Past Stray Thoughts

In 2007, I was on a Vipassana retreat led by Ven. Chanmyay Sayadaw and learned to practice walking meditation in a new way. On these retreats, the participants alternate between an hour of sitting meditation and an hour of slow walking meditation for 18 hours a day. Ven. Chanmyay emphasized unbroken mindfulness, such that one is fully present with whatever one is doing during as long as one is conscious. As it turns out, there can be lucidity even during sleeping and dreaming. Awareness is inseparable from the silence inherent in the present and is that silence and presence. Even though the body sleeps, there is an underlying continuum of awareness and lucidity during dreams. So, there can be unbroken mindfulness throughout the day.

The practices of walking meditation and mindfulness, as taught in the Theravada tradition, may make use of "labeling" or noting what is happening as it actually happens. Each step of walking meditation is divided at first into three parts, lifting, pushing and dropping, as in lifting the heel, pushing the foot forward through space, and dropping (lowering) the foot. After two or three days of this, Ven. Chanmyay would have the "yogis", as he called us, further divide and label the process of walking into six phases, lifting (the heel), raising (the foot), pushing, dropping (lowering), touching and pressing (shifting weight onto the foot).  After a couple days of doing this, Ven. Chanmyay, during a daily interview with him, instructed me to shift awareness to the impulse to lift the foot, to find the point when the impulse to lift the foot arises in consciousness. 

By that time, remaining fully present was fluid and effortless. Attention was laser-like. Silence was all enveloping. As I began the practice of noting the impulse to lift the heel arising, the practice completely transformed. I was out walking on the ground that had been blessed by monks squatting down and chanting on every square foot of where the new vihara would be constructed, as is their tradition, mainly because the grass wasn't high there.  After a couple sessions of sitting and walking meditation, as I was being mindful of the impulse to lift the heel, suddenly the leg raised up high as if trying to step over a big log, yet there was nothing else present other than the feeling of surprise. The foot came down and there was looking for the next impulse to raise the foot and again, the leg, "involuntarily" raised up much higher than necessary. This continued for several minutes. There was no control over it, nothing there to be in control over it. Just looking and the impulse coming out of silence and the phenomena of the exaggerated lifting of the foot.

Eventually, this settled down but later, the ground became like water, as if rippling and walking on water.  There was no sense of separation between the awareness of this fluid nature of the ground, the walking, the ground and environment. Everything seemed to collapse into waves with nothing but awareness waving as body, air, ground.

During my next interview with Ven. Chanmyay, he simply said, "This is the realization of no self." With regard to the fluid, waving nature of earth, he said it was the direct perception of the element, vayu, air or wind, brought about through experience of motion from walking meditation. 

After that three week retreat, walking was never the same again. Walking has been instant entry into the silence inherent in motion, where all time falls away and there is only vast spaciousness.

On a subsequent Chan retreat in 2008 in upstate New York, it was experienced differently. There, walking meditation is practiced without noting or labeling. Casual walking around the Chan hall, the timekeeper has participants gradually slow the pace and then begin slow walking meditation.  After maybe 20 minutes of this, the xiangban, the incense board that timekeeper uses to whack people with traditionally (no longer practiced in there), is struck to the floor and the timekeeper yells, "STOP!"  During one such occurrence, everything fell away, the walking, the body, the room. There was only soft, vacuous light. The only thing present seemed to be some kind of substanceless particles gently descending in that silence, nothing else, no sense of seer, experiencer, doer, perceiver. Just a knowing of light-filled spaciousness. 

In the Theravada tradition, specifically Burmese Mahasi Sayadaw tradition (Ven. Chanmyay, or U Janaka, was one of Mahasi Sayadaw's senior students), mindfulness is practiced at the juncture of samadhi, referred to as access or gateway samadhi. In Samatha, or calming, meditation, one develops the ability to experience the Jhanas, or levels of samadhi. In Vipassana, or insight, meditation, one settles to the point of transcendence but does not become absorbed into full samadhi. At this juncture or cusp between waking state and samadhi, awareness is as settled as it can be while still functioning. In the Tibetan Dzogchen tradition, this is referred to as Rigpa, primordial, pure awareness.  In the Chan tradition, this is referred to as Mind. Regardless of the tradition or the label we refer to it, it is devoid of any sense of identity. It is the complete absence of separateness. It is the complete knowing without reference to knower or known. Buddha-NatureSuchness. It is the completeness found in each moment, perfect without lack. Just so. 

When life becomes lived from Suchness, life flows. All worries, apprehensions, fears, cravings, dissatisfactions fall away. All desire to promote oneself over others dissolves. All sense of separateness evaporates. Entanglement in thought ceases. Thoughts come and go as normal, spontaneous function of mind but don't pose obstructions or cause vexations.  This is abiding freedom, clarity, transparency, natural response manifesting as wisdom, kindness, altruistic joy, and deep equanimity. It is just what is when there is complete letting go.  It is also the letting go and the not letting go.  There is no separation. All things resolve in this.  It is before thinking mind but thinking mind is not separate.  It's the silence overlaid with worries and the worries. There is nothing that is beyond this. It is all things, all states, and the absence of states. It is what is.

To see this, sometimes we need to spend time with a practice that sets up the conditions for letting go and direct seeing.  Or, for some, it can come about through direct inquiry and investigation, not as an intellectual pursuit but as direct seeing, looking at what is aware, looking directly at being here and now, seeing here and now, unceasingly looking until all seeking is resolved in the silence of the present, clear, bright, open, naturally loving awareness that has always been here, whether walking, talking, dreaming, eating, thinking, doing or not doing. It is just this what is here right now, now never fixed, timeless.

After reading this, I would be interested in what you think of this video.

Neuroscience and Free Will from Camillo Loken on Vimeo.