Awake Awareness to Open Ground

Part 2

I’m finally getting to this post. I spent this weekend transferring many entries to my older practice journal, Dharma by Dark of Night, I need to keep hammering away at transferring the many entries of that most remarkable year (2015).

Tonight I did a “Sky Gazing” meditation that I learned from my teacher’s teacher (via a recording of pointing-out instructions). Actually, I’ve done this one several times in the past week, followed by some chakra work that I’ll have to write about separately … someday.

I will not detail what each of the following steps entails. You really have to have a Mahamudra master enter meditation with you and point out these elements of awakened awareness from within the meditation, as a tour guide might. Transmission of master to student is central to the essence traditions, and I don’t mean just spoken communication. Moreover, Mahamudra and Dzogchen are basically “branded” by the lineage. In our society, the equivalent is intellectual property. So, out of respect for the lineage, I will definitely not presume to teach method. 

Sky Gazing

So the stripped-down high-level outline of Mahamudra as leading to sky gazing is as follows.

Drop into emptiness of self so that you are operating out of awareness purified of personality characteristics and the stories that subtend those characteristics.

Establish emptiness of time; recognize the changeless, timeless, aspect of awareness.

Now notice the lucidity, the brightness, of the empty awareness that pervades everything. Reality is transparent and vivid for being directly known as not solid, not entity. It is functionally bright but unfindable–brighter for being unfindable, in fact, paradoxically.

View all particulars that arise and pass away via the six sense doors as if they were a vast ocean’s waves, from the viewpoint of being that ocean (being the vastness, silence, stillness). Ocean-and-waves meditation integrates what arises and passes away with what doesn’t, nondual.

Orient to an inward, mind perspective on “out there” so that all of that vast space and its objects are seen to be mind only. Also, or alternatively, mix your own awareness out into space, and space into awareness, so that all is nondual without a shred of duality remaining.

Get into the range of automatic emptiness of totality, either by “sealing” all as empty as it arises, at the instantaneous “speed” of awareness, or by simply dropping into the emptiness of the totality (with immediacy and full range).

Ease up off concentration and effort; allow the mind to be simple.

Allow the lucidity to be nonconceptual, such that every mind moment is fresh.

Imagine being at the peak of a mountain on a cloudless day, sky gazing; See 360 degrees, in all directions at once, the vast and nonparticular expanse. This is the mind resting as contented

Finally, allow the spacious awareness to behold itself uninterruptedly. At this point, individual consciousness can “slip out.” This step is usually known as Lion’s Gaze, because if you throw a stick, then a dog will chase the stick, but a lion will keep its gaze on the thrower’s hand, the source. No location or reference point.

Checklist for the Natural State

  • Does everything spontaneously arise as empty moment-by-moment?
  • Is all tendency toward doing seen as empty upon its arising, termed simple?
  • Is all tendency to conceptualize seen as empty, termed fresh?
  • Is it lucid, bright, transparent?
  • Is it completely nondual, without inside/outside or any edge?

Key Terminology

Here I introduce some key terms before applying them to my own whereabouts on this path .In Bön Dzogchen are two potent metaphors, which I touched on in my recent entry on the recent embodiment retreat: the Mother (the empty, or open, ground of all) and the Infant (the knowing, lucidity, acuity).


The Mother is experienced after awakening as the vastness (in vision), stillness (in sensation), and silence (in sound) that is the functional (but unfindable, nonlocalized) “ground” from which all arises and into which all dissolves moment by moment. It is the “one taste” of emptiness of inherent existence, interdependent co-arising. It is unchanging space but also matter (etymologically, the same root as maternal) . In the framework of the Five Buddha Families, its unenlightened manifestation is dullness (ignorance, avidyā), like a dense rock. Illuminated from within by rigpa, however, it is experienced as unbounded spacious freedom.


The infant aspect of unbounded wholeness is the knowing. It is rigpa. What does it know? Mother. When true knowing reaches its full measure, which occurs with the third stage of Togal visions, then the mother is completely saturated with knowing, and the knowing is then itself vast, still, silent mother. The inseparable union of mother and infant is the true nondual enlightenment, buddhahood. Before that point, to at least some extent, the mother and rigpa are separate tracks. They may each be quite nondual in themselves, so to speak, which is to say that oscillation emphasizing one over the other is an approximation that points to the real full thing. But when the final click occurs, then another boundary, the last one, is cracked and shaken off. One emerges a buddha, enlightened. Rigpa is the male principle, so “infant” is often translated as “son,” and plays on the word “sun” are ubiquitous because the sunlight is inseparable with the sky. Rigpa has to permeate all of space, silence, and stillness – at all times, at the same intensity, even in deep sleep, for fruition to be had. The lucidity never flags for an instant. The resulting inseparable union of the infant and the mother is a higher attainment than the outcome of Mahamudra, which is awake awareness.

Note that the unbounded-wholeness level of realization is therefore far beyond Daniel Ingram’s revised fourth path, or what he (wrongly, misleadingly) terms arahatship. Dzogchen as a tradition in fact begins after MCTB Fourth Path. By all means, attain MCTB Fourth Path, which is essentially Mahamudra awake awareness, but know that the Path is not at that point “done.”


There is a third aspect, Tsal, which is simply energy, or information, everything that appears to arise  and pass in the spontaneously self-manifesting phenomenal world, which includes thought. It has numerous sub-aspects that I’ve read about but am far from having memorized. My teacher thinks of the pre-Mahamudra-proper emptiness practices as being the best way to address tsal, specifically all the worldly suffering that obscures our seeing the natural state.

My Wherabouts on This Path

As I head into Dzogchen from Mahamudra, what my teacher is wondering is whether I have rigpa perfectly stabilized even during the day (apart from in sleep). Ripga differs from holding the very subtle level of mind via Mahamudra in that rigpa is not even subtly a “view” that is deliberately “held.” It is automatic: This means it fires up at the same intensity at all times, never clouded, never obscured even during torture, never dulled. The only one of the above-listed aspects of the natural state that varies, ever, for me is rigpa, the intense lucidity of my knowing the all-self-knowing. And that makes sense because the Mother cannot vary, logically; only one’s relative intensity of knowledge of it can.

Now, as I am beginning to understand it, knowing the ground can be thought of as (1) a level of practice, or (2) the fruition of all practice. I’m practicing within clear knowing of ground, but I do not have the fruition. Again, the fruition depends on completing the third stage of the Togal visions, which brings rigpa to full measure and corrects a subtle exteriority meantime remaining in the visual sense sphere. 

As my teacher says, I’m constantly “chilling with the Mother,” which has been and is healing; however, rigpa has some variability in illuminating the Mother. My teacher says that the Mahamudra he teaches is designed to unpack rigpa, not so much the Mother, which is why its fruition is called awake awareness, I guess, as opposed to anything about the “ground.” I don’t understand this assertion, however, because the main gain from my Mahamudra retreat of July 2015 seemed to be the full extent of limitless Mother. Can rigpa alone be realized, apart from the Mother characteristics? If so, then I think that would be “luminosity” of particularized objects in the field. I will have to remember to ask my teacher this question. It is important.

I do understand from him that Mother and Infant are really only aspects, never separate things. My favorite passages on the Mother and the Infant, from a book translated by John Reynolds (see Reynolds’ Bon Dzogchen book) form an ingenious chiamus: The passage on rigpa begins with rigpa’s (unfindable) characteristics but then by the end sounds just like the Mother; and the Mother passage begins with vastness, stillness, and silence, but moves toward an ending that sounds identical to rigpa! Brilliant!

My teacher says one can simply meditate on the Mother and that experience will be dull. When we fall asleep at night, we are falling into the dullness of the Mother, into the ground. That is not what is happening with me, though, at least during the day. I think I have rigpa flaring most of the time; it is just that rigpa is much harder to talk about than is the Mother. It has no overt qualities or characteristics, after all. In trying to describe it to someone who has not realized it, one is continually thrown back on saying idiotic things like “Hey, man, it is the unfindable knowing-ness aspect of awake awareness.” Unhelpful, I know!

The Very Subtle Level of Mind (View) as Opposed to Rigpa

How does one know whether one is still subtly having to “hold” the very subtle level of mind steady? Well, does any point in the Mahamudra setup above make the lucidity of knowing flare more than before? Does the spacious aspect become more emphatically and vividly spacious, for example?

Tonight, no. The vast nondual field of awareness was the same high intensity at all points in the meditation, right from the beginning to the end. As I told my teacher, pretty much all I have to do is sit down for the rigpa to flare up. The list of instructions above is much too much doing for what is already there for me. The list my teacher individualized for me is much simpler. The irony in Mahamudra is that, the more you advance, the simpler and shorter the practice instructions become, the more Dzogchen-like.

Now, the other night I did some grounding exercises that involved lying down on my back. I noticed in that position that the mother aspect (vast, silent, still) was dull. As soon as I sat up and took upright posture, rigpa blazed up. Why? Another question for my teacher next time we meet. Probably just conditioning, like everything else.

My other sense of dullness is when I become very, very focused on a work task or on a list of things I need to do to help someone. Well, sometimes this happens. I’m focused right now while typing, though, and the rigpa is blazing fine and high. 

I’ll have to keep studying and recording the situation. DreamWalker seems to think I need to identify what situations cloud rigpa and why. But he tends to approach practice more analytically than I do, whereas I respond to the poetry of metaphors. My teacher seems to suggest that simply “holding” the right view the whole fucking time is the answer, regardless of what causes obscuration. 

At any rate, a bit of effort in the practice is coming back into my life. My teacher cautions that pouring on the effort is dangerous at this point. This path is natural, after all. Well, yes, from the ultimate point of view, but this paradoxical caution is really no different than the one delineated throughout Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, Second Edition, which many people wrongly assume is jacked up on effort alone. The paradox and rebalancing is covered in the classic Buddhist Five Spiritual Faculties teaching, as well.

Time may be always already empty, but I’m now nonetheless emphatically out of it for writing. .

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