Antero's practice journal

Awakening of an office monk

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Two Imaginary Realms of Light

edoardo tresoldi basilica

It has been amazingly difficult for me to motivate myself to write anything about my practice. None of the usual psychological tricks have worked, so after several failed attempts, I simply put off the task to indefinite future. In addition to general lack of motivation to write, the practice feels so private and insignificant that I am very reluctant to put anything out in the open.

After the retreat everything was wonderfully easy. I could be very relaxed about my practice and the view and it’s interesting side effects would present themselves whenever I intended or even spontaneously. That inspiring world of wonders was transparent, marvelous and after a little while, gone. On the contrast, the last few months of 2018 were colored by uncharacteristic procrastination and lack of motivation to do any serious practice.

I might be seeing a pattern here: magnificent experiences during a retreat, easy high intensity practice with new perspectives several months after, inevitable falling out, slow integration of the new perspective with all messiness of everyday life, step by step evolving into a more mature and down to earth version of that new perspective.

After picking up the pace with more diligent practice, I might be soon able to make some guesses what that more mature version of the practice might look like. Today I would describe it as a meeting point between two imaginary realms of light.

On one hand there is this real world that seems to appear out there, but when looking more closely, turns into a play of light with seemingly no dimensions or depth in any ordinary sense. A play of light or mirage composed of images, body sensations, thoughts and sounds. Flickering lights in space.

On the other hand these is this fictional world of buddhas, boddhisattvas, dakinis and what not, imagined during guru yoga and represented by the imaginary body of the teacher. Fictional compared to what? What actually is the difference between an imaginary phantasy and a world apparently made of light only? Could imagination actually be a way of reprogramming the very same mental maps that were constructed to create the illusion of ’concrete’ ordinary world?


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Retreat: Buddhahood without meditation, part III


I have delayed posting anything about this particular aspect of the retreat, partly because everything I wrote sounded too exaggerated, fabricated and grand and partly because I found it hard to express the fleeting and insubstantial experiences in a way that does justice to them and/or is not giving away any restricted information. I am still not happy with the results, but here we go.

When I started doing Vajrayana practices several years ago, I was not one bit interested in the supernatural side of it: deities, primordial buddhas, celestial beings, alternative realities, you name it. As a matter of fact I was quite put off by those things and labeled them as unnecessary cultural overlay and superstition. Strangely though, I soon ended up doing guru yoga as my main practice because it really worked for me in some inexplicable ways. After a while I started to see how visualized supernatural beings can work as archetypes in human form that can be helpful in making a connection with impersonal and abstract forces of the universe. On the other hand visualizations started slowly hacking my world view so that after a while, Samboghakaya realm of buddhas and dakinis did not feel that impossible anymore.

During this retreat, the guided meditations on the three kayas, buddha families and wisdom energies left me with a feeling of wonder. The door that had been just slightly ajar was opened a fair bit more and even now, a couple of months after the retreat has ended, I can still peek through it in my daily practice. At times I may even be able to live in that cathedral of light for a little while. During those occasions, it feels as though the experience covers several realms at the same time and the residues of the ordinary mind struggle to make sense of the overlapping incompatible images.

The relationship between trek chod, cutting through the tension to awakened awareness, and the gazing practices has considerably cleared up for me. I can now see how previously the incomplete stability in staying with the view of awakened awareness was causing me an accumulation of subtle tension when the energies resulting from gazing started coursing through my body.

There is also a new insight into the process of natural unfolding of the awareness practices, at least for this particular body-mind continuum. In my experience, opening up of the subtle realms occurs as a spontaneous result of sufficient unification of the clear light sensations (both physical and mental) with limitless space. In my case, the energy of thinking, although easily unified with space, was nonetheless felt to be somewhat different stuff from the physical senses. Even thought more complete unification was available during the formal meditation sessions, the real transformation seems to become possible only after it spontaneously starts to happen during daily life.

This is how I would describe the initial incomplete integration with space:

Body = Physical senses = Limitless space

After the integration deepened it started to resemble something like this:

Body (including all the physical senses) = Limitless space = Thinking mind = Buddha

The experiential effect could be compared to a glimpse to a world of fantasy, divine self-luminous optical illusion residing just underneath the mundane existence. Or my physical body suddenly losing whatever is left of it’s solidity and becoming a sacred mirage, like one of those brilliant big cities seen from the airplane at night; geography of a buddha body.

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Retreat: Buddhahood without meditation, part II


The guided meditations connected with dismantling the self imposed limits in space had profound effect on me and gave rise to several insights into nature of reality itself.

  1. The unpleasant side effects reported in my journal during the past 6 months or so, are directly connected with not receiving ”full depth” of space (experience) all the way to infinity in some or all of the six directions.
  2. This way of partially shutting a slice of the limitless experience is yet another fine layer of the agent, but it get’s deeper than that. Even having concepts of directions (up, down etc), distance (near, far) or any kind of faintest sense of location in space are part of the same game of selfing. These discoveries revealed for me the sloppiness of my cutting through practice as well as the importance of it.
  3. When space of experience undresses itself of all constraints or boundaries, there is an added intensity, like jumping into a pool of water. When directions and the rest of the attributes are no gone, space is no longer space. Like staring at complete darkness, it gives no indication of it’s size, shape, directions or dimension, it could just as well be an illusory flat sparkling screen with zero depth, a malfunction of seeing process itself or a sci-fi portal beyond the ordinary three dimensions.
  4. When the bubble is burst and space is no longer space, experience of dharmakaya opens up.

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Retreat: Buddhahood without meditation, part I

In early May I attended one week dzogchen meditation retreat based on Dudjom Lingpa’s text Buddhahood without meditation or Nang Jang in Tibetan, which, if translated a bit closer it’s original intention, means something along the lines of purifying the perception (or purifying the mind, which is practically the same thing). Richard Barron’s translation of the text was used, although many corrections were made when the English version deviated from the meaning in Tibetan.

The structure of the text is fascinating. In fourteen chapters Dudjom Ligpa covers the taste of awakening, how to maintain it continuously and how to open up the perception of Samboghakaya, the sacred world of the mandala that eventually leads one to full buddhahood, identifying many of the obstacles along the way.

Before the retreat, there was definitely a strong need to boost my practice and to find some motivation, but I had very little expectations in terms of actual insights, vainly as I thought that my view is already quite well developed.

During the first couple of days, we visited familiar territory of awakened awareness, but approached it from a different angle, using new methods that worked very effectively for me. I noticed tensions and limits in space and also subtle ways of localizing myself within the open vastness, remainders of an agent not fully cleaned up from the view.

Soon the view started becoming more stable, visual field integrating with space and there was an upwelling of trust in the view that made it easy to let limitlessness arise spontaneously. The body became open, relaxed and light and everything was functioning automatically without any need to do anything. Sense of being localized got thinner during the process, cleaning up of the agent.

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Much of the time lately

Off the cushion:

  • Fortunately no more that unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness
  • At times very effective and energetic
  • State of flow at work

On the other hand, much of the time:

  • Restless mind
  • Low energy states
  • Sadness
  • Reactivity in situations
  • Easily affected
  • Feeling raw, like no skin
  • Mood swings
  • Emotional
  • General lack of interest
  • No desire to do anything
  • Lazyness when no compulsory tasks
  • Lazy even with the meditation practice

I used to be the stable guy, but now I seem to get affected by all kinds of trivial things. This uncharacteristic turbulence has led me to at times skip my morning practice out of fear.

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After the Five Day Retreat

The logical outcome of this practice has been revealing itself to me. Experience everything fully, don’t hold anything back. There is no one to blame. There are no other people’s problems. No safe places, no complacency, no protection. Being totally honest in any relationship feels daunting, scary and overwhelming. When you think of it, life is nothing else but relationships with oneself, others, plants, animals and whatever things the world is made of. All unpleasantness, tension, anxiousness or fear is a call to explore the problem with some relationships. This seems to be the result of the brief glimpses of buddha nature off the cushion.

Every now and then these kinds of feelings arise. I can’t manage all of the mundane daily chores, there is simply too much to handle. I feel fatigued and tense and there is very little initiative to do anything if no pressure is coming from outside. Just passing time and indulging in sense pleasures.

The next day I may feel focused and high on energy. Whatever happens at work, I just know what do or say, how to handle the difficult situation. There is a flow of rawness with emotional vulnerability, which seems to flush all obstacles from the system, the view of awakened awareness maintaining itself by spontaneously re-emerging after getting lost. The system seems to be adapting itself to higher states of energy.

The Four ways of leaving things as they are (cog bzhag bzhi) are biting deeper on and off the cushion. As a result I am feeling the difference between genuinely opening to the awareness instead of trying to hold on to it. Using Four ways as shortcut, there is almost simultaneous recognition and letting go of subtle manipulation with every one of the four lines. Maintaining the view feels easy and natural, non-artificial. The freedom of leaving things as they are.

My formal practice consists of ashtanga yoga from the viewpoint of awakened awareness and then some gazing practice. Often the bluish cloud already appears during the yoga practice, the experience melts, there is color and movement.

One night I had a dream in which I was doing my ashtanga practice and the blue colored blob was hanging in the air as usual. I adjusted my eyes a little and instead of a blob, there was a detailed Tibetan syllable inside an intricate flower-like ornament hanging in midair. Again I shifted the view, the syllable turned into a blob and back to a syllable, like focusing a cameral lens. The dream changed my relationship with the abstract colors that keep appearing in formal meditation.

The gazing practice is becoming more refined, more automatic, deeper. I am noticing subtle difference in the quality of awareness after the gazing. It is easier to see the quality common in all sense perceptions, like tuning to a different frequency of experience. People sitting in the train, patches of sunlight, reflections on surfaces, landscape rolling outside. The view becomes a kind of flat and ethereal in a translucent way. Like ice dissolving into liquid, liquid dissolving into pools of light, then mixing together. I am touching this source more often during daily life, all tension momentarily flushed away.

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Five Day Retreat, Fourth Day

I woke up late with a headache, practiced yoga, meditated and I did some physical work outside, but soon it became too dark to do anything. I felt the energy slowly stabilizing in the body.

Tonglen practice seemed to have a life of it’s own. Various conditions arising in my body-mind during the sit alerted me of various aspects of suffering common to all sentient beings. When the special state of mental silence arose, I gave it away to all sentient beings and breathed in the suffering involved in having a busy out-of-control thinking mind. When I felt striving or struggling, I breathed in the futile struggle common to all beings and gave them all equanimity I have ever had.

As a response to loneliness, sickness, confusion, desire, physical pain and so forth, I ended up giving away my mental clarity, equanimity, skillful parenting (that hurt!), physical health, happy marriage (ouch!) and so on. The developing dialogue between somewhat uncomfortable suffering that I was breathing into my heart space with every in breath and with the positive qualities (most of the time) joyfully given away with every out breath was interesting to watch. As a result of this I definitely felt more open, tender and connected with all beings and less attached to various aspects of my own happiness and wellbeing. The increased awareness of numerous positive qualities present in my life was remarkable.