Techniques of Mindfulness

Photo by Mary Lang, 1980

Tail of the Tiger (Karme Choling), Barnet, Vermont; August 1974



The notes on Chronicles introducing the previous seminar, “Training the Mind,” also provide a good introduction to this “Techniques of Mindfulness” seminar and to this 1973-1975 stream of teachings by the Vidyadhara which present the basic mindfulness and awareness teachings.

This first talk from the “Techniques of Mindfulness” seminar may be best studied in conjunction with the first talk from the “Training the Mind” seminar, also posted on the Chronicles, as well as the first talk from the Naropa meditation seminar. The notes and audio for this seminar are also posted on this website.

As well, the transcript of the 1973 seminary talk “8 Stages of Consciousness,” if you have it, or the audio related to that, also applies. These together provide a broad window on the Vidyadhara’s typical presentations of view as preparation for studying the four foundations of mindfulness and mindfulness-awareness practice in general.

Talk 1: Techniques of Mindfulness, summary

Trungpa Rinpoche begins this first talk by drawing the students away from speculative notions about the nature of spirituality and motivation, thoughts of power or transcendental happiness, or the project of searching for the best or easiest spiritual path. Instead, he asks us to consider mind itself as the necessary starting point and the basis for the path.

As in the seminar given in Colorado the previous week, Trungpa Rinpoche defines sentient beings as those who have a sense of other, discriminating awareness. Basic mind, sem (sems), in turn, is defined as that which can think of the other. Since this simple sense of other is too boring, and regular daydreaming and discursive thoughts are not confirming enough, waves of emotions are generated to prove oneself and one’s existence. This may start out as a game, but the game could turn desperate and deadly. (Elsewhere, Trungpa Rinpoche does go into further descriptions of the workings of mind, which are well worth investigating, such as teachings on the five skandhas and eight consciousnesses.)

Further frustration of emotional ego-process causes one to create a thing called “god,” or “saviors, gurus, mahatmas… whatever.” External objects are created as “hit men,” so “you could re-round your territory again.” This amusing, touching, and sad process is all mind.

Later on, Rinpoche briefly discusses the most desperate expression of this as psychotic process. “Mind cannot exist on itself alone, but on the other hand it cannot exist if it’s completely crowded, overcrowded. Mind looks for a mate, a friend. Mind losing that survival game could become psychotic. Meditation practice is trying to save oneself from psychosis.”

Trungpa Rinpoche further states that, to meditate, it’s important to understand mind’s complexities, or at least that certain aspects of experience are organized by different aspects of mind. “Generally we get frustrated when we meditate, feeling wretched, hassled, putting all experiences in the same bag and blaming them on this thing.'”

In this talk, he says that in order not to get caught up in some vague notion of mind as unworkable, the definitions of three traditional aspects of mind: sems, rikpa, yid are presented.

Talk2: Mindfulness of body/forms

In this second talk on mindfulness of body/forms, Trungpa Rinpoche starts off by presenting mindfulness of body as being related to “the need for a sense of solidness, sense of being, sense of groundedness,” in contrast to the vagueness and grasping of ego-process described in talk 1, and the tendency to “perch,” to put special demands on one’s body. Here, he describes how placing one’s body simply on the ground with good posture and placing the mind simply on the breathing brings a sense of being, a sense of groundedness.

The basic logic goes: Mind takes on the shape of whatever it is placed on. As well, mind imitates body. So, when “psychosomatic body” simply places itself on the ground, mind takes on that shape as well and become simple. Thoughts become simple, “flat-bottomed. […] There is the feeling that you are actually doing something … a project of some kind which has a flat bottom … rather than wings.”

With respect to placing the mind, the technique of identifying with and following the outbreath is also introduced in this talk, identifying with the outbreath and letting the inbreath be “just gap, space…You breathe out and dissolve and gap.” So psychosomatic body is placed simply on the ground and mind imitates that simplicity, that “flat-bottomness.” And mind is placed on breathing out, the simplicity of the outbreath.

In the questions and answers, he makes a number of points. Among these, he encourages people not to be too tight, not to be too deliberate, not to be industrious or ambitious, but to be simple, to let go and go along with the technique.

Nota bene: It is easy to confuse this encouragement to simplicity with the notion that we’re not supposed to think at all, not even supposed to know what we’re doing. It’s because we know what we’re doing we know something about how mind works and how we confuse ourselves that we take on this simple approach. We can actually afford to exist, to be, simply, rather than jumping all over the place, or letting frivolous projects jump into our laps.

Talk 3: Mindfulness of life/livelihood


This particular talk on mindfulness of life, or livelihood, (also “life attitude”) addresses, first of all, the general misunderstanding that the meditative state is something to be captured, then cherished and nursed. “This brings regression on the path.” Such an approach kills “freshness”, and turns meditation into a “domestic hassle,” “house chores,” “a painful demand.”


Instead, while the object of awareness is focused on, “at the same time we disown it.” Being willing to disown the object of awareness and disowning the meditative state itself is an attitude and approach which brings confidence. One is confident enough not to have to secure one’s practice, but just to “tune in” to practice. Trungpa Rinpoche refers to this approach, connecting to the tangibility of the meditative state and letting that go, as “touch and go.”

So, all life experiences are included; nothing is rejected. In particular, the common human survival-mind, the tendency to protect oneself from death with every breath, with every living experience, is not rejected, but acknowledged and used. “Whenever there is a sense of survival instinct, that is transmuted into awareness of a sense of being, a sense of survived,’ a sense of existence […] I am alive. I am here. Sobeit.” Touch and go.

In that way, the instinct to live, to survive, is shown to already contain mindfulness, both on the cushion and in everyday life. This “brings a sense of clarity, skill, intelligence… You are already living. Let it be that way. Let every beat of your heart and breath be mindfulness.”

This approach to practice is not about “fantasizing a pure environment” or a pure mind. “You accept fear and pleasure as they are. Wherever you are, however you are, you are in the midst of it.”


Having “such an accurate relationship to the present situation” brings strength, energy, and power… dignity, … delightfulness.” If one tries to get away from the energy that is going on, that is what brings weakness. To reiterate, connecting with what’s going on at this moment includes the survival-mind, and the basic approach to working with any experience, positive or negative, whatever pleasure we might want to hold onto, whatever pain or threat we might want to reject, is “touch and go.”

Postscript commentary

Unlike the “first turning” mindfulness teachings, these are not contemplative analytic practices aimed at discovering how the five skandhas do not constitute a permanent, independent, unitary self. While not promoting indulgence in or addiction to pleasurable states of mind, these teachings are not designed to help the practitioner develop revulsion towards seemingly pleasurable but actually painful worldly experiences. Similarly, unlike the “second turning” teachings, these are not contemplations which reveal how each of the skandhas are, in themselves, empty of self nature.

Rather, they are instructions on how to be, and how to conduct oneself on the cushion and in postmeditation. Acharya Richard John, following Dz. Pönlop Rinpoche, refers to the Vidyadhara’s mindfulness teachings as essential instructions, which reveal how to practice, how to place the mind. In this, all experience is included, including the mind continuously concerned with survival, which all sentient beings have.

Note. The next talk, talk 4, on mindfulness of effort has never been published.

Talk 4, Techniques of Mindfulness, Mindfulness of Effort

This is a talk about discipline, patience, and exertion in relation to practice and everyday life conduct. It is about the effort involved in relating to mind-itself, simple self-consciousness.

Discipline arises as a question because of the apparent conflict between instinct, referred to here initially as doing what one would like, and ethics. Pejoratively, discipline or effort means to go against the “indulgency of the natural flow and behaving oneself,” being a good boy or girl. This could feel alienating, and could bring loss of heart. Effort/discipline seems like a struggle, unnatural, counter to instinct. So this is a teaching on working with resistance, resistance based on the conflict between doing what one would like, which seems natural, and practice. One could feel like a naughty schoolboy or schoolgirl, not wanting to practice, or seeing practice as some punishment or deprivation.

In mindfulness of effort, Chogyam Trungpa points out that instinct, our basic mental equipment, is not just a vague sense of naturalness or flow, but is related to simple self-consciousness, “unconditional self-consciousness,” referred to elsewhere as “first thought.” This is the first flash of relating with anything, simple duality, separateness. This goes back to the definition of mind (sem) in the earlier talks as “that which has an other.” Mindfulness of effort has to do with developing the “clear-seeing vision” that is able to relate to this simple mind, which is always available.

So discipline, here, means being subtle enough to relate to simple dualism, this and that. Since the potential for this simplicity, this plain cognition, is already part of our mental equipment, it is referred to as instinct. In mindfulness of effort, this basic structure is exploited as the basis of practice.

In particular, this effort in meditation as basic discipline is related to simply getting to the cushion and engaging with mind and body on the cushion, “breaking the ice,” or, one might say, working with resistance. Just touching the resistance itself, or the resist-or, is practice. It is “easy to break down” the naughty schoolboy mentality by simply being aware of resistance. With that awareness, one has started already, one is there already. One is already back. Resistance becomes the “doorstep.” [This is a basic theme in many of Trungpa Rinpoche’s mindfulness teachings. For instance, the seminars on which the book The Path is the Goal is based also include teachings related to using resistance as a stepping-stone and overcoming the naughty schoolboy mentality.]

Patience means to maintain nonaggression in practice. Aggression, here, has to do with looking for the results of sitting practice, or evaluating one’s practice, with the notion of trying to gain something. However, mindfulness is not about trying to eliminate all goal-oriented thinking from our lives. If we try to do that, “you can’t even open your mouth.” But when there is a greater “spiritual implication,” behind one’s practice, a self-improvement project, that’s a “greater goal, which is a greater problem.”

Resistance only becomes solidified when one makes too big a deal out of it, identifies it as a “problem,” and there is too much ambition — for instance, the ambition or goal to obliterate duality, or to become a better person, which is a kind of aggression towards oneself. Patience is not looking for a way out of resistance, but a willingness and interest in relating to resistance. The key to this is to “start with what you are,” be with what you are.

Exertion, then,  is the ongoing practice and willingness to use dualistic mind, including the experience of resistance itself, as a stepping stone to mindfulness. From this point of view, as discussed in the questions and answers, there is no such thing as a “big resistance.” Anytime one simply touches resistance itself, one is already back. That is already mindfulness. Simple self-consciousness, dualistic mind, is always available as a stepping-stone.

Beyond that, exertion is an unceasing interest in sitting practice and awareness practice. Looking for alternatives to what’s actually going on — one’s mood, physicality, mental state — is anti-exertion. In that sense, exertion is nondiscrimination. The metaphor is driving along a wet highway at night, the wet highway of life, just driving along and “disregarding the sign posts,” and not looking for other routes. Exertion is continuity, steadiness, not looking for alternatives. Exertion is not making a big deal out of anything along the way — feeling good experiences, feeling bad experiences — but using everything that arises as a stepping-stone to mindfulness.

“Mindfulness awareness practice requires a lot of work, energy, effort, and surrendering. It has to do with recognizing that a working base does exist and not looking for an alternative to that. It is “bare attention that keeps going further.”

Talk 5, Mindfulness of Mind

This talk is about relating to the variety of experiences in practice, experiences of clarity and confusion.

Ground: Balance of tight and loose, inclusive and restrictive

Mindfulness includes watchfulness. We know what we are doing, what’s going on. There is a watchful intelligence functioning. Practice is not a purely mechanical process but includes intelligence.

So, there is the experience of conflicts, struggle within practice and experiences that come up when we practice, and also the technique itself, coming back to breathing. There is a sense of balance in relating to conflicts, but also not indulging in them. One accepts conflicts as part of the process of meditation, but also controls them by coming back to the technique. One is inclusive, including experiences and whatever mental states arise, keeping things fresh, not too rigid. On the other hand, one does not get lost in daydreams or fist-fights with experience. Not too tight — not too loose. The watchful intelligence is “light-handed.”

Not too tight, not too loose also means being aware of being tight or loose. Different people tend to have different styles, more tight or more loose, and some go back and forth.

Path: Simplicity, the small immediacy of experience, the dot of nowness

Mindfulness of mind, of being with mental experiences, brings the four foundations of mindfulness together. It is about developing a sense of accuracy.

If you are not there, you miss yourself. But if you realize you are not there, you are there. Back to square one. This is a simple matter. It is about you and your world. It’s not particularly about enlightenment. It’s about the small area that you are at moment by moment. We are just little people concerned with this dot that exists….nowness.

Mindfulness of mind is the austere attitude of “one at a time.” All experience is personal; it cannot be thrown away. It is limited, “so limited that there is no room to be claustrophobic.” Each experience is a one shot deal, thinking. “I think I hear a sound…. I think I smell scents…. I think I feel hot ….” Sexual fantasy — thinking.

Fruition: The imperialism of mindfulness. Mindfulness and totality

Everything, every experience, is included in mindfulness. If you try to get away from mindfulness, when you notice that, that is also mindfulness. The back door is also the front door. If you try to sneak up on yourself, you are already there.

Bare attention, even, is not two personalities. There is watchfulness, but watcher and actor cannot be separated. Bare attention to what you are doing is impossible. That would require two personalities. There is no one to watch you being mindful. “Bare attention is being there all at once.” If you try to look at yourself, that’s “too much watcher…. So just watch. And when you watch, you are there.”

Talk 6, Parrots and Rhinoceroses

Since the mindfulness teachings are not just about practicing on the cushion but relate to everyday life practice and conduct, living in the world, Trungpa Rinpoche always includes teachings on such subjects in his mindfulness seminars. This talk is largely about two different and potentially complementary approaches to lifestyle, the chatty “parrot” and the solitary “rhinoceros,” warnings for potential teachers and proud solitary meditators, and basic instructions for working with mind in postmeditation.

The necessity of formal meditation practice

With respect to the discussion of lifestyle, Rinpoche states, as he often does, that both formal meditation practice and meditation in everyday life are necessary. “They both go simultaneously, hand in hand … you cannot have sitting prctice situation cmopletely worked out but nothing else … you can’t have awareness practice happening without sitting practice situation.” Sitting here means “orthodox sitting on your meditation cushion and developing awareness of breathing … doing the traditional disciplines … Even if you only have 10 minutes free in 211 hours of life, you should use that 10 minutes for sitting practice. Even if you have a “24 hour job”, you still have, to paraphrase, an hour and a half spare time, apart from eating, commuting, and going to the bathroom.

Basic instructions for postmeditation

This talk reinforces postmeditation instructions which Rinpoche gives elsewhere on working with mind and perceptions in everyday life. He presents awareness practice in everyday life as a “sense of flashing” onto particular situations. The analogy is “like yawning for a fraction of a second.” He says that generally, when the mental faculty is focused on a particular situation, “one tends to close in … more than necessary [which creates] more of a pressure in our body and mind.” His instruction is to “relieve that existing pressure but just keep the intelligence … So there is a release of tension, openness, and sudden unconditionality, that which we discussed early on … there is openness [taking] place constantly all the time, sense of perceptivity, sense of being right on the dot, so to speak.”

This particular instruction is presented elsewhere as “touch and go” or “leap and disown,” and is echoed in the “Vipashyana Seminar” (part two of book Heart of the Buddha) as well as in the previous talks of this seminar as a light touch or stepping-stone. This is contrasted with the paranoid approach of the too-careful meditator. Trungpa Rinpoche’s postmeditation instructions are always about touching in, but briefly, then letting go, opening, not centralizing, not building up the “watcher” more than necessary.

Lifestyle: parrots communicating in their practice communities and the solitary discipline of rhinoceroses

Trungpa Rinpoche notes that meditation practitioners have various lifestyles and life situations, some living together in practice communities, some in urban semi-practice communities where they have separate work and jobs and families, and that some people have no contact with practice communities at all, living isolated in the middle of nowhere. People may be uncertain about how social or how solitary to be.

Then Rinpoche presents the two caricatures, the rhinoceros and parrot. The rhinoceros lives “alone purely by yourself in the midst of mud or chaos or hostility or superstitions,” and the parrots “flock … everybody flocks together … and … feeds each others’ alarm … When there is one bang…everybody begins to fly up.” “Basically there are two types of people: that one is shy of society (rhinoceros), one is power maniac (parrot).”

Bringing a sense of balance to parrot group approach and solitary rhinoceros approach through awareness.

With regards to lifestyle and group situations, “it’s advisable to join in some kind of group effort like a parrot-flock style … you could attend talks by the community members, listen to tapes or read books together, in the style of chit chat of the parrots.”

On the other hand, the solitary rhinoceros approach is also recommended. It could be an antidote to the “enormous desire and mania to communicate the message to the public, let people know, let your friends know, broadcast your experience as much as you can. If you couldn’t get into the mass media, try best by telephoning, writing letters and writing poems … inviting people over for dinner and talking about your exotic experiences. Some people have that kind of enormous weakness…And people love to listen to themselves.” [Of course, nowadays, with facebook and websites and email, everyone can take advantage of the “mass media” option.]

“Whenever there is too much of ego-tripping of spiritual materialism involved, it is necessary for people to retreat as rhinoceros. And whenever there … is too much nesting, ingrown-townail type situation takes place, it is necessary to relate with the flock of parrots. So that seems to be the basic point of style of practice at this point.”

A warning to deceptive parrot-teachers and proud rhinoceroses

“… the basic point is that [the] whole thing is workable as long as there is no deception involved … If you sat for two hours without moving … so what?… Or somebody’s being extraordinarily eloquent and powerful … So what?” … “As long as there is a desire or attempt to impress the world, and you want … to recruit the occupants of the world in your territory … it becomes ego-maniac process … So that seems to be the only warning. Apart from that what kind of style you do it really doesn’t matter.”

“The problem only comes in relating with other people … When you begin to feel you have something to say or great deal to say, that is … an enormous problem. It is much better in some sense that when you feel you have nothing to say and are doing your practice … if your teaching comes out of experience of which you have nothing to say, that’s much, much better.”

Rinpoche concludes the talk portion before the questions and answers with comments about people acting as replicas of gurus and teachers, putting themselves on pedestals, losing touch with compassion, hurting themselves and others. Very poignant.

Talk 7, Practice and Study

In this talk, presented at Shambhala Mountain Center in August 1974, to a group that included many students and faculty from The Naropa Institute, Trungpa Rinpoche talked about the importance of bringing together practice and study, intuition and intellect, which are like “eating food and having exercises,” respectively.

This emphasis was, and is still not always well-understood or appreciated. This is not about dropping out, but about developing greater social vision and cultural influence based on the power of bringing together practice, study, the arts, politics, and greater livelihood considerations altogether. It’s not just about repairing the damaged goods of neglectful parenting or railing against harsh teachers or mean politicians, but creating enlightened society.

One sided emphasis: the “experiential” vs. the “intellectual”

“There has been a problem of attitude that the practice is regarded as the and only way by some people [or] on the other hand [that] intellectual study is the only thing to do. So there is a conflict. I suppose that is partly because people are into the realm of experiential … [and don’t] want to have anything to do with the intellect. And at the same time people in the intellectual world regard anything experiential [to be] unhealthy for intellectual discovery… That has been a problem. So it is absolutely necessary for us to review that situation and not go along with already set-up patterns that exist in our society, particularly spirtual trip societies of all kinds… a lot of peple dropped out of school because they don’t want to have anything to do with the intellectual side. They want experience, whatever that is….Consequently we find the good meditators are stupid and good scholars are completely sterilized.”

“Mindfulness practice could be applicable to our life … in terms of having a society, a set up, a livelihood … that we could actually live in this world and work with our money, our problems, our intelligence, dealing with society. [It’s not that] you have joined a certain occult minority group of some kind and you are only happy when you are among your little world.”

The Buddha and the great Buddhist kings were not drop outs

Trungpa Rinpoche goes on to discuss the Buddha as social revolutionary, as overcoming the caste system and developing a new social system, “not by planning, as such, but natural evolution took place. There were great rulers and great merchants, great scholars, great artists [who] joined the teachings of awareness-mindfulness.”

He goes on to discuss Emporor Ashoka of India as an example of the mingling of the intellectual, the philosophical, with the artistic. People in particular professions and trades expanded their educations beyond those guilds. The power of Gandharan art was “filled with life … enormous power behind it … not because that everthing’s incest … [or a] trick … But … that there’s exchange between philosophers and artists … So there was a mingling of all things began to take place and there was enormous power behind the whole thing.” That would be a powerful example of the bringing together of practice with intellect, or the experiential with broader vision.

The need to train and open up our vision

Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged students to open up their vision “much greater, wider than purely in a sense of security that you have your things to do in everyday life, you do your little practice everyday and it doesn’t matter about the rest of the wrold as long as there’s a roof and a square meal.” It takes a lot of “work, effort, and energy” to contribute to society.

The importance of the intellectual world, and how meditation complements that

“And particularly the intellectual world is extremely powerful and important…. We are not talking about being a bookworm as such, but we are talking in terms of [learning] how to think, how to view one particular issue approaching from millions of different ways. And meditation is precisely the tool for that…. Once one’s state of mind has become open and clear, … precise and not distracted by other problems, you can see what you are doing… and therefore you can apply what you want to do because of that and transmit basic sanity to other people… So it’s a complete world rather than a lopsided world of religious peole alone. “

“It’s obviously important that some intellectual training is necessary.”

Rinpoche goes on to discuss broadly what such intellectual training might consist of, and the intent. “One begins to develop the style of thinking that had developed for 2500 years of Buddhism… to pick up the subtleties and learning information that had been passed down … You can also contribute to that particular lineage, and intelligence through the lineage.”

A wonderful presentation of how Trungpa Rinpoche trained students in study and practice and the arts can be found in Robin Kornman’s seminar Creating an Enlightened Society, which can be purchased from Great Path or simply accessed on youtube. The late Dr. Kornman’s article, Prolegomena to a Theory of Contemplative Meditation, which could be posted on the Chronicles website soon, is an excellent presentation of some aspects of Trungpa Rinpoche’s approach to education.

Study tips

Trungpa Rinpoche concludes the talk portion of the talk by recommending his own books of that time, along with books by Herbert Guenther and others in the Buddhist realm, some now outdated or re-translated. Interestingly, he also recommends books by Ramana Maharshi, Meister Eckhart, and the Philocalia of the Greek Orthodox tradition of Christianity.

Sem (sems) was defined before as that very basic mind that has an other, that can think of the other. All mental experience is experience of “other than mind” by mind.

Rikpa is defined as a cleverness, sharpness, that develops from basic mind, sems. Rikpa is like a research worker that sees things from all angles, anything that could go wrong. It is “an intelligence which judges… which acts as spokesman for you and the rest of the world in a very simple way.”

Yi (yid) is usually referred to as the sixth consciousness, the “switchboard or central headquarters” which mechanically integrates the experience of the five senses into a world, moment by moment.

Robert and Jill Walker operate the Great Path Tapes and Books ™ website, which provides recorded teachings of Pema Chodron and other Buddhist teachers.