Thought and Awareness

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche once said, “When expression moves as thinking, it is confused. When expression dawns as knowledge, it is liberated.” I would suggest a refinement for the word knowledge as unfiltered awareness. So, when we we are immersed in thought, we can always know we are confused in some way. On the other hand, if we notice our unfiltered awareness may dawn as thought, it calls us home to rigpa, our original buddha nature. This means we have the innate capability of discerning when we are deluded and when we are clear—the subtle movement of thought and awareness. Ultimately, there is no distinction between thought and awareness. But when we engage in thought as if it has a substantial existence (overly attached or averted) we lose connection with the awareness from which the thought arose.

The practices of our tradition are designed to help us recognize self-arising wisdom; to realize the non-existent boundary between thought and awareness. Just as the boundary of a rainbow is indiscernible from the sky, the rainbow still appears. In its appearance it is insubstantial, momentary, dreamlike, and see-through. When we let our mind settle into non-conceptual meditation, we see through the illusion of thought and rest in unfiltered awareness. If we practice bodhicitta (generating the heart/mind of compassion), every thought arises as a wish to be of benefit for all beings. This is the only proper use of thought.

By practicing visualization and then dissolving the visualization, we become reacquainted with the natural movement of thought and awareness; we experience natural arising and liberation. Many years ago I set down a short teaching pointing out this process. The first section is a distillation of the Manjushri practice:

The sword that cuts through to profound clarity is wielded by the hand of an ordinary moment. Any movement of mind contriving to alter the simple clear awareness of the moment is an illusory impulse of grasping energy. Since there is nothing to grasp, the impulse has no foundation. Thus, the sword swiftly cuts to the core and disappears into empty space.

The appearance of the sword coincides with the impulse to grasp. Thus, there exists a simultaneous arising and liberation. Never has the appearance of one manifested without the other. What appears as the world (container) and its beings (contents) spontaneously dissolves and transforms.

Look into your own natural mind and see this is true. Only in clinging to some impression does an illusion of a problem appear. Look directly at the arising of any phenomenon (or thought) and see it is intrinsically free.

from: Being an Ordinary Buddha: Practicing the Natural Mind,
Michael Scott Stevens, Hamsah Publications, 2012

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