Jonathan Foust

October 31, 2008

The Non-Dual Shuffle

Filed under: Dharma — jonathanfoust @ 6:52 pm
Tsoknyi at the Fall Retreat

Tsoknyi at the Fall Retreat

I’m just back from a week-long Dzogchen retreat with Tsoknyi Rimpoche. I led the afternoon movement sessions and the rest of the time I was free to sit.  This was my second retreat with him. Tara and I sat with him in Crestone, Colorado a few summers ago.

Ah …. a whole week at Club Med. (itation.)

If you haven’t had the opportunity to take a retreat of silence dedicated to practice and study, I highly recommend it. It’s not just the days of silent practice, the opportunity to be touched by timeless teachings, it’s also what you’re NOT doing.  No email, vmail, magazines, tv, newspapers, etc, etc.  Just the latter alone is transformative.

Dzogchen (The Great Perfection) is all about coming into cognizance of the non-dual – or primordial state of consciousness.    I took about sixty pages of notes and and I look back over what he taught in our twice-daily sessions, I appreciate how systematic and thorough he was.  Dzogchen is at the same time the most utterly simple practice there is … with a very complex and sophisticated context to understand it fully.

While Tsoknyi is a brilliant scholar, he is also incredibly funny, and with great frequency had the room exploding in laughter.


The first element of practice is learning how to steady the mind so we can experience, as Tsoknyi says, ‘now-ness’.  To do this we use concentration, training our attention to rest more and more in the here and now.  The breath is the most traditional anchor.  This is known as practice ‘with support.’

As we become more steady in our experience of ‘now-ness,’ we can drop the specific anchor and rest in now-ness ‘without support.’

Both with and without support, there is the constant drama of the mind wandering, obsessive thinking, rogue emotions coming and going.  Over time there are also more frequent bouts of pleasantness, relaxation and steadiness.  In all of this, though, there is still an observer, a witness of what is arising and passing through.  This is where the practice gets really interesting.

At some point, you dissolve the observer.  You ‘drop’ all technique.

How do we ‘drop it?’  I was reminded of what they teach in the Forum (formerly EST) trainings.  “Try to hit my hand,” the instructor would say.  You can’t “try.”  You do it or you don’t.

So you drop it. Or you try, and you don’t drop it. Sometimes I would feel a momentary sense of expansion, sometimes various forms of mental gymnastics that became increasingly frustrating, sometimes a sense of peace before the mind would rush back in with a comment.  

The invitation, again and again, is to drop any effort, any manipulation, any attempt to make your experience anything other than exactly what it is.

So simple.  So amazingly difficult.


A phrase I’ve found helpful:

“Awareness Open to the Senses –Non-Fixated Awareness”


So much more I can say, but I’ll stop here.


You can read more on Tsoknyi here and more on Dzogchen here.

October 23, 2008

Another Morning on the River

Filed under: Nature — jonathanfoust @ 10:25 am


Fall Sky, Pre-Sunrise

Fall Sky, Pre-Sunrise

October 12, 2008

Can We Know Our Own Minds?

Filed under: Dharma, Observations, Video — jonathanfoust @ 11:59 am

If you are not familiar with TED  (‘Ideas Worth Spreading’), they provide an wonderful assortment of stimulating and challenging presentations.  This recently posted talk by Dan Dennett, author of Consciousness Explained, is entitled, “Can We Know Our Own Minds?”.

He uses some entertaining visuals to suggest that while we are trying to figure things out, the brain is constantly playing tricks on us.

Click here for the TED site.  By the way, I just found out you can download TEDTALKS audio and video through itunes.

October 9, 2008

Dog Lips on Water

Filed under: Nature — jonathanfoust @ 10:17 am


Early Morning on the River

Early Morning on the River

October 6, 2008

Snow White and the Seven Hindrances

Filed under: Dharma, Humor — jonathanfoust @ 11:04 am

The “Hindrances” have been on my mind recently. 

Learning to recognize the mind states of 1) ill will, 2) craving and sense desire, 3) restlessness and worry, 4) sloth and torpor and 5) doubt help us to more quickly sever our identification with them and examine them from a less stuck place.

For many years, I thought my practice was all about ‘getting rid’ of these troublesome states when they arose and moving on to something better.

A breakthrough occurred for me when I realized that their arising is an integral part of my practice and welcoming them as visiting teachers is a doorway into new insights and possibilities.

Meditation can be viewed as waking out of a trance.  The hindrances are very much trance states. 

When we are in them, they occlude all others thoughts.  When aversion – anger and judgement , for example, sets up camp inside, it feels permanent, overwhelming and intensely unpleasant.  I naturally want to get away from it, nuke it in some way.  

When I can stay deeply present to the experience, inevitably something shifts and my sense of who “I am” dramatically expands – or disappears. 

I was looking for some good teaching metaphors recently.   Was there some western equivalent of the five hindrances?  What about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?  I got real excited, got on google and started looking for the connection.

Here’s what I discovered:


Not much.


If you’re interested, though, here’s a look:


Grumpy.  OK, that’s easy.  Aversion and ill will.

Sleepy.    Again, easy.  Sloth and Torpor.

Dopey.    Probably the best match for Sloth and Torpor

Bashful.   Doubt.  No doubt.


So far so good.  But here’s where it starts to break down:


Sneezy.   No match, unless we change it to sleezy, in which case it’s a great match for Craving and Sense Desire.

Doc.        I’d have to put this in Restlessness and Worry.  Don’t docs worry and have lots of responsibility?

Happy.     Maybe Happy is enlightened dwarf?


There you have it.  In relationship to the crystal clear penetrating and codified insights of Gautama Buddha, a totally fuzzy, confusing and unhelpful correlation to the cosmology of Walt Disney World.  I suspect this will in no way help you to remember the five hindrances.


In any case, may whatever hindrance or dwarf arises in your experience serve the awakening of heart and mind.