Saturday, July 03, 2010

"Non-meditation is the Supreme Meditation" - A Visit from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

A great article from the ID Project's One City blog at Beliefnet - I wonder how long this will last with Beliefnet recently having been sold by one conservative group (Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.) to a more religiously conservative organization (BN Media LLC)?

One City: A  Buddhist Blog for Everyone

"Non-meditation is the Supreme Meditation" - A Visit from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Wednesday June 30, 2010


On Monday night we were fortunate to have the amazing and inspiring Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche as a guest teacher at the ID Project. I've been a fan of Rinpoche's for a while and really enjoyed his books, The Joy of Living, and Joyful Wisdom. I was also really moved by his teaching last year at the Shambhala Center.

I was a little surprised, however, to receive the invite, which cited Rinpoche as the "Happiest Man on Earth." I'd long been under the impression that title was still held by the great Matthieu Ricard, who successfully defended his title in a steel cage match back in '08. I don't know if Rinpoche won some sort of provisional title at some point, but I'm guessing it could have been in an unsanctioned bout somewhere in Thailand.

Still, he seemed pretty happy. It was easily 100 degrees in the room, and Rinpoche wiped the sweat from his bald head as he teased us and told meditation jokes in his mellifluous accent. Here he is from a talk in '07 on a topic he shared with us on Monday, the panic attacks he had as a young boy. Take a look, to get a sense of his genuine warmth, openness, and giddy exuberance.

He's clearly told the panic attack story many times--it's even in one of his books--but I got something valuable from hearing him tell it. It felt like there was a tremendous inclusiveness in his teaching; I am just like you. He'd been having panic attacks, and learned to "make friends with them." As I listened to him tell his story, I thought about how easily I put teachers (and particularly Buddhist teachers) on a pedestal. Whether draped in robes or not, it's hard not to admire the wisdom we sometimes come across. There was something hopeful about Rinpoche's storytelling; this gifted, open teacher sharing his own vulnerability with us, saying I am just like you.

Rinpoche's main message that evening seemed quite simple--relax. I'd noticed this the last time I saw him speak. The way he described it, it's more important for us to relax in mediation than to be hypervigilant, guarding against thoughts and staying on track. In fact, he led us through an exercise in simply sitting in relaxed, open presence, which he called non-meditation. "Don't meditate," he told us, and we just sat, relaxed, without doing much of anything. From his website (italics and bold are mine):
If one is meditating and thinking I need the clarity I need to be vast open mind I need to have this now and that is very difficult also isn't it? You don't need all that, you don't need anything, just leave the mind resting naturally. If one can rest the mind naturally that's the best meditation. Non-meditation is the supreme meditation.
Here he is in The Joy of Living, describing shinay (shamatha) meditation:
Just let go and relax. You don't have to block whatever thoughts, emotions, or sensations arise, but neither do you have to follow them. Just rest in the open present, simply allowing whatever happens to occur. If thoughts or emotions come up, just allow yourself to be aware of them. Objectless shinay meditation doesn't mean just letting your mind wander aimlessly among fantasies, memories, or daydreams. There's still some presence of mind that may loosely be described as a center of awareness. You may not be fixating on anything in particular, but you're still aware, still present to what's happening in the here and now.

When we meditate in this objectless state, we're actually resting the mind in its natural clarity, entirely indifferent to the passage of thoughts and emotions. This natural clarity--which is beyond any dualistic grasping of subject and object--is always present for us in the same way that space is always present. In a sense, objectless meditation is like accepting whatever clouds and mist might obscure the sky while recognizing that the sky itself remains unchanged even when it is obscured.
As Rinpoche described what he called "compassion" and "focus" meditation, he used similar emphasis. Don't work too hard. Don't be so tight. He'd screw up his face in an impossible twist, as though he was doing his impression of us, trying so, so hard to meditate just right. Then he'd slump over, to point that we shouldn't relax too much. Like the Buddha said: not too tight, not too loose.

Thinking back on it, it's hard not to laugh. Most non-meditators who I talk to think of meditation as a relaxation practice. But how often do we really relax on the cushion? It was great hearing Rinpoche giving us permission to do so. After all, he's just like us, and it seemed to do him some good. He was clear that this wasn't permission to be lazy, to wander, to doze off during practice. But I imagine that many of you are like me--we tend to work too hard in our practice, trying to get it right. Rinpoche's teaching, his sense of humor, and his own smile reminds me to smile, and to stop working so hard. I'll take that with me in my practice, going forward.

rinpoche 2.jpg
Photo credit: Gala Narezo

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