(Note: first draft featuring all section in the Table of Contents below completed morning of Jan 18th; previous sections published Jan 17th.)
Table of Contents:
Who this Liturgy is For?
How to conduct a Practice Session – timing etc.
Meditation Practice – various types, what this one is.
Main Practice – understanding the view
a) embracing the negative b) radiating the positive = generosity = medicine c) feelings d) various stages or variations of the technique i) mindfulness with breathing ii) feeling – Coleridge – leading to alternation of breath iii) deliberation and the positive are the keys to expansive spaciousness iv) family, business, particular situation vs location-based alone e) putting it all together – changing emphasis as needed
Extending in a more relaxed fashion
In daily life
Technicians can look up sampannakrama
Neither doing it nor not doing it – just do it
Observation: notice how much the emphasis has shifted from being sick to just being.
Who this Liturgy is For?
This liturgy was composed by an individual suffering from an extreme case of Lyme Disease which at the time – after about ten or more years of general malaise – had climaxed in a period of almost three months with never more than four hours sleep a night and no more than two hours at once. The author was spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and physically exhausted. His outer life was going fine in all but one way perhaps, but the physical symptoms from this multi-syndrome tick-born chronic inflammatory disease had worn him down to breaking point. Having been trained not to use meditation for specific ends – like curing disease – he decided to go against such instructions and see if he could find a way to use it to at least ease the psychological symptoms if nothing else. First he looked up many different Buddhist texts including those he used to use for daily practice but also many others which could be found on the internet. Then he gradually realized that what he needed was something more personal, more written in Western language – in his case English – and something without lots of foreign-sounding deities or religious overtones from any particular tradition. So, even though he had been educated to believe that such a thing would be regarded as pretentious and possibly heretical, he decided to compose a text for himself and for his own use. Several who have since read the text have encouraged him to make it more widely available and since he found it so beneficial himself, he has decided to do so even though he suspects it unlikely that many will ever read it let alone use it as a daily practice.
At the same time, though he has no way as yet of knowing for sure, he is confident because it is based on solid principles and practices that anyone who uses it sincerely for more than a week or two will derive clear benefit; therefore he is willing to make it available to the public at large.
Further, although this text was initially developed for his own personal use in dealing with the vicissitudes of Lyme Disease, clearly it can be helpful for anyone dealing with any other type of chronic difficulty, be it involving a chronic disease condition or bad habits or challenging situations – no matter. The principle insight and technique of the text is simply that of embracing the ‘reversal meditation’ principle which is that of absorbing negativity and emanating positivity rather than our habitual tendency to do the opposite. So this text is for anyone interesting in using a meditation practice to reverse various habitual tendencies and also rapidly clean up the body-mind relationship with chanting and sitting practice which help to easily and naturally get them together in the same place and time, sometimes known as ‘synchronizing body and mind.’
How to conduct a Practice Session – timing etc.
The Long Daily takes about 40 minutes or so. The initial Preamble, Sacred Being and Confession sections take about three minutes or so each, say ten minutes in all. The Accommodating and Emanating session takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, say twenty. Then the Mantra and Effortless resting take about 5 minutes each with the mantra possibly being longer. And the closing chants take a minute or two tops. When doing the Daily Brief text, the initial three pages are condensed into about three paragraphs so instead of ten minutes it takes about two, and then the rest is only slightly shorter in length, though if one is pressed for time one can shorten the Main Practice session lengths, about which more later.
Place: Generally, it is good to set up a quiet place without distractions and be prepared to not answer the phone if it rings (by turning it onto Airplane mode for example). Some people like to turn a spare bedroom into a meditation room but for most of us we can practice on a bed or a part of the living room or whatever, anywhere where we can chant and then sit quietly without either being disturbed or disturbing others. Most find it best to do meditation practices in the morning before anything else but if that isn’t possible try to carve out the same time or time period every day for the session; then it becomes a daily discipline and ongoing learning experience, with the effects on any chronic disease condition tending to be more rapid and obvious. This is in part because we are making a commitment every day to work on our state of being and just making that commitment at all is already extremely beneficial for it changes one’s mentality to being that of a more or less passive victim of a disease over which one has little or no control to taking advantage of what agency one can muster to do something positive despite any limitations we find ourselves laboring under.
Posture: those familiar with sitting types of meditation can just use the same posture, usually cross-legged in some fashion using a cushion and on the ground. But it is also fine to sit upright on a chair with feet flat on the floor and back upright, not leaning on the chair back. Being upright doesn’t mean being stiff. One traditional analogy is to sit up like a two-year old watching a movie show; maybe not that rapt, but the idea is to be alert and upright without being rigid. Don’t worry about keeping still, but generally it’s recommended to sit in such a way that you are both stable and relaxed and then settle into it, a bit like a sack of potatoes. Just sit and be comfortable so doing.
Meditation Practice – various types, what types this Liturgy features
Meditation is a generic term similar to one like the word ‘food.’ There are hundreds of different types and styles many of which are hard to define without getting overly technical or complicated. But let’s go over a few different types to provide a bit more context:
Some techniques – those usually called ‘mindfulness’ – are about developing focus and steadiness so the mind is trained to remain steadily placed on an object like be it something dynamic like breathing or the moving second hand of a watch, or something still like a rock, a stick or an image. In this Liturgy, the initial instruction to ride the alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out is one such mindfulness technique.
Some techniques are designed to engender various positive qualities; these often involve picturing a colourful deity manifesting various psychological and spiritual qualities of experience or imagining oneself as such a deity to transform self image. In the Liturgy, positive and negative feelings in the Accommodating and Emanating practice involve such imagination with exploring feeling like a ‘gently smiling Monarch on Golden Throne’ being one such technique.
Some techniques involve mind training (“Lojong” in Tibetan) to develop various faculties or counteract various habitual tendencies. The Accommodating and Emanating technique is one such; sometimes known as ‘reversal meditation’ the idea is to train to reverse our habitual tendency to avoid negativity whilst encouraging positivity which tends to promote selfishness and pettiness of spirit and rather do the opposite which tends to promote generosity and largeness of spirit.
Some techniques combine focus and steadiness of attention with flow. Mantra is one such technique and of course is in this Liturgy’s Mantra section.
Some techniques are about learning to drop technique because as long as we are striving for something we cannot relax into what is already there, like our self-nature or ‘the nature of mind as it is’ for example. These techniques are both the most simple and the most advanced. The Effortless Resting in the Liturgy is one such advanced – but extremely simple – technique. Actually, it is not a technique at all, rather we have built up an opportunity by the preceding practice to just let go for a little while.
So you can see that the simple-seeming Main Practice section in the Liturgy actually contains several different types of meditation.
Why so? To encourage a journey from at first being very scattered, possibly feeling ill and dispirited (the initial long introductory chanting sections), to having a little focus (mindfulness), then enriching that sense of mindfulness to include also spaciousness, then using a mantra to help flowing with that spaciousness in a less structured fashion first with eyes closed and then with them open to integrate any inner feelings of spaciousness with everyday outer life and then finally dissolving the whole thing and resting without technique or agenda. It is a natural progression, moreover one that is featured in many tantric sadhanas aka practice texts or liturgies. ‡
Main Practice – understanding the view
a) Embracing the negative: the first insight suggested by the Liturgy is that because everything is interconnected and part of our primordially creative and essentially marvelous ‘universal continuum’ likened to a collective dream realm, anything that arises within that continuum is essentially good and workable including our disease and its many vicissitudes and including any negative feelings we have about self and others. In terms of the practice we don’t need to think about all that rather simply breath in bad, turn towards pain and negativity rather than turning away.
b) Radiating the positive = generosity = medicine: That act of turning towards the negative is generous, confident, unafraid, even cheerful. So we already have those positive ‘cool, white light’ qualities mentioned in the text.
c) Feelings are the main thing: The last two lines of the Brief Daily before the Main Practice say: ‘Embracing any chronic pain, symptom or vicissitude as Medicine to waken and open us further.’ Those experiences involve negative feelings so the first thing we do is turn towards them. This is why the first two lines of the Main Practice say: “Feeling the mother cervical soft spot of kindness, warmth and tender sadness; Touching the raw, naked heart of any feelings, moods or sensations, just as they are, right now… [Short pause to quickly touch into the feeling heart. Then slowly chant:]” Note that the first word is ‘feeling.’ Then there are words like warmth, kindness, tender sadness, touching, raw, naked, heart, feelings, moods, sensations, then the instruction to ‘touch into the feeling heart.’ This is all about tuning into feelings which are always there. The technique we are about to do in the next few minutes takes feelings and works with them, even increases them. So this ‘mind-training’ technique of Accommodating and Emanating has more to do with training ourselves to work with feelings rather than reprogramming cognitive head trips.
d) various stages or variations of the technique
i) mindfulness with breathing. The main sitting meditation practice I learned years ago involves identifying with the outbreath as it passes out through the mouth and nose and then dissolves into the surrounding atmosphere. Whilst we are dissolving the body is breathing in and then the mind picks up with the outbreath and dissolve process again which is part direct sense perception (the breath passing through the nose and mouth) and part imagination (the breath dissolving into space). This is an excellent technique which develops both mindfulness (paying attention to the outbreath) and spaciousness (not continuing to follow the inbreath but rather letting go into spaciousness before picking up on the outbreath again). This technique resembles rowing: the emphasis is on the main stroke which drives the boat forward; the backstroke – though it must be done well and precisely – is sort of a gap experience on the way to doing the main thing again: the down stroke, so it goes stroke, wait, stroke, wait, stroke, wait.
The technique in this liturgy, however, stays on both the in and outbreath and also mixes feelings into each. At first we are just doing the mindfulness part of the technique, namely paying attention to the breathing, and without too much feeling necessarily other than what we have just touched into in the passages just before. So we have a sense of feeling, of having a soft heart, and as someone with those feelings we are now gently breathing in and gently breathing out. Deliberately, but not in any exaggerated or prolonged way. For those unfamiliar with mindfulness meditation this may be very hard to do, the mind jumping all over the place, wild, skittish, scattered. That’s fine. Just do it for a little while as a training exercise then move on and ideally you have lots of juicy negative (painful) feelings to put into the next part of the technique. Over time, the mindfulness part will become easy and pleasurable. For those used to such practices, follow the breath mindfully until there is good synchronicity of mind, breathing and intention along with a nice quiver of feeling from the initial contemplation of touching into the ‘raw, naked heart of any feelings, moods or sensations, just as they are, right now.’
ii) Feeling. Appended to the lines about ‘riding the alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out‘, we now chant: ‘softly, gently, barely there breezes glowing the embers of a midnight fire.’ This line is inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ wherein he depicts the beautiful silence of a sleeping village – before going onto other spiritual ruminations. The idea here is that the feelings we have tuned into are like glowing embers in a now quiet fire. The fire is quiet because we have done some chanting to calm down and refresh the spirit (hopefully!) and now are tuning into our breath in a ‘calm, deliberate’ fashion. We should be feeling more calm and still ourselves at this point but the text is also encouraging us to feel the warm, tender feelings at the heart of any sentient being. Note that we might not be feeling so much warm as nervous, exhausted, confused, whatever: the point is to tune into the feeling quality of that; warm is just a universal example of feeling tone. So just as embers glow when we blow on them so also our paying attention to the breathing serves to ‘glow the embers’ of our feeling tone, whatever that might be. The poem can be found at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43986/frost-at-midnight. So as we get into following both the in and out breaths we also are stoking any feeling quality we have as embers in our heart (and body and mind). So the initial mindfulness technique here involves both paying attention to the breathing into which some of our feelings have been blended.
iii) Deliberation and the positive are the keys to expansive spaciousness:
Many people find the emanating difficult. Feeling some sort of negativity – pain, suffering, anxiety, guilt, physical discomfort and so forth – is fairly straightforward because – especially if you are suffering from a chronic disease or existential challenge – it’s right there, in fact you are probably doing the Liturgy in order to alleviate it. (‘I’ll try anything,’ perhaps you are saying to yourself, ‘even sitting in a room on my own mumbling garbled mumbo-jumbo!’) The positive, though, seems amorphous somehow. But actually it’s quite simple to tune into. If you have some sense of deliberate in and out breathing which you are nicely ‘riding,’ and if you have some feeling tones already in the mix from what you bring to the table on any given session beginning, then it is quite easy to make those embers of feeling glow and if you have any sense of breathing in negativity then you can simply breath out a sense of letting that negativity go. Then in addition you can have the sense that the space outside can easily accommodate no matter what intensity or volume of negativity you contribute to it; but there is a twist here: you are not so much breathing the negativity out as instantly having changed it into something positive. The same negative intensity you at first absorbed in the in breath becomes positive ease and non-intensity as you breath out meaning that the same constriction and claustrophobia you experience on the in breath instantly becomes a sense of ease and spaciousness on the outbreath. And because there is deliberation from following the breathing in the initial mindfulness part the space around automatically becomes more expansively spacious and the more you keep following the breathing in a smooth, deliberate fashion the more negativity you can deliberately absorb on the inbreath and then the more corresponding spaciousness you can deliberately engender on the outbreath and in turn the more spaciousness you experience during the outbreath the more negativity you are then ready to absorb on the next inbreath. So then what happens is that you begin to feel both in and outbreath as both stable and expansive, which is why the text ends up describing the experience as that of ‘being seated as gently smiling Monarch on Golden Throne, Kind, luminous, wise, compassionate, noble.’ This latter does not need to be visualized iconographically – though by no means do so if (literally) inspired – but the text is describing how it feels once the Emanating experience has become naturally expansive and spacious.
iv) family, business, particular situation vs location-based alone
In the text a progression of expansive spaciousness is described starting with the self and ending up with the entire continent and beyond – indeed the entire solar system or galaxy if you like. This sense is partly a natural result of the expansiveness which the emanation part of the Accommodating and Emanating engenders and partly a deliberately encouraged visualization. But you don’t have to be focused on particular location. For example, you might want to contemplate the web of relationships you are a part of, starting with immediate living companions or family members, then those in other generations both ways (grandparents and their grandparents or your children and their children etc.) along with cousins, uncles, aunts, their relatives and so on, or blending family with friends – people you see regularly – and then extending it out to all they are connected with. Or you might focus on a disease like the currently ongoing covid19 and contemplate how it has touch yourself, then those you know, then those in the neighbourhood or maybe your business or town or country and so forth; and then absorb all the negativity involved with the virus and its spreading through society and the fear and sacrifice involved with going along with all the government responses to it – wise, foolish and harmful – and then spreading a sense of positivity to all involved along with a sense of ease, lack of fear, health, optimism and so forth.
So we don’t have to follow the location-based progression in the text. Often the nature of the negativity being initially absorbed guides where the expanded spacious terrain will end up.
And, yes, you can start with positive feelings rather than negative ones, but for most of us the ‘hot, black and heavy’ ones are easier to start with.
e) Putting it all together – changing emphasis as needed There are many techniques in this Liturgy albeit they flow naturally from one to another. But at various times or for particular individuals one or more aspects may prove difficult, even seemingly impossible.
First, a description of the designed flow: the initial chanting lassos a scattered mind and body into some sort of more ordered and relaxed state ready to undertake a deliberate meditation session. That session begins with riding the in and out breathing process whilst tuning into a sense of feeling. Then we increase the feelings whilst picking up on the alternating nature of the breathing by absorbing negativity on the inbreath and generating spacious ease on the outbreath. As we do so, a sense of expanding spaciousness naturally develops which we then sit with whilst continuing with the breathing practice and then later we can relax that process by substituting a simple mantra for the alternating breath which synchronizes body, speech and mind. The mantra is like a continuously flowing river rather than anything alternating from positive to negative. In other words, instead of negative and positive feelings the attention has segued into just going along with a sense of spacious awareness. This naturally leads to the final stage of Effortless Resting where there is no object of meditation, not even spacious openness.
What happens if you can’t tune into the initial alternating furrows of breathing in and breathing out? Or what happens if you just can’t get into negative feelings, or the positive ones? Or no spaciousness develops? Or the mantra feels foreign or ridiculous? In all cases, the idea is just to give it a try for a little while and if it’s still ‘no-go’ then move onto the next one without making a fuss.
If the entire thing is a miss, then simply chant the Main Practice several times over enjoying its rhythm and what is expressed by the words and wait for some sort of feeling tone to develop and see if you can pick up on the alternating breath – or not. Or just wait quietly, breathing, without trying to make anything happen and every time you notice your mind has wandered just gently bring it back to following the breath for as long and as naturally as you can. Just chanting the liturgy and then sitting quietly is beneficial because you are addressing your chronic vicissitudes (of whatever ilk) and that in itself is a good thing.
You also might go through phases when you want to stay with the breathing part and not really get into the rest of it; fine. It is recommended if you do that to at least read out the whole text before going onto the next section but it’s up to you. Or perhaps you get into the Accommodating and Emanating and the spaciousness doesn’t happen. Fine. Or perhaps the spaciousness happens fast and you like to just rest with that; in that case maybe spend less time on the Accommodating and Emanating breathing technique and more time on the mantra enjoying the expansive spaciousness. Or you don’t like the mantra so can spend more time effortlessly resting. Or sometimes you can deliberately train in one aspect in order to develop particular skills or qualities involved therein. All of these things are up to you. Once you understand how one leads to the other you can play around a little doing what works best.
extending in a more relaxed fashion From establishing a relaxed expansive spaciousness in the last part of the Accommodating and Emanating we recite a few lines of verse to segue into a simple mantra recitation practice whose purpose is essentially to let go of the breathing technique and just rest simply in this general sense of spaciousness and warmth. The mantra gives us something continuous to relate with but it’s more like a walking stick on a hike or the steering wheel when driving: we are in constant touch with them but in a fairly light-handed, soft-touch sort of way. When we steer a car we don’t have to focus intensely on the process, rather it takes care of itself more or less automatically. Reciting the mantra tends to join body, mind and speech which makes maintaining some sort of general mindfulness more likely and natural.
Open eyes: Most of us will have practiced the Accommodating and Emanating with eyes closed even though there is no instruction to do so. And most of us will continue that as we begin to do the mantra. But at a certain point it is time to open the eyes and merge one’s own personally experienced sense of inner spaciousness with outer perceived ordinary reality. This is both a pleasure and a training for if we can learn to do this in daily life in changing circumstances both in terms of location, atmospheres and interfacing with different individuals and groups, then the development of warmth, wakefulness and compassion (aka ‘bodhichitta’) will be well under way. And just as with the practice, it can only be done with a light touch, not a lot of heavy lifting or deliberate mind training on the spot whilst dealing with taxi drivers, tax collectors or angry customers – or one’s mother-in-law for that matter!
In daily life: there may be periods where the obstacles are thick and fast, either from chronic illness or just what is called ‘the ripening of karma’ during which we may feel the need to carry the practice around with us a little more lest we regress into some sort of darkness. During such periods you might find it helpful – only if a regular daily practice has been established along with some familiarity with spaciousness and it related mantra practice – to quietly recite the mantra to yourself whilst walking out and about in the world, or perhaps at one’s desk at work, or on the bus or whatever. As with the formal practice, this can be done with or without mala beads. If using the latter, I find the small wrist-wrapping ones sold in all Catholic stores and countries best for that purpose. They don’t take up much room in a pocket or purse – or worn on a wrist all the time – and do the job fine. The purpose here is not to accumulate a certain number of recitations but again to synchronize body, speech and mind. The act of counting each recitation adds a more overtly physical element to the whole thing and can heighten a sense of deliberately engendering spacious awareness wherever one finds oneself. Of course it is not necessary to use mala beads. It also isn’t necessary to say the mantra more than a handful of times, perhaps, using the association one had developed with the words and practice to trigger a sense of bodhichitta for a few moments, then let any sense of technique go and continue on, hopefully now with a more open and awake state of being.
Technical term is sampannakrama In most Buddhist tantric sadhanas there is short period of formless meditation, or sampannakrama in the jargon, after the previous structured practices, some of which can be quite elaborate. Now you know the word you can look it up if you like. (Be prepared for some pretty dense language! The most common translation in English is ‘completion stage.’) Essentially this is similar to letting go after holding on. Imagine holding your fist very tight for a while and then simply letting it go. There is a contrast between both states and the prior holding on sets you up to better appreciate relaxation once you let go. This letting go, or letting be, or ‘effortless resting’ can be a sort of fruition akin to the Buddha finally attaining enlightenment after pretty much giving up after years of hard effort. He gave up the whole thing, stopped starving himself and accepted a bowl of warm milk from a friendly shepherd girl, and the proceeded that night to experience full and complete enlightenment. (As is often said, there’s always a woman behind every Great Man!)
Neither doing it nor not doing it – just do it The thing about Effortless Resting is that the more you try to do it the less you do it. So don’t try, just feel whatever after-effects there are from the preceding chanting and practices. Hopefully there is some tangible sense of openness, spaciousness, wakefulness and warmth. Essentially, one is simply resting in the nature of mind which is like an ocean whose presence is constant no matter what waves of inner and outer experiences occur on the surface. This Mind is always there, before during and after any occurrence – including illness for example – and before during and after birth or death for that matter. In terms of the practice, one doesn’t need to take inventory; one doesn’t need to do anything; one doesn’t need lengthy instructions or descriptions: just do it.
Observation suggestion: Once the practice is over and generally over time, check to see how much (or how little) one’s personal emphasis has shifted from dwelling on being sick all the time or mired in any sort of chronic obstacle to some level of appreciating simply being. Just a friendly suggestion.
What with the Commentaries to the text – designed to help make it understandable and thus easier to read and enjoy – and now this series of Guidelines going through the various practice elements and usage suggestions, the whole thing might feel way too complicated to actually undertake, let alone be of any use. But if you have read this far, then presumably you are interested in – or have already been – giving it a go. Once you start doing it it quickly becomes very easy and straightforward. Furthermore, despite all the verbiage in the Commentaries and Guidelines, everything you need to know about any given practice is actually and precisely spelled out in the text, so all you have to do is pay attention to the words – especially during the Main Practice through the Effortless Resting sections – and all will be well. The initial Preamble, Sacred Being and Confession sections in the Long Daily help bring body, speech and mind together so that they are all ready to relax into a simple meditation session. The mindfulness, accomodating and emanating, expanding, mantra and resting practices should be done with a sense of relaxation, even pleasure. There is no point struggling, worrying or fussing about them. Breathing is breathing; feeling is feeling; resting is resting. It’s all basically very simple and once you have gone through the Long Daily two or three times it will quickly become straightforward.
That said, the Main Practice session with its three stages can be quite a job to master. But each step is simple. If one step is very hard then take it easy; try for a little while and then move on. If one step is by far your favourite then go for it: emphasize that one and de-emphasize the others. Or sometimes work on part that hasn’t clicked deliberately but without any sense of pressure or poverty mentality. The whole point of this practice is to gently address all the negative and difficult challenges presented by any sort of chronic obstacle by turning into any pain and suffering involved rather than turning away. Just doing this is extremely valuable, extremely kind, extremely wise and actually uplifting. Just developing the attitude of doing this is helpful. It is all good.
Lastly, as said at the beginning, this text was written to be chanted. I personally have never read it through without doing so out loud. If you just read it and think you have got it (and don’t like it) of course that is fine, but you won’t get a sense of the gentle power and efficacy of this Liturgy and practice unless you actually experience. Which of course is just as it should be. Practices like this are sometimes described as ‘self-secret.’ They cannot be understood by abstract analysis, only by direct personal experience. So with that in mind you are warmly invited to give it a shot.
‡ This text is neither explicitly tantric nor intrinsically not tantric but it is based on some of the view and techniques that are featured in that tradition as taught in Tibetan Buddhism. You don’t have to be a Buddhist do practice it and there is no attempt in the Liturgy to change your philosophical view or religious persuasion.