By Lee Kane
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“If You Don’t Feel Anything, It Can Be a Problem”
“Feelings are part of us,” said Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, during the recent mini-retreat on Mahamudra and “mindfulness of feelings” in Owen Sound. “It’s part of our life. Because we are sentient beings. We have a life. We have a body. We have mind — consciousness. And we feel things. Feelings are good. If you don’t feel anything, it can be a problem… without feelings, we are not able to move forward. Feelings are a natural thing.”
To simplify the teaching, Rinpoche demonstrated with happy-unhappy. “When, for example, we have happy feelings, we get, maybe, kind of excited. When we have unhappy feelings we feel sad” — sometimes triggering other emotions and issues and “mental defilements.” He cautioned that strong and negative emotions tend to create “a chain reaction, creating more and more unhappiness, more complicated, more entangled.” This is because with unhappiness we tend to “react, and go through different stages of suffering.”
“Instead of trying to look at right and wrong, good and bad, with Mindfulness of Feeling we just simply meditate on feelings with… observation.” To do this meditation, “we’re not targeting or looking for particular feelings. Or, to bring up feelings. Or to find out what happened… Like the meditation we did this morning on the breath, first we start with resting the mind in the natural state, then observe as feelings naturally come out.”
This form of discriminating alertness, samprajanya or shezhin, or dranshe in Tibetan, has a life of its own. Shantideva’s fifth chaper of The Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, focuses on discriminating alertness or mindfulness. By observing and monitoring, we stay in the present, no longer caught in the past or worrying about the future. We can observe feelings as they arise naturally in the present. Detached, non-analytical observation tends to help these emotions resolve naturally. Rinpoche cautioned us not to “judge” and not to “wish away” feelings.
Rinpoche explained that when we try this meditation, we may already have some strong feelings from earlier in the day which will arise naturally. Otherwise, if we rest the mind, the feelings will rise anyway. “The feelings come out when we meditate. Whatever you experience, you just observe. Just observe your sadness. Don’t judge, don’t ‘wish away’, don’t suppress, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Observe and acknowledge. ‘I have this feeling. This feeling is in me.’ First recognize, observe. That’s the first step. Then, when you observe, secondary feelings will come up… don’t be afraid of it.”
If You Observe Negative Feelings, They Subside Naturally
“When you are the ‘observer’ you have more strength and awareness. This is the observer. When you are aware, and you realize ‘this feeling is here’, but you realize it is a natural thing. When you have awareness, mindfulness, of the feeling, reaction subsides. If you observe long enough it will subside… our defilements, emotions and negative feelings, if you have the awareness, mindfulness, it will evaporate. It will subside. It will purify. It will dissolve. Then, we can let it go. It will go away itself. Then, we can say ‘goodbye!’ We don’t hold it anymore. We don’t panic. We don’t have to run away from this… you can just let it go. Let it pass”
There are three steps to the meditation on feelings. “First, acknowledge and recognize. Second, experience. Third, let go.” Rinpoche guided the attendees through a Mindfulness of Feelings session.
The Main Purpose: Examine Our Minds
In Mahamudra, the main purpose of mindfulness of feelings is not to help us deal with negative emotions and issues—although it’s a wonderful side-benefit. The goal of Mahamudra is nothing less than to examine our own minds.
What differentiates Mahamudra mindfulness meditations from what is typically thought of as ordinary mindfulness, is the subject: what do we observe? In typical mindfulness meditation, you might watch the breath, or just watch the thoughts that arise naturally in your mind. In Mahamudra, once we have mastered the foundation practices, we then focus on observation of “awareness” itself, rather than just observing an “object” of the moment, such as breath.
Mindfulness of awareness — rather than object — is an important distinction. This advanced level of mindfulness practice is made possible through first training the five foundations, which begin with mindfulness of “object”, such as breath or feelings. In session one, Rinpoche covered “mindfulness of breath”, as the first foundation, then “mindfulness of body” through “body scanning” in session two (see the previous session reports (links top and bottom of this page). In session three, he asked meditators to focus on “mindfulness of feelings.” All of these are preliminary meditation practices where we observe, mindfully, an object.
About Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Aside from teaching style and personality, what defines the credibility of a great teacher—at least for me—is: experience, compassion and care, and deep and profound teachings rooted in irrefutable lineage.One added dimension, in the case of Zasep Tulku Rinpoche, is a passion for languages. His ability to master languages—six languages fluently—allowed him to communicate teachings to a wide variety of students.
Zasep Tulku is the spiritual head of a number of Buddhist Centers, including Gaden Tashi Choling Retreat Centre in Nelson, BC, Canada, Vancouver, BC, Calgary, Alberta, Toronto, ON, Ottawa, ON, Thunder Bay, ON, Seattle, WA, Moscow, ID, Kalamazoo, MI, and Tasmania, Australia.
Full Biography of Zasep Tulku Rinpoche here>>
Postscript: My Own Experience with Meditating on Nepal
As I was sorting my notes to report on the third session of Zasep Tulku Rinpoche’s teachings on Mahamudra, the disaster in Nepal struck.
The tragedy in Nepal impacted me in ways I could never have expected. I found myself mind-frozen. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t carry on transcribing the teachings from the recordings. I couldn’t do much of anything. The emotions I felt were raw and deep and debilitating. So many lives lost. So much destruction. So much suffering.
I found myself immediately engaging in Tonglen, and Medicine Buddha practices for those who were suffering in Nepal. Like so many others, I rushed to donate money to Red Cross and other groups with boots on the ground in Nepal. I tried to follow the news, but it became worse and worse. I tried to unfreeze my mind.
I think, in hindsight, it was a defense mechanism. The feelings were so intense, the mind freeze probably prevented a meltdown. The disaster was too horrifying. The only time I felt this intense and horrifying a reaction previously was during 911, and more recently, the Ebola outbreak.
As always, I sought refuge in the three jewels and my practice. Then, I remembered, abruptly, the third session of Rinpoche’s recent teachings in Owen Sound—the session I was supposed to be transcribing for this coverage of session 3.
With Mindfulness of Feelings “We can let it go”
In that session, Rinpoche guided us in the Mahamudra technique of “the mindfulness of feelings.” Rinpoche explained that with mindfulness of feeling meditation “our defilements, emotions and negative feelings, if you have the awareness, mindfulness… will evaporate. It will subside. It will purify. It will dissolve. Then, we can let it go.”
That night, I found myself focusing exclusively on mindfulness of feelings meditation — with stunningly powerful personal results. My mind slowly unlocked. The emotions became a torrent. It was a difficult meditation, because abruptly facing up to these raw emotions was difficult. Everything hit me at once: frustration (how can I help), anger, despair, profound sadness, grief, more frustration, more anger, more despair, deeper melancholy sadness—and endless pictures of people suffering. Every picture I’d seen in the news and on Facebook flashed through my mind.
As Rinpoche had taught, I tried to just remain mindful and watchful. I tried to just observe it all, without participating. Of course, inevitably my mind engaged and I participated in the wave of emotions, but I just kept reminding myself to pull back and observe. This is somewhat easier with mindfulness of breathing, where the object of observation is the breath. These kind of raw feelings makes for a more intense mindfulness session.
Rinpoche’s words (still fresh in my mind from listening again to the audio tapes) became a subtle mantra in my head: “Recognize, experience, let go”. Recognize was easy, experience was excruciating, letting go was nearly impossible. But, as with all mindfulness, I made note of it all, reminded myself to be the observer (over and over), and continued. It was the most difficult meditation session I can remember. And, very rewarding. I’m not sure I can say I let go, but I definitely coped, which I suppose is a form of letting go.
About Host Theodore Tsaousidis
One of the hosts of the event is Theodore Tsaousidis, a student of Zasep Tulku Rinpoche who is authorized to teach. Born in a rural community in Greece surrounded by mountains and valleys, he was profoundly shaped by nature and the ancient tradition of village elders and healers. His connection to nature and the spirit world is an integral part of who he is – as is his dedication to the Zen training he has followed for 30 years. He is also blessed by the guidance of the Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche. His healing and shamanic sharing stem from, his cultural roots, personal experience. and Tibetan and Buddhist traditions. Theodore sees shamanism and meditation as a great alchemy for the healing of self and other.