Natural Meditation

[From a public talk on Natural Meditation, Wisdom, and Compassion given by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche in Phoenix, Arizona in February 2012. Translated by Lama Yeshe Gyamtso. Transcribed by Pema Wangmo. Edited by Matt Willis. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint without permission.]

Natural meditation refers to our true nature. In a sense we could say that natural meditation is our beginningless or primordial, innate birthright – our fundamental condition and nature. In the Buddhist tradition it is often referred to as buddha nature, and it’s said, “Buddha nature fills all beings; therefore, all beings are capable of buddhahood.” This means that our fundamental nature is flawless and that all of the qualities of buddhahood are already present within us innately.

Indeed, about natural meditation, it is said, “The best meditation is to rest naturally and relaxed.” However, as easy as this may sound, it is actually quite hard for most of us to do. Under the sway of ignorance we are quite deluded. When we attempt to rest in our own true nature we often are not doing so, but are resting in an idea of that nature, a concept of it, or an idea about it. Any idea or concept of the nature is necessarily incorrect and flawed. Therefore, resting in such an idea or concept will not lead to recognition of the nature itself.

To understand how we can actually approach a recognition of this nature, especially as beginners, it may be helpful to employ the concepts that are often used when describing the state immediately after death – the state of the bardo, or interval between lives. In such a context, a distinction is made between what is called the ground clear light or fundamental clear light, and the path clear light. The ground clear light is our true nature. Clear light itself refers to the nature of our mind. Because that nature of our mind is the ground of all experience it is called the ground or fundamental clear light. Now, that ground clear light, our actual nature, is itself beyond delusion and it is also innate within each and every one of us. However, we normally do not see it. It is in fact obscured by our ideas or concepts about it. Therefore, in order to come to recognize that ground clear light we must begin by cultivating what is called the path clear light.

All of the different practices that are done in one’s dharma training are means, either directly or indirectly, of cultivating what we call the path clear light. And, the reason we need to do so is in order to be able to recognize the true nature, the ground clear light, when it arises for us at the time of death. Because whether one is engaged in the practice of dharma or not, as long as one has been born with a physical body, when one comes to die at the end of that life, one will experience the ground clear light. We all will, and do. However, while we all experience the ground clear light at the moment of death, most of us do not recognize it.

Our purpose in practicing dharma, our purpose in cultivating the path clear light, is to be able to recognize the ground clear light.

In order to do that, we engage in various means: means of gathering the accumulations of merit and wisdom, means of purification, the stabilization of the mind with the practice of tranquility meditation, and all forms of deity yoga. All of these have one common purpose, which is gaining gradual familiarity with the path clear light.

If these means are properly cultivated, especially if the mind is stabilized through the practice of tranquility, then the mind gains the ability to some degree to recognize its own nature. That partial familiarity with the clear light on the path will lead at the time of death, when the ground clear light – the nature just as it is – is experienced, to the recognition of it as the ground clear light. One’s familiarity [with the path clear light] gained in that preceding life is called the child clear light. The direct experience of that nature is called the mother clear light. The recognition of the ground clear light as a result of the familiarity gained with the path clear light is called the meeting of mother and child. If this recognition is thorough, and occurs at that time of death, then at that instant, that person is liberated, indeed becomes a buddha. Of this it is said, “In an instant, the difference is made; in an instant, buddhahood is attained.”

Historically, we can see that there are a vast number of ways that people have cultivated natural meditation; they have had different lifestyles and have used different techniques and means in cultivating the path clear light. If we consider the lifestyles of the famous eighty-four mahasiddhas of Buddhist India, we see that each of them lived a little bit differently from the others and they all found a way to integrate the particular circumstances or their individual lives into this training.

For example, one of the best known among them is our forebear Tilopa who, as his name indicates, occupied himself during the day grinding sesame seeds to extract the oil. At night he was a procurer for a prostitute. And, working busily day and night, Tilopa nevertheless used his circumstances to strengthen his samadhi. And then finally, he achieved awakening. As a sign of his awakening, he rose into the sky and sat there, holding his mortar and pestle – the tools he had used for the grinding of sesame seeds and the extraction of the oil – as a metaphor for the exposure of the ground clear light and of buddha nature within everyone’s being. Then, his night-time employer, the Madam, felt somewhat sheepish at realizing that the guy she had been using as a doorman or bodyguard or procurer, was a buddha. And she apologized to him and she said, “I really didn’t know.” And he said, “Oh, you didn’t do anything wrong, you really didn’t know.” And he put a flower on her head and she achieved awakening too. This is just one example, but if we look at the lives of the eighty-four mahasiddhas, what they all have in common is that they all found ways to cultivate natural meditation, to cultivate the recognition of their mind’s nature in the midst of their individual and widely varying circumstances.

So this is something that we try to do today. Here for example, under Erma’s guidance [ed. Rev. Erma Pounds was a well-respected dharma teacher who passed away in 2011], you do various practices such as singing songs, such as that pretty one that I think you call “Buddha Mind.” And these are all ways or techniques to instill in you the practice of natural meditation. And as long as you have a practice that is devoted to that, then you have what you need.

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