Meditation is about seeing more clearly

To meditate, you don’t have to be “smart,” says Doug Sensei. You just have to see clearly.

In this edited talk excerpt, Sensei discusses “the Purification of View” (from the Abhidhamma) and provides a useful meditation exercise to help one come to understand nama and rupa (mind and matter), the knowledge of which constitutes the first stage of insight and leads to overcoming doubt on the Path.

Podcast Transcription:

The thing that you come back to again and again and again with the attempt to reach the purification of you is the understanding that the object itself is clear, if you don’t try to get the object to do something to support the idea of a single lasting and independent self. If I don’t self-reference it, it’s clear if I don’t object reference it, it’s clear. If I don’t object reference it, bliss is the state that arises. If I don’t try to own it, bliss is the state that arises. So this third purification, the purification of you, has a particular exercise connected to it which helps break down the object-subject barrier. Which you need to develop to see the nature of this dialogue. And so this is called the knowledge of nama rupa. The knowledge of the relationship between nama and rupa; rupa nama. It’s called the first stage of insight. In the development of stages of insight, it’s the first stage of insight.


But I just want you to know that meditation came before yoga. This is historically true. Yoga was to lead you into meditation learning how to sit still and be present. That’s one aspect of learning to bring consciousness into contact with nama rupa, one way of doing it. There are many, many, many different ways, but all of them bring you into contact with the relationship between the mind (nama) and the body (rupa), and the dialogue between mind and body; body and mind. This was laid out long before the Buddha started teaching. Nama means the mind; name. In English, nama becomes ‘name’. Manna is consciousness. So nama-manna, the consciousness that names, is human. The naming consciousness is a human consciousness. If I name, then I am conscious. The Rupa part is the body, the senses. Rupa-nama. Now in this first stage of insight in this third purification of you, it’s too hard to try to sort through all the views because they just come like speeding trains.


It’s too hard to separate all the objects because when an object comes we tend to grasp it or push it away or the minute an object comes into consciousness, we tend to get on the train, don’t we? We leave the shepherding. We leave the sheep. We get on that train, and we’re on our way to Chicago, Detroit, New York, London, Paris, around the world, the moon, the stars, and we’re gone. 20 minutes later you go, ‘Oh! I was supposed to be meditating on my sheep breath. What happened to my sheep breath? I left my poor sheep!’ Imagine what kind of shepherd you guys would be in meditation. All you have to do is watch Nama rupa, you know five little sheep and one little shepherd and you got on a jet plane and you’re off International Buddhist Federation Conference of Scandinavian giving the guest lecture to all the most important bigwigs in the entire universe and getting big successful awards. And that’s what you do. 


The minute you’re meditating, you start thinking about your sister. Ouuu, the sheep are gone if all the wolves have got them. What are your five sheep? Your five senses. Your ear door, your eye door, your nose door, your tongue door, and your tactile door / touch door. And so your five senses including the mind a cognizant sense, not as an ego, but as a functioning mind is the sixth sense. A mind that acknowledges perception, that kind of mind. So these five senses, six senses, and your self-referencing consciousness, the naming door, nama-rupa / rupa-nama. So in this stage of insight practice, all you’re doing is naming or recognizing, or acknowledging in actuality, what is happening at this moment? Is it a visual sense or a mental sense? listening? So that would be rupa. Now, right now, when I pointed my finger, visual, that’s rupa. Is it a physical sensation or mental cognizance? Mental? That’s nama. In the process of meditating, you start to distinguish between whether it’s nama or rupa, nama or rupa. 


What does this keep you from doing, supposedly? It keeps you from getting on the airplane. You’re staying with it, you’re staying with the senses or you’re staying with the mind. You’re staying with the senses or you’re staying with the mind. You’re not going into a story. Storyline is object mind, object mind is lost mind. Maybe a very interesting story that you’re in, but you’re not here. Right now, you’re sitting here, you’re just here, right? Your sister isn’t here, your kids aren’t here, and your ex-husband isn’t here, and so on and so on and so on. What is here is you sitting in this place experiencing a presence that is sensory or mental? How does it read to you? Not sure? Sensory. If I if you’re not sure that’s good, you know, I’m not sure that’s good you’re meditating. It’s not like you need to know, ‘was this mental or is this physical?


I don’t know which came first. Did the mental come first or did the physical come first? Sometimes Nama proceeds, Nama. Sometimes a mental formation proceeds a mental formation. Sometimes a physical formation, proceeds a physical formation. Sometimes a physical proceeds a physical which proceeds a mental, which proceeds a physical. Now, this seems really boring, right? But, curiously enough, the degree to which you can adhere or hold yourself, if I can put it that way, in this place is clearer and clearer consciousness gets. It’s no longer involved in storylines objects, which by definition can’t be clear, because all of the objects relate back to what? The self. 


In this view, the self is single, lasting, and independent. These are illusions. The minute it’s about an object about self, you’re in illusory consciousness because there is no single lasting independent self. And so, by bringing it back to nama-rupa, nama-rupa, you’re actually bringing consciousness back to the shepherd point. You know, it’s like, can you watch it succeed without wandering on. And then the mind part is the recognition of it.


So, the point isn’t that you get it all sorted out. This is very important for you to understand. It doesn’t matter whether or not one proceeds the other or one follows the other, and it doesn’t matter whether you always get it right. But what it does do is by bringing yourself into the knowledge of Nama Rupa mind-body for easy reference mind-body, mind-body, you bring yourself into the present time. You bring yourself into the present space and you start to learn something very, very interesting because the next purification is the purification of overcoming doubt. And in this stage, the step of insight that’s involved here is the law of karma. The law of cause and effect. So now that I start to see the relationship between Nama Rupa, I start to discern the cause-effect relationships. As I start to discern the cause-effect relationships, my doubts are over. 


I don’t have doubt now because I see the cause-effect relationship: nama preceded nama preceded nama which produced this. Does this make sense to you? It starts to sort itself out. This preceded this, and this is where I am. I was walking down the street, I thought of my brother (nama), right? My brother didn’t send me a birthday present, Nama. I’m pissed at my brother, nama. Now I’m in a state of anger, Nama. My pulse is racing, Rupa. How did I get here? Nama, Nama, Nama, Rupa. I know exactly how I got here! I know the causes and effects that got me here, I know why I’m there, and I know why I’m still there. Because I’m clinging to a single lasting independent illusion called me, and another one called my brother, and another thing saying that my welfare is dependent upon an object which was present; it’s as clear as a bell. Nama rupa leads you to the understanding of cause and effect.


Nama Rupa teaches the purification of you. Cause and effect teaches you to overcome doubt. Now your doubts are overcome because you see how the thing works. With that, mental clarity becomes clearer and clearer and you don’t have to know anything about physics to do it. You never have had to learn how to turn on a computer to do it. You never have to learn how to fix an automobile to do it, or you never have to learn how to sort out your income tax to do it. In other words, you don’t have to be ‘smart’. In fact, in some ways being smart is a big curse. Why is that? Anybody want to venture? You get these clever dialogues going on left, right, and center, and you completely miss the law of cause and effect. You completely miss nama-rupa. You end up in states that are very, very clever, but are rooted in unwholesomeness, not virtuous, or at the very best they’re not in the state of bliss, clarity, and non-clinging awareness; and this is what we reward.


We reward people in our society who are capable of distracting us, confusing us, and driving us to get on the airplane to some future better state: a Porsche 950, or a trip to Hawaii. I’m not, as I said, against a Porsche 950 (if there’s such a thing) or getting on a plane to Hawaii. But unless you get onto that plane to Hawaii going nama, nama, nama, rupa, cause and effect nama, nama, rupa, getting on the plane, sitting in the chair, hot, stuffy, no space, nama, going up, nama, getting frustrated, nama, getting irritated, nama, getting short, no air. 


With this, you have moved into the fourth stage of purification and the second stage of insight. There are 16 stages of insight and 7 stages of purification. I’m not gonna go into them all, but you get your direction, you get your vehicle focused, and the number one thing that you need to do this is: you need to get over you. You really need to get over yourself, in the sense that you will not find satisfaction in the realm of self-ness because the self is in a relationship to what? Seven billion other cells who have their own ideas about how it should work.


You get temporary satisfaction, temporary meeting of desires, temporary fulfillments, and wishes, but the deep-depth satisfaction of bliss, clarity, and non-clinging, your neighbor, comes when it’s not tied to other people. It’s not tied to objects and it’s not tied to conditional factors that are subject to laws that aren’t independent, that aren’t single.