In this illuminating Q & A, Alan Wallace clarifies the distinction between “awareness of awareness,” and what in Dzogchen is referred to as “trekchö,” i.e. cutting through conceptual mind completely, to fully reveal Rigpa: the primordial purity beyond conceptual elaboration. Though I recommend listening to the session in its entirety, here’s a transcript of this particular exchange, which is the first of the session:
Q: What is the difference between the shamatha practice of “awareness of awareness,” and the practice of trekchö?
AW: Very good …. and so this question was posed to [Yangthang Rinpoche] last fall, and his answer [was]: Anyone can practice awareness of awareness. You can be a materialist, a Christian, an agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, anything you like. It has no theory, has no view that goes with it. It’s technology. Shamatha’s technology: it’s contemplative technology. Vipassana is contemplativescience. And to become a Vidyadhara, or practice that meditation, is very deep science.
And so, to practice awareness of awareness is simply resting in the flow — this phenomenological or existential flow — of being aware. That’s all there is to it. But now you may use the same method – and that is, just be resting in the flow of awareness – perhaps observing that which is aware. But if you cut through the conditioned mind – this mind that is arising from moment to moment; that is conditioned by many, many causes and conditions; that becomes virtuous and non-virtuous; dull and clear, and so forth – if you cut through this fluctuating and conditioned mind, you cut through that (it’s trekchö [which] means cutting through something rigid and gnarly) and cut through to the Ground … and you actually are viewing reality from the perspective of Rigpa – that’s your vantage point – the method is the same, but because you’re viewing reality from the perspective of Rigpa, the method is now trekchö.
So the same method, without the view, is shamatha; with the view, is trekchö.
The word “view,” in this case, points both to a conceptual understanding, but also — and most essentially — to the capacity to rest in and as Rigpa: the “dimension” beyond all conceptual elaboration.
What is required, then, to move from “awareness of awareness” to trekchö is — in most cases, at least — an active inquiry, an investigation, a deep contemplation which facilitates such a “cutting through” of conceptual mind.
Several months ago I posed a very similar question to Francis Lucille: a teacher in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta. And his answer — which you can listen to here, as The Highest Form Of Happiness — is, to my ear, more-or-less identical to that offered by Mr. Wallace. The idiom is different, but my sense is that what Francis refers to as “Consciousness” is basically equivalent to what Alan calls “Rigpa.” And what Francis in this answer calls “the superimposition of a limited entity” is basically equivalent to what Alan refers to “conceptual mind.”
This isn’t to negate differences between the two traditions — but just to suggest that the similarities are deep. At least this is my sense of it. Would you agree?
M. Khalfan says
Thank you for sharing such helpful links to everyone and for discussing these topics here.
If I am to draw parallels between Lucille and What Wallace is saying I would say that from my experience after attending Francis Lucille’s retreat it appears that the Shamatha aspect is Lucille’s guided or silent meditation where one has to effortlessly ease into their essential Self or Being / Awareness. This is being aware or being aware. This, just like Shamatha, is a “prerequisite” for inquiry (or what Wallace was referring to by “trekchö”).
But the inquiry part in Lucille’s way is something that one has to be invited and called after having had an initial glimpse of the essential Self. It isn’t a “practice” per se. One cannot force oneself to do inquiry. It happens naturally because one just so happens to be interested in the Truth. “The conditioned mind” is thoroughly seen for what it is, it is “cut through” via flash(es) of insight or understanding. Such an understanding (which is neither conceptual nor a feeling) allows for no return to ignorance.