IN THE TEACHINGS OF THE BUDDHA, the phenomenal world depends on mind: the material and the nonmaterial are all mind and therefore reflect our attitude or state of mind. In the phenomenal world, the experience of suffering does not come from dharmas or phenomena; they do not cling to us or make us confused. It is through expectation and doubt, attachment and aversion that our minds create samsara; it is not concepts or values, but the way we react to them. For example, we say that the situation in which we live makes our lives difficult, as if this difficulty were imposed by the world around us. We may say that New York is a difficult place to live with its tall buildings and many cars, but these are not what make it samsaric. We are simply looking for something to blame. If we think the problems are outside us and we have to get rid of them, we are stuck in samsara. This very clinging to an inside and an outside is what creates samsara .
While meditating in a cave, Milarepa noticed a tiny crack in the rock. An apprehension that a demon would appear out of the crack frequently arose. He continued to cling to this idea and one day a rock demon appeared as Milarepa was singing one of his songs of realization. At that moment, the demon responded, "Your mind made me appear. I did not deliberately do this, but since your mind called me forth, here I am." This is an example of a state of mind or quality of perception creating samsara. Our habitual patterns of mind happen involuntarily and with such strength that we have no power over them. With these confused projections, we make problems for ourselves, it is our confused notion that the world around us creates confusion and suffering for us.
In order to free ourselves of these habitual patterns, we must first tame our mind and develop mental stability. This is why meditation is so important. Meditation is "getting used to" or "building a good habit." As we are now, we experience defilements and negative patterns which did not arise all at once. From beginningless time we have been building, reinforcing and storing these habits in the alaya consciousness. They can be broken through, however, by getting used to positive habits in the practice of meditation. This will allow us to experience the nature of our mind, our Buddhanature, which has always been pure.
The practice of shinay (shamatha) meditation will develop peace, stability, and one-pointedness of mind. Lhatong (vipasyana) meditation is the result of healthy shinay practice. The word lhatong means "seeing more," (more than we usually do). Instead of seeing things out of confusion we see what they really are. Through the experience of a more peaceful mind we have a more stable perspective. Let us take the example of a lamp. Its purpose is to give light, to let us see what we can't see in the darkness. If the lamp flickers constantly, it will be more difficult to see things clearly, this movement will not allow the flame to express its ability to give light. To be able to do this, the flame must be protected so that it can be still while the fullness of the light is expressed. Likewise, to experience true discriminating wisdom and the real nature of all phenomena, we need a calm and one-pointed mind. In this way shinay practice is the root of all meditation. We must not, however, neglect the practices of abandoning unwholesome patterns of body, speech, and mind and those practices which result in the accumulation of merit.
Transcript courtesy of Stephanie Colvey, edited by Michele Martin