Distinguishing the clarity of Rigpa from meditative experiences of clarity

I’d like to take this opportunity to explain a very crucial point that is often made in the teachings of Dzogchen and Mahamudra. The importance of being able to differentiate between recognicing the clarity of Rigpa/nature of mind and the meditative experience of clarity.

In the picture below you can see the same forest in two pictures. The first one is rather blurry and the second one is very sharp.

When you recognise the nature of mind, a very common effect of that recognition is an enhanced clarity/sharpness of experience. Suddenly you’re not in forest 1 anymore but in forest 2.

You can pretty much objectively pinpoint to what constitutes that enhanced clarity/sharpness. More light, more pronounced edges, more distinguished colors …

However, that enhanced clarity is NOT the same as the clarity aspect of Rigpa. That’s where people go astray and get attached to the meditative experience of enhanced clarity/sharpness.

If you conclude that this experiential quality of sharpness IS Rigpa then you only fixate on another experience and concept. And then you try to reproduce that sharpness whenever you think you’re doing Atiyoga. Of course one can be successful in producing that sharpness at will and stay as long in it as one wants but that’s just concentration practice and not Atiyoga/nonmeditatin.

What then is the clarity aspect of Rigpa? Look at the two forests again below. Isn’t the visual experience of both forests instantly clear and known? Are you not clearly aware, without any words that forest 1 looks like forest 1, and forest 2 looks like forest 2? This clear awareness of that you see what you see, whether blurry or sharp, whether tired or highly alert, whether colourful or grey, that is the clarity aspect of Rigpa.

You cannot single it out as an experience but it permeates evenly and uninterruptedly all experience that takes place. It’s in the awareness of form aswell as in the awareness of absence of form. It’s not an “it” actually but it is inseparable from all “it-ness”. It has no location and no center, no here and no there.

The same by the way goes for the other two common meditative experiences that accompany recognition of mind essence: absence of thought and bliss.

I trust that this is helpful.

May all beings be free.

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Haven’t we all been there, being stuck in different kind of meditative states? :slight_smile:

But this is a very important topic, thanks for bringing it up, Ugi. It’s not very long time ago I realized that I don’t have to - and I can’t! - try to keep it extraordinarily sharp all the time, as it wouldn’t be natural at all, but instead, it’d be a concentration practice. It can be quite hard to believe that simple “knowing” is enough.

I anyway think we need those meditative experiences, absorption states, etc. I think it’s almost necessary. How else could we know and get familiar with our mind, especially if we want to proceed quickly in emptiness practice? Whatever the experience is, it always has to be cut through and check and compare very carefully, what is the natural state and what is not. First separating the two, and after that, uniting them.

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Some time ago I listened to a talk by a teacher of Chinese chan buddhism who gave a talk about samadhi, that is meditative absorption. He spoke extensively about the same jhanas that theravadins do, saying that in Chinese chan monks spend decades practicing and mastering them. I had never heard of zen buddhists practice jhanas. I was dumbfound. Profoundly disappointed really. Buddhists practicing hinduism? What the hell??

I’ve had some interest in jhanas but having done the practice of absorption extensively in my kriya yoga days, I just can’t get over the fact that they are actually samsaric states. That’s where people get mislead. Samadhis/jhanas feel heavenly, blissful, exalted, wonderful and like all jhana teachers say, they are temporary. I think that’s where the confusion lies. When there are no techniques to get to the wisdom samadhi of buddhanature, absorptions are taught instead, as they were in Buddha’s days. From this perspective, to a large degree buddhism isn’t even buddhist. I definitely don’t acknowledge jhanas as buddhist practice for the simple fact that they do not enable vision of reality and therefore are not buddhadharma - teaching of reality.

Yeeah… I don’t agree that jhanas, trances or whatever meditative experiences would speed up insight into emptiness. I think it is the opposite. Negative samsara does.

I know you think that way, and I also agree spending time in any samsaric state of mind is waste of time.
But personally I think I have needed to investigate different states, but in the degree to just shortly experience and then leave it, not getting stuck and thinking it is the goal. Of course, without proper pointing out instructions I never would have realized the difference.

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I actually think, there’s no disagreement here.

The crucial point I think is not whether the experience of meditative absorbtion states is important to refine correct recognition of the nature of mind …

… but whether these meditative states should be trained on their own to make that refinement.

And I think, we all agree here that it’s not necessary to train them on their own. That this is actually a detour. Yet, it’s undoubtedly essential to be aware of meditative states when practicing Dzogchen/Mahamudra.


Thank you for this post!

I remember some early shifts where I had this false sense of clarity, noticing things for the first time such as intricacies on building windows on the 2nd floor or trees that had more branches / leaves on one side. The buzz of neighborhood came alive and I felt very “intensely present” with my surroundings. At the time I thought this was a glimpse into rigpa.

Only later on did I realize that this was just an absorptive state / experience. A bit of a red herring…!

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