How to Meditate: The Dathun Letter, via Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.

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In 1973, the Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa introduced a month-long period of meditation called Dathün, which he recommended to all of his students. This intensive meditation practice retreat, where even meals are taken simply, in silence, is to this day a fundamental part of the Shambhala Buddhist path.

~ Carolyn Gimian.

The shamatha style of meditation is particularly recommended by the Buddha. It has been the way for beginning meditators for 2,500 years. To describe meditation we could use the phrase touch and go. You are in contact, you’re touching the experience of being there, actually being there-—and then you let go. That applies to awareness of your breath on the cushion and also beyond that, to your day-to-day living awareness. The point of touch and go is that there is a sense of feel. The point of touch is that there is a sense of existence, that you are who you are.

When you sit on the cushion, you feel you are sitting on the cushion and that you actually exist. You are there, you are sitting; you are there, you are sitting. That’s the touch part. The go part is that you are there—and then you don’t hang on to it. You don’t sustain your sense of being, but you let go of even that. Touch and go.

When you meditate your posture should be correct. It is recommended that you sit cross-legged on a meditation cushion, as opposed to hanging out in any convenient posture. You sit properly. You have a straight spine; your breath doesn’t strain, and your neck doesn’t strain. So sit: upright, cross-legged. If necessary, you can change your posture and rearrange yourself. There’s no point in punishing yourself and trying to strain constantly.

When you sit up properly, you are there. Your breathing follows naturally. I’ve noticed that when people see something interesting happening in a movie, everybody sits up in perfect posture. So that’s an example for us. It is happening, it is your life, and you are upright, and you are breathing. Practice is very personal and direct.

The attitude towards breathing in meditation is to become the breathing. Try to identify completely rather than watching it. You are the breath; the breath is you. Breath is coming out of your nostrils, going out and dissolving into the atmosphere, into the space. You put a certain energy and effort towards that. Then, as for in-breathing, should you try to deliberately draw things in? That’s not recommended. Just boycott your breath; boycott your concentration on the breath. As your breath goes out, let it dissolve, just abandon it, boycott it.

So in-breathing is just space. Physically, biologically, one does breathe in, obviously, but that’s not a big deal. Then another breath goes out—be with it. So it’s out, dissolve, gap; out, dissolve, gap. It is constant opening, gap, abandoning, boycotting. Boycotting in this case is a significant word. If you hold onto your breath, you are holding onto yourself constantly. Once you begin to boycott the end of the outbreath, then there’s no world left, except that the next outbreath reminds you to tune in. So you tune in, dissolve, tune in, dissolve, tune in, dissolve.

Thoughts arise in the midst of practice: “How should I do my yoga?,” “When can I write another article?,” “What’s happening with my investments?,” “I hate so and so who was so terrible to me,” “I would love to be with her” and “What’s the story with my parents?” All kinds of thoughts begin to arise naturally. If you have lots of time to sit, endless thoughts happen constantly.

The approach to that is actually no approach. Reduce everything to thought level rather than to concepts. Usually, if you have mental chatter, you call it your thoughts. But if you have deeply involved emotional chatter, you give it special prestige. You think those thoughts deserve the special privilege of being called emotion. Somehow, in the realm of actual mind, things don’t work that way. It’s just thinking: thinking you’re horny, thinking you’re angry. As far as shamatha practice is concerned, your thoughts are no longer regarded as V.I.P.s while you meditate. You think, you sit; you think, you sit; you think, you sit. You have thoughts, you have thoughts about thoughts. Let it happen that way. Call them thoughts.

Then, a further touch is necessary. Emotional states should not just be acknowledged and pushed off, but actually looked at. During meditation, you may experience being utterly aggressive, angry or lustful, whatever. You don’t just politely say to your emotion, “Hi. Nice seeing you again. You are okay. Goodbye, I want to get back to my breath.” That’s like meeting an old friend who reminds you of the past and rather than stopping to talk, you say, “Excuse me, I have to catch the train to my next appointment.” In the shamatha approach to practice you don’t just sign off. You acknowledge what’s happening, and then you look more closely as well. You don’t give yourself an easy time to escape the embarrassing and unpleasant moments, the self-conscious moments of your life. Such thoughts might arise as memories of the past, the painful experience of the present or painful future prospects. All those things happen: experience them and look at them, and only then do you come back to your breath. This is important.

If you feel that sitting and meditating is a way of avoiding problems, then that is the problem. In fact, most of the problems in life don’t come from being an aggressive or lustful person. The greatest problem is that you want to bottle those things up and put them aside, and you become an expert in deception. That is one of the biggest problems. Meditation practice should uncover any attempts to develop a subtle, sophisticated, deceptive approach.

Finally, in meditation, there’s a sense of individuality, a sense of person. Actually, we are here—we exist. What about the non-existence and egolessness that Buddhism emphasizes? What about spiritual materialism, wanting happiness and fulfillment from our practice? Aren’t we going to stray into some pitfall? Maybe you are. Maybe you are not. There’s no guarantee, since there’s no guarantor. However, it is possible that you could just do this technique very simply. I would recommend that you shouldn’t worry about future security, but just do this, directly, simply.

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j.sleeth Nov 26, 2018 9:55am

#meditation is not about a guru asking you to keep your mind free of all that chatter that bothers us all so much. Meditation is a scientifically proven method which gives us the skills (with practice) with which to change our view of this “chatter” and to accept it and focus on other things such as the breath or a body scan. There are thousands of evidence based articles on the #physiological #mental benefits of regular meditation practice. Its all about #wellbeing in your #workplace #sports performance. Well written piece thank you #JESleeth #optimalperformanceconsultants

anonymous Jan 5, 2015 12:31am

Thank you

anonymous Jul 25, 2013 1:01pm

A brilliant read. A thousand thank you's for your clear concise thoughts.

anonymous Mar 28, 2013 8:56pm

You have share a great information i agree with you. Thanks for sharing with us. 🙂

anonymous Mar 25, 2013 3:52am

If you hold onto your breath, you are holding onto yourself constantly. Once you begin to boycott the end of the outbreath, then there’s no world left, except that the next outbreath reminds you to tune in.

anonymous Mar 3, 2013 3:06pm

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anonymous Mar 3, 2013 12:53pm

Nice post. You have given the right way to meditate. Mostly people does not know how to meditate !

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Thank you.

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anonymous Nov 18, 2010 4:32pm

Great instruction. Am glad he points out the role of deception. So important. The reason we go around and around in samsara has to do with deception, which is a cousin to obfuscation.

When we deceive we employ obfuscation, we hide things "as they are" from others, and then from ourselves. It is this act of deception, this act of hiding "what is" that allows ignorance to persist.

The black veils we place over our consciousness are all that separate us from enlightenment. Former lives, too, are hidden behind black veils of unconsciousness. We have stacked up layer after layer after layer of deception until we no longer know where we are or where we came from. Our self deception has led us to live as though we had fallen to the bottom of a well that no light reaches. We live in silos of darkness.

We deceive ourselves about what we have done to others… and make a decision to never face the truth. We deceive ourselves about what has been done to us so we do not have to re experience the pain; we hide it away, where it still exists but think we have escaped its bite. And we obscure the times we have watched another hurt another… we hide that karmic imprint from view so we do not suffer in empathy with the one who hurts the other or the one who is hurt.

As we sit the blackness thins…and then we discover whether we can sit with that which lies behind the curtain of obfuscation woven by our need for deception. As the curtain thins and then drops, can we be there or must we run away and erect a false identity that enables our deception. (Seen often in the pithy Zen sayings that are little more than barbed sticks that we use to re hang the curtain that keeps us safe.)

Trungpa, as usual, goes to the profound heart of the matter in his teachings.

    anonymous Sep 25, 2013 2:11pm

    In Yoga & Vedanta, we identify the "blackness" as the gunas; tamas being the veiling power of the mind. Deception is partner to it using the rajas or the projecting power of the mind. The swinging back and forth between these two inherent in deception- projecting and hiding- is called vikshepa or the tossing of the mind. Slowly, using meditation, yoga asanas and pranayamas we can begin to disperse the energy of the tossing of the mind.

    Living a sattvic life is to engage the revealing power of the mind, and finally to discard with the gunas altogether.

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[…] find the glory and freedom and in-the-moment-ness you find when you challenge your edge through meditation, though it’s a little more boring and results in less impressive muscles. I love and miss Jonny, […]

anonymous Jun 1, 2009 5:05pm

Thanks for this article!

Is this text part of any book?

If so could you tell me the title?

anonymous Jan 18, 2009 1:07pm

[…] for the rest of One Human Journey’s helpful post for meditators and would-be meditators. Excerpt: In his book, “Wake Up to Your Life,” Ken McLeod […]

anonymous Jan 14, 2009 12:44pm

[…] Chögyam Trungpa: It’s not only that. It has its own intuitive aspect going beyond just logical conclusions. It has spontaneously existing resourcefulness. When you connect with your fear, you realize you have already leapt, you are already in mid-air. You realize that, and then you become resourceful. […]

anonymous Dec 27, 2008 12:45pm

[…] Regent’s enthronement as Trungpa Rinpoche’s Dharma heir was a big deal—he was I think the first American to be honored (saddled) with such a […]

anonymous Aug 27, 2008 2:27pm

[…] writers and become a kind of apprentice. Like the Buddhist tradition where you take teaching and dathün [month-long meditation intensives]. We wanted to keep that atmosphere going. What’s hard is […]

anonymous Aug 8, 2008 3:48pm

[…] Read the full letter here.  […]

Suellen Semekoski Sep 22, 2018 7:26am

FYI - article on this guru’s son who stepped down from Shambala because of sexual abuse. The father is mentioned in the article Seems abuse of power was shared by both father and son.

Scott Valentine Apr 25, 2018 7:16pm

Not sure about this meditaion Guru. A native who remembers these times...

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