Thursday, June 23, 2011
Tibetan Sound Healing: Seven Guided Practices for Clearing Obstacles, Accessing Positive Qualities, and Uncovering Your Inherent Wisdom
Book Review: Tibetan Sound Healing: Seven Guided Practices for Clearing Obstacles, Accessing Positive Qualities, and Uncovering Your Inherent Wisdom by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche – edited by Marcy Vaughn (Sounds True 2006)
This is the Yungdrung Bon practice of the Five Warrior Syllables from the Bon Dzogchen tradition. The Book comes with a CD which guides the practice and visualizations around the syllables. The practice itself is quite simple but the results of such seed mantra chanting can be potent. Originally I purchased this book to prepare for a workshop on the practice which I think was cancelled but in any case I am quite glad I bought and read the book as I have enjoyed several books by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche.
The five syllables are associated with the five wisdoms, or panchajnana, of the tantric tradition – although the author notes that these teachings are from the Bon Dzogchen tradition. The five seed syllables are: A, OM, HUNG, RAM, and DZA. Each syllable is linked to various notions and a feeling-tone visualization scenario. Each syllable is visualized in a particular color and in a particular chakra region of the body.
He gives an overview of the outer, inner, and secret levels of experience. In terms of obstacles to awakening from delusion he gives external obstacles as things like illness and adverse circumstances. Inner obstacles are traditionally the disturbing/afflicting emotions like ignorance, anger, attachment, jealousy, and pride. Doubt, hope, and fear are given as secret obstacles. The level of the secret influences refers typically to just those that are more hidden and more difficult to recognize. On the secret level is where the five warrior syllables are associated with the five wisdoms. On the inner level the practices are said to reveal positive or enlightened qualities such as the ‘Four Immeasurables’ – love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. He says that the five warrior syllables and the path of the warrior function to remove blockages so that positive qualities can manifest and bring us closer to non-conceptual wisdom. In a short section about the goals of meditation he notes that through meditation one may connect with a more fundamental experience of reality again and again and learn to trust this experience of being and rely on it in order to overcome unhealthy habitual patterns.
The first syllable is A (Ah). The Tibetan letter A is visualized on the forehead in white luminous light. This syllable is associated with the Wisdom of Emptiness. It is the experience of clear and open space – also as a vowel unbounded by consonants. Space is considered the ground of being. A has a mind aspect and a breath aspect. When we experience the sound and the breath as inseparable there is the experience of the self-arising of breath and sound. Anyway, in Tibetan metaphor there is the notion of mind as rider and breath as horse. The syllables are referred to as the armor of the rider as the horse takes him through the chakra zones. The experience of openness is said to be enhanced by being on top of a mountain or gazing out into the vastness of ocean or sky. The visualization analogy given is that of a clear desert sky with no clouds. So ‘A’ is said to clear, to clean, and to open. The instruction is merely to abide or rest in the dzogchen view of space/openness. He notes that the experience of openness entails that there are no obstacles and he implies that this can be a way to work with obstacles and mental and emotional blocks. Space is the foundation. He says to recognize it as mother, as buddha, and that this is the empowerment of the dharmakaya (body of qualities, or truth body of Buddha). He notes abiding as “resting without changing.” He says that when an obscuration is removed or cleared there is new space or openness and that is an opportunity to rest in that state of primordial purity of unobscured openness. Interestingly he says that the obscuration itself is experienced (as changing) when it is cleared and it allows one an opportunity to experience the wisdom of emptiness – or as he says the experience of the changeless dimension of being that underlies all experience. He also speaks of an experience of “changeless confidence” in the experience of the stability of open awareness.
“So this is our practice. We approach the highest level of dharma with the lowest level of problem. We begin with a very specific awareness of a situation of life we wish to transform, a direct and intimate sense of our confusion, and we transform that condition into our path through the method of singing A – through our direct experience in this moment. Through the power of the sacred sound, we glimpse an opening, and through recognizing this opening as the pure and fundamental ground of our being we abide there without changing: open, clear, awake, confident.”
The second syllable is OM and radiates red from the throat chakra and is associated with the mirror-like wisdom. As A connects with space, OM connects with awareness. He says OM is like completeness without conditions. So progression is that first there is openness which allows the experience of conditionless fullness. Space allows experience. Our typical habit is to immediately occupy the new space with our emotional tendencies. The visualization metaphor given is that of the sun shining in a cloudless sky – and he often compares light and awareness. He syas the mirror-like wisdom is that which reflects without judgment. It is a wisdom that is mere clarity and is unaffected by what it encounters. With OM one abides in the clarity of awareness, the nature of mind. “Wisdom is the A, the space. Compassion is the OM, the quality.” “We overcome fear with A. OM overcomes hope. Fear is related to space. Hope is related to clarity.” Hope relates to a sense of incompleteness and non-clarity. He says that an ‘ordinary result of practicing OM is that our sense perceptions may become clear and vivid. A ‘special” result may be “the capacity to abide in clarity, which refers to the awareness of essence rather than of the object.” Another result he mentions is that of ‘ceaseless confidence.’
The third syllable is HUNG in blue light at the heart chakra and supports the wisdom of equanimity. Here we discover the inseparability of space and awareness which spontaneously produces positive qualities. Rinpoche suggests that one reflect on the positive qualities of the Four Immeasurables: love, compassion, joy and equanimity as HUNG is chanted. Connecting with and abiding in these positive qualities is the HUNG practice. As a means to work with obstacles and summon positive states the author suggests that one does the following:
“Work directly with body, energy, and mind. On the level of body, join movement with awareness. On the level of energy, work with prana, or subtle energy, by joining awareness and breathing. How do we work with mind? Observe directly, without elaboration and without following whatever arises.”
The analogy with HUNG is the reflection of sunlight. The pure qualities of space and light are reflected in all appearances. The arising confidence is called ‘undeluded confidence.’ This is the wisdom of equanimity arising from the union of space and awareness. The notion is to let go and experience without the grasping mind. The external result of HUNG meditation is less of this grasping mind and more of a spontaneous connection with objects and experience. The special result is abiding in the inseparability of emptiness and clarity, which is experienced as bliss. Emptiness, clarity, and bliss, he says, are the three meditative experiences talked about in dzogchen.
The fourth syllable is RAM experienced as a red glow from the navel chakra and it is linked to the arising of the wisdom of discriminating awareness.
“With A we have changeless body, OM is unceasing speech, HUNG is undeluded mind, and now with RAM we have ripened and perfected virtuous qualities.”
RAM is linked to the ripening of the positive qualities of the Four Immeasurables – or integrating them into one’s life situations and encounters. The metaphor in the RAM meditation is the sunlight ripening fruit. When things ripen they get characteristics and a story. With ripening things become distinct manifestations. The wisdom of discriminating awareness is knowledge of this distinctiveness of the manifest realms. RAM is said to overcome the demons of negative emotions. “The meditative experience of RAM is the burning fire of potentiality.” He notes that it can involve a creative ability to see potential in the situations one encounters. In terms of compassionate action it is the ability to see what action the situation calls for – whether that be peaceful, wrathful, expansive, or powerful.
“Openness is wisdom, and wisdom must be present for any form of action to be compassionate. To the degree that wisdom and compassion are present, an action is more enlightened.”
“By singing RAM again and again, you clear your own agendas, ideas, and projections, and open yourself to be truly available for the needs of others.”
The ordinary experience of RAM is restless enthusiasm or excitement. The deeper experience is that one feels more and more the power of the positive quality(s) and the manifestation of them becomes more spontaneous and effortless. There is ‘ripened confidence.’
The fifth and last syllable is DZA as a green light from the secret chakra four finger widths below the navel. It is associated with the all-accomplishing wisdom and ‘effortless confidence.’ DZA is the syllable of action. DZA is about sealing and manifesting the quality. DZA is dependent on the successful implementation of the previous syllable qualities. He notes that people often have difficulty in actually manifesting something (and I have noted this is true with many of us – myself very much included).The manifestation power of DZA naturally follows the ripening power of RAM. Effortlessness and spontaneity are the qualities of the all-accomplishing wisdom.
So in review there is the space/oppenness of A, the awareness of OM, the inseparabilty of space and awareness of HUNG, the ripening power of RAM, and the manifesting power of DZA. Interestingly, this seems to be a downward path through he chakra zones from the unmanifest to the manifest – not so unlike the MEZLA or lightning bolt path of Tree of Life/Qabala – or the pathway from unmanifest Brahma to the Maya of the manifest world. It is a path from subtle to gross – only in terms of manifesting positive qualities in one’s life. It seems perhaps less of a path and more of a maintaining of the connection between the subtle and the gross through awareness and action based on awareness. The whole idea of this practice is to connect to an enlightened quality and manifest it into your life.
Next Rinpoche gives some advice on establishing a daily practice. He suggests for this practice reflecting on a particular quality that you want to change in your life and subsequently manifesing that positive quality. He notes the - Three Excellences – of any practice: the intention (always with the greater goal of benefiting others), the main body of the practice where one mindfully focuses on doing the practice with awareness and focus, and the dedication of merit to all beings as well as those especially in need. He then gives further advice on practicing all the syllables in one session. On the CD there are sessions with just one syllable and a longer session with all the syllables.
Finally, there is an appendix which gives the Tsa Lung exercises for clearing obstacles. These are yogic practices working with prana, breath, and the body. There are five practices related to the five winds/five pranas - and also to the five elements, the five wisdoms, and the five subtle natural lights given in the dzogchen tradition.
This is another excellent book by a great writer and holder of a very interesting and meaningful tradition. The book is very rich in detail and as with most of his books has some nice detailed philosophical precision.