The Central Practice

The Central Practice (from HSW01: Heart Sutra Workshop 00:18:10.60 - 00:35:49.00)

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I bow to Lady Perfection of Wisdom.
Thus I have heard.

At one time, Lord Buddha was staying at Vulture Peak Mountain in Rajagriha, with a great gathering of the monastic sangha and the bodhisattva sangha. 
At that time, Lord Buddha entered an absorption, called Profound Radiance, in which all elements of experience are present. 
I think we have to stop right here. Jess, you can put down the book for a moment.  So, here's Buddha. He's meditating. And you notice the situation, they're perched on top of a mountain top which is a place that exactly exists in India. I've been there. And he's surrounded by monastics and bodhisattvas. We'll talk a bit more about that in a few minutes. And he entered an absorption, called Profound Illumination or Profound Radiance--it's translated in different ways--in which all elements of experience are present. How many of you know this absorption? How many of you would like to know this absorption? Oh, you know this absorption, do you? Oh, good. So, let's spend a few minutes.

Now, if you're going to have all elements of experience, it's probably better if you have your eyes open, so you aren't shutting things out. So, start just by sitting and resting with something we all know, resting in the experience of breathing. Now, generally when we rest in the experience of breathing, the first thing we become aware of is the sensation of the breath through the nostrils. But that's only part of the experience of breathing. You may also notice that the breath flows through one or either of the nostrils more than the other. Maybe the temperature is slightly different. You may also notice a sensation, a cool sensation at the back of your throat when you breathe in. Movement of the lungs and the chest. Movement in the diaphragm and stomach. So, just experience all of that. 
You may also experience your back moving, a little bit. When you breathe in, the body straightens up, a little bit. When you breathe out, it bends forward, a little bit. It may only be a couple of millimeters. You may notice that your head moves accordingly, the chin moves very slightly up and down. Whoever said that meditation was actually sitting still? There may be other sensations taking place in your body connected with breathing, experience all of them. You may find your attention moving from one sensation to the other. You don't need to do that, you can experience them all at the same time.  
So experience all the tactile and kinesthetic sensations associated with breathing. Then include a bit more: all of the tactile and kinesthetic sensations associated with your body. Sensation of clothes touching your body, the sensation of your body sitting, sensation of your hands and feet touching or interacting with each other. In addition to that, all the sensations connected with breathing. Just experience all of it. All at the same time. You may find that your attention collapses down on one or other thing, and as soon as you notice that, just expand from that thing that you are focusing on to include everything connected with breathing and your body. Just sit there for a few moments, in the experience of breathing. 
But our sense of the organ of the body is only one of the five senses. There is also sight. So, as you sit there in the experience of breathing, you could also include everything that is in your field of vision. From where I sit, that's the faces and bodies and clothes of all of you. All of the details of the thangkas and the glittering of the brocade that frames the thangkas, the lights, the ceiling, the floor, the windows, the walls. That's all part of the experience of breathing, it's all part of what we experience right now. Also include the sound of my voice and the sound of the traffic, just include everything. The feelings of your body when you breathe and all of the other sensations that arise in any of the senses.  
You sit in a field of sensory experience. And you may notice, as you sit in this field, that there are other elements of experience. Maybe some thoughts arise because of the honking outside, saying, "I wish it would go away." And there's feelings of dislike or displeasure. Maybe there are other thoughts, other emotions. In other words, there is all this internal stuff that goes on, too. So, just include that: the sensations of the body, all the other senses, thoughts, feelings, sensory sensations, emotional sensations, cognitive sensations, we call those thoughts. Don't push any of it away, don't try to organize or understand any of it, just experience it all. And whenever you find yourself collapsing down on one thing, just expand back and include everything. You don't have to actually sit still to do this, you can let your eyes move gently and slowly around the room, taking in all the visuals, but including the body sensations that are involved in that.

So, here we are in a field of experience: sensations, thoughts and feelings. You sit in this way long enough and you begin to wonder what outside and inside mean. So, maybe we could just let those go and have this field of experience. Now, open your heart to this field of experience. Some of you may say, what does that mean? But you know what it is to open your heart to your spouse, or your partner or your child. So, you just do the same thing with what you are experiencing: just open your heart. 
So you have all of the physical sensations and all of the sensory sensations and all of the internal material, the thoughts and feelings and so forth, and you have an open heart. Now, in a moment, I am going to suggest a question. I don't want you to answer the question. I simply want you to pose the question to yourself. When you do this, you'll probably experience some kind of shift. When you experience that shift, just include that experience, too, with everything else. So, physical sensations are breathing, all the sensation with the body, all the other sensory sensations: sight and sound, taste and smell. All the mental and emotional sensations: thoughts and feelings. The whole field of experience which we experience with an open heart. The question is, "What experiences all this?" As I say, don't try to answer the question, just experience the shift and then include the experience of the shift with everything else. What experiences all this?

[Silence, Gong]

So that's what Buddha was doing. 
How was this for you?

Central Practice Comment (from HSW01: Heart Sutra Workshop 00:42:05.50 - 00:50:36.00)

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This is how you experience everything. All elements of experience are present. You see, things are much simpler than they are often presented to us. There are only three things we experience: thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Everything else is a construct, or an abstraction from that.



I originally titled this post Absorption Meditation.  It's is a much longer version of The Primary Practice, which Ken uses and introduces in many retreats and classes.

Early this week Ken suggested renaming it to The Central Practice:
"Very good to have this up and available. And, yes, the title could be better. The friend who developed it calls it "The primary practice" but I've never liked this term.

If it's not too late, perhaps change the name to "the central practice". And I'll start to use this terminology in my talks."
Renaming done.