This excerpt from Anne Carolyn Klein’s new book, Being Human and a Buddha Too: Longchenpa’s Sevenfold Mind Training for a Sunlit Sky — reviewed in the Summer 2023 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Guide — is provided courtesy of the publisher, Wisdom Publications. We thank Wisdom for sharing this with Buddhadharma’s readers, and we thank our readers for supporting dharma publishers.
Seventh Mind Training: Wholeness and the Senses
The sixth training culminated in a wholehearted commitment to practice and awakening. The seventh training gives instructions on how to accomplish the three classic meditative experiences of bliss, clarity, and nonconceptuality. Meditative experience (nyams, pronounced “nyam,” rhymes with palm) is by definition transient. It fades away like morning mist. In this it differs from realization, which is stable and continuous.
In the seventh training, one gains familiarity with two types of meditative experience: the union of bliss and emptiness and the union of clarity and emptiness. Simple nonconceptuality is itself a meditative experience, leading to actual realization of reality. As Longchenpa says of the seventh training, “Bliss is the skillful means that gives rise to the wisdom of emptiness.” When bliss and clarity unite they continue all the way to buddhahood. Buddhas are blissful! The final nonconceptual training here is not just a meditative experience but is itself a nonconceptual wisdom observing reality.
The seventh training engages the body to ripen the wisdom introduced through the story-meditations and pith practices. It offers distilled channel-energy practices of the type usually kept secret, because doing them without close supervision can be harmful. With the expectation that these practices would be undertaken only with a suitable teacher, Adzom Rinpoche’s elaboration of the text’s instructions clarifies the body’s role in a path to wholeness.
This training makes explicit use of the body’s energies. First, one cultivates bliss-emptiness through a focus on the central channel. Second is cultivation of clarity-emptiness, which involves holding winds in the navel region. Third is the training in nonconceptuality. In Dzogchen itself, says Longchenpa, energies naturally enter the central channel without being forced there.
Our ordinary sense of bodily solidity is embedded in a dualistic framework of inside and outside. The seventh training softens this framework, this solidly embodied “me” that we have pulled out of thin air. What will happen when this sensibility dissolves? Will we allow ourselves to find out? We might like the idea of a radiant wholeness. But do we really want to give up the seemingly solid “me” at the center of everything we know? What if we land in desolate nothingness?
Welcome to the seventh training. Buddhist practice overall moves from distraction to attention, from effort to ease, from conceptual to nonconceptual. Each of these trajectories involve somatic shifts in the body.
Our ordinary sense of being a person who can do things, our sense of agency, is built on twoness. We won’t give it up easily. Which makes it vital for us to consider the seventh training. Here we focus first on its traditional context and then on a few telling examples from recent scientific studies. These are the two main sections of this chapter.
Training in Nonconceptuality
Channel-and-wind practices are held quite closely in Tibetan Buddhist traditions. The texts elaborating them are restricted and oral instruction is offered only to persons who have already moved through several stages of practice, including completion of the foundational practices. Yet in Longchenpa’s and Jigme Lingpa’s work on the seven trainings, an introduction to the essentials of channel-and wind practices are openly available. Adzom Rinpoche did not detail them in his public talks, but generously responded to my questions and gave permission for his responses to be included here. This three-part somatic training yields nonconceptual states of bliss, clarity, and reality. The three practices of bliss, clarity, and non conceptually knowing reality integrate body, energy, and mind. Since mind rides on energies in the body, shifts in one create shifts in the other. The shifts are bilateral: energy affects mind, mind affects energy. Placing attention on key points of the body, especially on hubs of energy circulation known as wheels, or cakras, is what gives tantric practice its particular power. Not relying on reasoned logic (gtan tshigs), these practices catalyze more powerful shifts in experience, says Longchenpa, than is possible through thought alone. Placing attention deep in the belly, for example, efficiently stabilizes the mind by allowing the energies it rides on to settle deep in the body. Likewise, lightly sensing into the central channel is a valuable companion for virtually any practice. Longchenpa’s briefly summarizes how to train in bliss-emptiness:
Pull your energy up from below while pressing down from above and fix your mind on a white ah at your heart.
Jigme Lingpa expands on this instruction:
While practicing the four applications, press the upper energy down and draw the lower energy up. Imagine that this causes fire to blaze forth from the ah syllable at your navel, causing the haṃ syllable at the upper opening to melt. This, in turn, produces a steady flow of nectar that streams down and permeates the four chakras and all the minor channels, triggering the wisdom of bliss-emptiness. Finally, fix your mind on a white ah syllable at your heart center, cut the thread of discursive thought, and rest one pointedly. This will produce the wisdom of emptiness, the knowledge that utilizes the skillful-means bliss. Until you have familiarized yourself with this state, train in short, frequent sessions.
The four applications are the stages of inhaling, holding, rotating, and expelling the breath. The oral tradition through Adzom Rinpoche adds these helpful images: (1) pull in your breath like a rope, (2) send it down to your belly, (3) swirl it around your belly, and (4) send your breath out before you like an arrow. These four steps are meant to force the afflicted, dualism-inducing energies from the side channels into the pure world of the central channel. The channel itself is experienced somatically and through intentional or spontaneous imagining. You might feel that you have a light inside you, or are followed by light, or see this light in dreams, or perceive a tunnel. Full engagement with the four applications are part of the bliss emptiness practice. Jigme Lingpa’s instructions invoke them in the first part of the practice, whereas Longchenpa introduces them in the second part of the practice when attention is simply on the white ah at the heart. In this way, Jigme Lingpa gives more emphasis to the vase breathing exercise than does Longchenpa. In both cases, you hold the breath until you need to breathe again. Adzom Rinpoche tends to emphasize Jigme Lingpa’s instructions, clarifying that this hold ing takes place after the channels are filled, not while the nectar is descending.
Adzom Rinpoche also points out that whether we are walking or sitting, gently relaxing your belly and filling it with the energy of the breath is in and of itself very useful. This is also a way to grow familiar with the gravitational pull of the navel center. Your navel center is where the main three channels come together (rtsa gsum bsdud). Known in Tibetan channel-wind literature as the “channel of emanation,” this center is described as four finger-widths below the actual navel and four finger-widths inside the body. This is where karmic winds enter the central channel. It is also where the fire of Tibet’s famous heat-producing practices resides. We can also say that the mother essence is there (the red drop received from the mother).
One of my teachers pointed out that possessing such channels is a very great gift of the human body; we are shaped in such a way as to be able to use these special methods of practice. The channel-wind practices are part of Highest Yoga Tantra and often practiced to high art by Dzogchen practitioners, even though Dzogchen itself does not emphasize forceful methods for bringing mind into the central channel.
Unique features of channel-wind practices
Jigme Lingpa writes that the essence of speech is wind. Ordinary speech rides on winds of delusion — its energies move through the 72,000 channels of the body, but winds of confusion never enter the central channel. The movement of wind is the clearest explanation for why wisdom is described as inexpressible.
The opening line of Rāhula’s famous Praise of Mother Wisdom is: “Beyond talk, thought, or story.” Jigme Lingpa elaborates on this opening line, explaining that this line distills three ways that ordinary expression fails to encompass the state of wisdom: the winds of speech and thought are unlike the winds of wisdom. Jigme Lingpa’s point is that wisdom cannot be talked — speech cannot say it — because ordinary speech rides on winds of the side channels and cannot enter the wisdom channel. Wisdom can’t be thought because thinking, which is never as precise as direct experience, concretizes and generalizes what it brings to mind and therefore cannot get at wisdom or flow through our central core. Finally, telling a story, or describing wisdom, inevitably means that the speaker is different from what she describes, thus belying wisdom’s native wholeness.
The energy of ordinary speech — of ordinary life — bypasses the central channel and thus precludes the experience of a wholly engaged and holy wisdom. Even though, as Longchenpa has told us, wisdom abides throughout the body, it cannot be experienced as such under most circumstances. Through practices like these, we take our own gnostic turn toward a new kind of embodied completeness.
From Being Human and a Buddha Too: Longchenpa’s Sevenfold Mind Training for a Sunlit Sky by Anne Carolyn Klein © 2023 Wisdom Publications, www.wisdomexperience.org
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