. They are felt like some cathartic peak experiences but not as a natural state. When awakened, we know ourselves as the whole Existence, unlimited, at the same time empty and manifesting itself thru myriads of forms every second. At the same time there is a subtle witnessing of this empty presence. A subtle I remains. I an the Father are one — but there is still the subtle separation between the I and the Father. There’s nobody but there is the quality of consciousness that observes how this nobody and nothing moves in these bodies during the day, does certain actions. Moreover the spectrum of our consciousness is limited at the beginning of the awakening, although we might know ourselves as all the Existence, we might not know what is happening at this moment at the other side of our planet or on Jupiter. The Karma of the four bodies is not exhausted and this is what makes the difference between awakening and enlightenment. We stay awakened until all the karma that we have collected and that leaves us this subtle feeling of being separated is dissolved. A super-mindful being is awakened during the whole day and also is self-conscious during sleep and dreaming. He or she sees how they originate and dissolve but doesn’t associate self with them. His/her perception grasps 270º and it is no longer the sight of the physical eyes. The fifth body — the body of awakening.
- Totally mindful person is the enlightened one. The subtle principle of the “I” which was present in the state of the awakening is completely dissolved here. The drop is absorbed by the ocean, or, what is actually the same, the ocean is absorbed by the drop. There is no border between the 5th and 6th bodies of a human being and this is why according to my master there’s often a confusion between awakening and enlightenment. If a practitioner didn’t receive a proper teaching from his/her master, the state of awakening can seem to be terminal. I know myself as all the Existence. There’s nowhere else to go. There are no boundaries. There’s only an endless dive into consciousness that can last for many lives. Master told that in his case he had a very subtle understanding that this is not the end. That there’s something more behind and that he already went thru this way once. But at the beginning it was very confusing where to seek for it as there was no orientation and no search any more. Adyashanti describes a similar state – he knew it was not over yet and just stayed with this knowledge. Enlightenment consists of 52 levels and this explains why there are so many seemingly contradicting enlightenment maps – just because not everybody can go thru all these 52 levels during the lifetime of one physical body. And not all the awakened and enlightened masters have gone thru all these levels. According to master, nowadays there are no more than 5 fully self realized beings who discovered themselves as Ultimate Mindfulness and who are standing at the border of the Non-existence. Some of them choose not to go into the Non-existence foe good, as did Buddha – his subtle bodies stay here to give support to other practitioners. The perception of a totally mindful person grasps 360º. And it also includes all the times – past, present and future, – and also all the directions. Totally mindful person remains in this state 24 hours per day and his consciousness is not interrupted even during the deep sleep without dreams. The sixth body — the body of Being or the body of Enlightenment.
- Ultimate Mindfulness is our primary nature. It is the final realization. A state where there is no meditation and also there is no smallest distraction. The word “Non-existence” is only an attempt to reflect in words this pure unmanifested potentiality. Master compared it once with the term of the “dark matter” from contemporary physics. The empty form, the endless energy and the self-conscious nature are undivided in the state of Mindfulness, but when we lose ourselves as Mindfulness then the illusion of split into the world of matter (our body and other bodies), of energy (our subtle bodies, emotions, sensations, thoughts and subtle material worlds) and consciousness (state of awakening and enlightenment, when we discover ourselves as unlimited consciousness) arises. There is no formal methods to bring your attention to Mindfulness itself, but it occurs spontaneously, when our attention is evenly spread between our body, our energy and our consciousness with 33,333% on each.
All the methods exist in the dimension of the mind. This is the paradox of any practice which is worth to be remembered about – mind creates methods only to go beyond the boundaries of the mind. Moreover when speaking about methods, it is good to clarify what is the goal of this precise method. There are methods that change the proportion of attention directed towards matter and energy. Some other methods change the proportion of attention spread between the energy and the consciousness. All the collection of methods given by the master only exists to create this proportion 33%-33%-33%, which was mentioned above and then a person can spontaneously discover self as Ultimate Mindfulness.
And at the same time each person is unique so the master recommends one person to put attention onto certain aspects and gives different recommendations to another person, because everybody is in his/her unique situation which causes them to be inattentive.
The basic method given to all the novices is the method of directing attention to the consciousness. An ordinary person only faces his/her consciousness at the moment of death but as the person is not prepared for this, he or she is not capable to stay mindful and to become the consciousness. This is why the person is drawn into a new incarnation by certain Karmic circumstances.
In fact only this one method can be sufficient to reach the awakening, according to master. And that the basic Zen practice of Shikantaza was initially understood as «simply sit in consciousness». Of course it is possible to just sit and stare at a white wall – and this is exactly what many western students are being taught nowadays. But there were times when students were not simply put sitting in front of a white wall but they were also explained how to direct their attention to the consciousness. This is how Bodhidharma has been sitting for 9 years – with his attention directed to consciousness.
When we direct our attention to consciousness, the consciousness directs attention to us (or in other words we as consciousness start to awaken ourselves from the dream of the matter and energy) and starts to synchronize gradually our subtle bodies.
But as all the students of my master are secular people who have families, jobs, many daily distractions and most likely none will go for a nine year retreat, he also gives other methods, to practice during the day while being among other people, and also for private practice. More over, according to Master, only 1%-2% of people are born to live as monks or hermits. All the others can and should practice and awaken in secular world.
It is possible to say that the second basic method that is also given to all the newcomers is the method of brining attention back to the four subtle bodies or the method of scanning of the four subtle bodies. Essentially this method helps to achieve the same goals as during the Ngöndro practice although Tibetans don’t often mention the subtle bodies openly. Scanning of the physical body brings attention back to the form, eliminates tensions of the physical body and prepares it to be a solid ground for the further practice. Scanning of the emotional body is equivalent to reading of the Vajrasattva mantra – the attention comes back to our first subtle body and it starts cleaning itself from emotional impurities and blocks. Scanning of the intellectual (astral) body is equivalent to the practice of mandala offering, and brining attention back to the fourth (mental) body is equivalent to guru-yoga.
It is clear that a subject-object separation remains at all these levels, when there is an observer and an observed. You can also say that it is only preparation for the practice of meditation. And only after the practitioners have discovered themselves as consciousness and to some extent balanced and cleaned their subtle bodies they can receive teaching of the further methods which are devoted to the heart opening and very similar to tantric transformational practices.
For now I do not have a clear feeling that it would be helpful to write about them. I can add though that more someone is rooted in his/her consciousness, in presence, less he or she is identified with physical, emotional and intellectual bodies, more he or she is naturally present in the heart.
It is not the level of a physical heart in a physical body, it is rather what is called “deep” or “spiritual” heart in the practice of hesychasm. Starting from a certain moment this can become a basic practice for the person during the day while he or she is busy with daily routine, to descend from the head to the heart and keep constant presence in the heart.
It is namely in the heart where the active doer who has been practicing all this time starts to disappear. The practice stops and the meditation begins – a natural residing in a naked consciousness not covered by the four bodies. The goose find out that it was never closed inside of a bottle. But it is not yet the final self-realization.
Every four to six months master changes completely the method that is practiced currently, and he also changes the terms that are used to describe our experience. Those who have personally experienced certain states can easily recognize them regardless to what terms are used to describe them. Those who have been fooling themselves by thinking that they have reached a certain level, because mind can often replace the real experience by the conceptual one, can discover at this moment that they got stuck in a conceptual understanding that does not correspond to their meditative experience.
Master uses different maps: the Zen map with ten bulls, the Vedic map, the Tibetan one, the Sufi one, the Christian one, the Daoist alchemy one, the model of Gurjiev whom he respects a lot and mentions quite often. And often times everything he says is not possible to identify with any of the maps I know (but it is also possible that the cause for it is my ignorance in the matter). Sometimes I think that he doesn’t really care which language to choose. And more precisely, the Existence speaks thru him to tell something that is the most relevant to be said at this very moment.
It happened to me more than once that during the day I was trying to correlate my personal experience with one of the maps and in the evening master would come in to the meditation hall and with a bit smile give me a detailed comment on my reflections with explanation where and how my understanding was incomplete. Not to mention that I wouldn’t see him during the day nor would I talk to him.
Although master uses maps, he intentionally changes the language all the time so that we don’t develop attachment to certain concepts. So that the ego doesn’t rejoice: “Oh, I’ve learned this terminology. How wonderful! Now I understand everything. Now I’m almost a master myself”. Understanding is always defined not by the level of intellectual background, but by the level of mindfulness. You can think that you have understood something, but only years later during practice and after reaching a new level of mindfulness you realize that you understood nothing back then. As I see it now awakening isn’t a noun but rather a verb — a continuos deepening into endless layers of consciousness, more and more subtle and alive.
Master has a small ashram where only 4 people can stay at the same time. And four is already a lot. I had the best practice experience when I was living there alone or with one other student. According to Master, he didn’t come here to create a big school, but to grow and prepare a certain number of masters who will teach his methods in the future.
I tell more in detail about my master to people who attend my workshops and some of the regular practitioners of my groups have already visited him more than once. Each time it’s only the master who takes the decision if you can come or not. Or, more precisely, he doesn’t decide anything, because there’s nobody who can decide but because either there are in Existence factors for it to happen or not.