Your true nature is like the sky, says Mingyur Rinpoche, its love and wisdom unaffected by the clouds of life. You can access it with this awareness meditation.
Humanity is currently facing some of the greatest challenges in its history, including climate change and a global pandemic. Many of us face difficult challenges and uncertainty in our own lives, from illness to job loss to traumatic relationships.
People are desperate for methods to ease their suffering in uncertain times. While many Buddhist meditation practices are helpful, none surpasses recognizing and resting in awareness itself. The reason for this is that the true nature of awareness is a source of lasting strength and resilience. Awareness is beyond conditions like pain and pleasure, suffering and ease. It is that which allows any and all experiences to arise, and yet is unchanged by them.
The important part of this practice is the recognition of awareness itself.
I spent a number of years in a wandering retreat—moving from place to place, following in the footsteps of the great masters of our Buddhist tradition. This experience brought into focus many core aspects of the teachings, particularly impermanence and the transience of life.
As I wandered through the Himalayas, everything changed. I went from having whatever I needed to being without food, shelter, family, friends, students, and teachers. Amidst this constant change, there was something that remained, always: awareness. It provided me with an internal stability regardless of circumstances. Trusting in this awareness, the fundamental nature of our mind, was what allowed me to overcome the challenges I faced.
Let me tell you a story that illustrates this. A few weeks after I began my retreat, I fell terribly ill. I had unrelenting diarrhea and I vomited over and over, probably due to food poisoning. My illness got so bad I was brought to the precipice of death. I lost my ability to see and hear, and I felt as if my life force was like a lamp going out.
Yet, even when my body was collapsing, my senses lost, and the conceptual mind dissolved, awareness remained with me, unchanging. I saw that awareness was beyond the pain and suffering I was experiencing—beyond life or death. Trusting in awareness is what got me through and allowed me to keep going.
This experience echoed what I had always heard from my father, the great Dzogchen master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. “Whatever arises—concepts, feelings, your body, subject and object, everything—is like clouds in the sky,” he said. “They come and they go. Your true nature, awareness imbued with love, compassion, and wisdom, is like the sky itself.”
We can train ourselves to experience this through awareness meditation. The important part of this practice is the recognition of awareness itself. No matter what object we choose as a support for our meditation, whether we focus on the breath, sensations, or a visualization, the important part is recognizing and resting in the aware and knowing quality of the mind.
Awareness Meditation Practice
Begin by finding a comfortable posture, upright yet relaxed. Bring your attention to the breath. Notice the sensations that you experience as the breath comes in and out. There is no need to control the breath in any way. Simply observe it, and see if you can notice the simple knowing quality of mind.
After a few minutes, expand your awareness to include sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and physical sensations that you experience. Again, simply observe them. Throughout all of these experiences, notice that there is a knowing quality of mind that remains unchanged.
When you feel comfortable, allow your awareness to extend beyond any particular experience. Rest in the knowing quality of mind itself. No matter what comes or goes, this knowing quality remains.
Although everything falls apart, our true nature—awareness itself—cannot fall apart. It cannot die. It cannot be stopped. It cannot be destroyed, because it is unborn. Awareness is always with us. Trust in this. This is your true nature and ultimate refuge.