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

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on May 29, 2008
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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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63 Responses to “How to Meditate: The Dathun Letter, via Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.”

  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] 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 […]

  3. […] 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. […]

  4. […] 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 […]

  5. John says:

    Thanks for this article!

    Is this text part of any book?

    If so could you tell me the title?

  6. […] 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, […]

  7. […] For everyone to meditate for even two or three minutes each morning, right after they wake up, stretch out, brush their […]

  8. […] (below) she talks about tonglen practice, one of the fundamental meditation practices of Buddhism as taught by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. It’s great for doing if a loved […]

  9. […] But just sit. Do nothing. Keep your eyes soft, open. We’re not shutting out thoughts. We’re not […]

  10. […] Note: As a loyal, grateful student of both the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, I both regret and miss the many changes to VCTR’s legacy and […]

  11. […] Think again, and then label that thought thinking and come back to the breath: […]

  12. […] ate together. The meal and community time were enjoyable, but the commotion around the teaching and meditation were […]

  13. […] post-Hinayana (taming one’s own root poisons of aggression, attachment and ignorance through the daily practice of meditation, which trains us to come back from our thoughts to the present moment)…it’s much easier […]

  14. […] to keep doing stuff you probably shouldn’t be doing through mindfulness training! Mindfulness meditation practice? Too obvious. Mindful dining? Booooring. Mindful flower arranging? Old school. Mindful archery? […]

  15. […] Chogyam Trungpa, a Buddhist […]

  16. 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.

  17. […] And if you aren’t going to buy anything, practice fundamental happiness and contentment with a loved […]

  18. […] if you don’t speak Spanish. You may expect to hear heart-opening language in a yoga class, or a Dharma […]

  19. […] dare-I-say every country on Earth consciously raising their vibrations through asana, pranayama and meditation. It is through these practices that the rishi’s and many yogi-saints since have cultivated […]

  20. […] follow with 10 minutes of shamatha meditation (just following the […]

  21. […] in mind: no one gets out of life, alive. Live for the benefit of others. Put down the moisturizer: sit down on the meditation cushion, and dedicate yourself to a wonderful world in terrible […]

  22. […] Money Talks—but it still doesn’t buy much Happiness. […]

  23. […] can, however, through meditation, begin to see through it and gain some sense of clarity and humor about our situation. And, if we […]

  24. […] course, this is something we train to be able to do in life, whether through meditation, religion, spirituality, martial arts, sports…to feel calm and centered and aware and awake […]

  25. […] the provenance of enlightened leaders, not those of us who can’t even sit still and meditate every day for 10 minutes a day, or […]

  26. […] confused with meditation instruction (in the Buddhist tradition in which I grew up, you meet with a meditation instructor and they provide guidance along the path of life, and the Buddhist path). I’m here […]

  27. […] you awaken your heart in this way, you find, to your surprise, that your heart is […]

  28. […] is better to conquer yourself Than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, Not by […]

  29. […] final note: Chogyam Trungpa always had everyone sing “Cheerful Birthday,” not “Happy Birthday,” saying […]

  30. […] asked the Dalai Lama what surprises him most. This was his response. ~ Click here for how to meditate. Or […]

  31. […] And if you aren’t going to buy anything, practice fundamental happiness and contentment with a loved […]

  32. kane Hipolito says:

    Glad to see this article, you share something really helpful keep it up guys more blogs to come..
    VZ 58

  33. […] I ended up at that Buddhist center in Australia, and I’d never actually meditated before, like really meditated… I’d just close my eyes during my teacher training courses and did the om and what not, but […]

  34. […] is where meditation—not drugs—helps with stress and confusion and hype. And even—and especially—if you are […]

  35. […] Buddhism and science disagree, we’ll go with science”)…and it’s all about the sitting practice of meditation. Sit. Sit. Sit more, please. That’s what Trungpa Rinpoche would always […]

  36. […] Buddhism works. If we meditate, and we meditate some more, and we study, and we work with our mixed bag of a (difficult, incompetent, sycophantic, insecure, […]

  37. […] hate how he’s so meditative and Trungpa and what not. But when he’s not high on caffeine he chops your head right […]

  38. […] Get outside. Connect with God/Mother Nature/Meditation/Prayer. Or, as Calvin & Hobbes put […]

  39. […] the truth is actually that the [meditation] practice isn’t about that. The practice is more about somehow this little child, this I, who […]

  40. […] Meditation, in the morning after waking and in the evening before sleep. Even a few minutes each is […]

  41. […] any other detox activity will do. Meditation reduces inflammation. Sleep and rest are the easiest and cheapest ways to declutter the […]

  42. […] For you to meditate for even two or three minutes each morning, right after you wake up, stretch out, brush your teeth […]

  43. […] It still takes effort, reaching out, arguing, learning…but it’s easy. It’s real. It’s present moment. […]