Rick: This is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done hundreds of them now. If this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to the past interviews menu on badgap.com, where you’ll see all the previous ones archived in several different ways. This program is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it, there is a PayPal button on every page of the site. My guest today is Tina Rasmussen. I’ll just read her little bio here, and then we’ll get into it. After 20 plus years of Buddhist and non-dual practice, in 2003 Tina undertook a year-long solo retreat during which awakening occurred. She later ordained as a Buddhist nun with a world-renowned meditation master, became the first Western woman to attain that path, and was authorized to teach. Tina has been studied by Yale Neuroscience Lab for research on effects of meditation on consciousness in the brain. She is co-author of Practicing the Jhanas, which I will hold up here so you can see it, which is a book subtitled Traditional Concentration Meditation as Presented by the Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw. And where was I? She’s involved in the Diamond Approach, which I found interesting. That’s the teaching of Hameed Ali, or A.H. Almaas, who’s been on Batgap several times. And we’ll be talking about that a little bit, I’m sure. I also discovered in listening to a recent talk she gave that she was a student of Adyashanti’s for many years. Tina teaches students worldwide how to walk the path of the “urban mystic,” functioning from deep spiritual understanding, while living a modern human life. She’s also worked in the field of human organizational development as a consultant coach for 25 plus years with several published books on humanistic leadership. Okay, thank you, Tina. Welcome.
Tina: Thanks, Rick.
Rick: You know what? One of the first things—well we’re going to get into your story in some detail, but— one of the impressions one gets when reading this book and hearing more about what you’ve been up to all these years is what an incredibly intense spiritual practice you’ve engaged in. I mean, for you, three hours meditating at a stretch is like sneezing or something. It’s just, and yet what I gather from my very brief interaction with you so far is that you’re a very down to earth, well adjusted, well integrated person. You’re not sort of a space cadet by any definition.
Tina: I appreciate the feedback.
Rick: Yeah. So it’ll be interesting to talk about that too, because I think people I know, and in my own experience, meditating for the very long periods of time here and there over the years… I got a little out of it, a little spacey. It took me quite some time to integrate and stabilize what I had gone through. So that, and another thing that really impressed me while I was reading your book is the incredible nuances or gradations or subtleties of analysis of subjective experience. For most people like “eh, I’m awake, I’m asleep, I feel good, I don’t feel so good, I’m happy, I’m sad.” There’s these sort of broad strokes of subjective experience that most of us have, but with you there’s—and with the whole tradition described in this book—there are all these really, really subtle gradations and nuances and things that one can experience as one goes through this path. So I found that fascinating. It’s sort of really not native to Western culture that anybody parses out their subjective experience in such fine detail. So those are some little starter points that we could launch off from. Do you have any comments on the things I’ve said so far before we proceed?
Tina: I could have lots of comments.
Rick: Go for it.
Tina: Well, in terms of the subtlety of experience, I think that is something that one can develop, and part of an intensive practice and the meditation practice and then later I discovered in the Diamond Approach, one can live from this while you’re off the cushion to some extent also. To have the concentration ability, which is something that I believe I must have had a faculty for when I came to the practice, or maybe I’d just been meditating so long since I started at the age of 13. To be able to feel and experience those subtleties with a more concentrated mindstream, that laser-like awareness allows for a penetration of experience that isn’t really possible without that, at least in my experience and my understanding. And then, so that’s on the cushion. Then off the cushion in the Diamond Approach, there’s the practice of inquiry where we’re really investigating our ongoing experience of living in a way that has curiosity and interest that goes deeper than the average person who doesn’t have that as a practice.
Rick: Yeah. I want to get into defining what we mean by concentration because we’ll be using the word a lot, and it might not necessarily be the same definition that most people would have or that you’d find as the first one in the dictionary. But before we do that, I just want to—well, let’s go through your history a little bit just so people have a little groundwork. So you started meditating when you were 13. What type of meditation did you learn, and how diligently did you practice it?
Tina: Well, I learned at the Methodist church that my family went to. There was a family day, and my parents were off doing whatever the grown-ups were doing, and I wandered into the sanctuary, and somebody was teaching meditation. My story now (I don’t know if it’s true, but I like the story) is that it was a man, and that this was in the ‘70s (it was ’76), and that he had come back from Asia and was just sharing his experience of spiritual practice. So it was basically like a body scan. It was mindfulness of the body.
Rick: Like feel your feet, feel your ankles, feel your shins, feel your knees, that kind of thing?
Tina: Yeah, yeah. So you’re sensing internally. It would be equal to the Theravada Vipassana, or in the Diamond Approach, there’s a sensing practice. There’s a lot of traditions that have something like this. And I really just did it because being a teenager is stressful.
Tina: And it helped me relax. It helped me fall asleep easier at night. I did it just practically, but I did it a lot. I wasn’t doing it to do meditation. I was doing it because of the effects that I felt were beneficial.
Tina: And so that was pretty much what I did up until I got really interested in the spiritual path in my 20s.
Rick: So you kind of stuck with it until your 20s?
Tina: Yeah, I did it. I used it for practical reasons really, because it helped me. It brought a relaxation to my mindstream. That’s not what I would have said then, but that’s how I see it now.
Rick: Yeah. Would you agree that if one is doing any sort of spiritual practice, there ought to be some discernible benefit from it before too long? I mean, maybe not day one, but you wouldn’t … Hardly anyone would stick with something for five or ten years if they didn’t seem to be getting anything out of it.
Tina: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Why would you stay with it? The thing with meditation is that sometimes the benefits … And this is an analogy that I use a lot of lifting a weight. If you go to the gym and you try to lift a heavy weight that’s heavier than what you can normally lift and you lift it, it’s going to be hard to do.
Tina: But if you keep lifting it over and over with those reps, at some point a ten-pound weight feels very light, now you can go up. That’s how meditation is. So it’s going to feel like you’re lifting a weight that you’re not used to lifting at first.
Tina: And now we have all the brain research, which I’m using a lot in teaching, and there’s so much evidence to show just the dramatic benefits to our consciousness, to our relationships, to our health of meditation. So it’s gotten to be pretty irrefutable for people who want the evidence. There’s no way to not see the benefits scientifically anymore.
Rick: Yeah. Back when I learned in the ‘60s and then started teaching it in around 1971, it was like a novel idea that meditation could reduce stress, points like that, you know, that we’re just kind of introducing these ideas to the culture and now it’s kind of like, “Oh yeah, of course, everybody agrees with that.”
Rick: It’s grown in the kind of national psyche.
Tina: Yeah, it’s like exercise for our consciousness, the way that exercise for the body became popular, whenever that happened.
Rick: Yeah. There’s a little blurb from Rick Hanson on the back of your book. He’s been on BatGap also, but that reminds me of the term neuroplasticity, which you just kind of alluded to without mentioning it, which is that the brain is plastic; the brain can change over time if you do this, that, or the other thing, and so meditation actually changes the brain in rather profound ways.
Tina: It does, yeah. That was one of the big surprises and still one of the most outstanding pieces of research that I’ve seen is that the brain of a (and I like this) a 50-year-old meditator, when they actually look at the brain, of course of a deceased person, it looks like the brain of a 25-year-old. And that it actually—the thickness of the gray matter, so it’s not just the software in our consciousness. It’s the hardware of our bodies that is different in meditators, and the neuroplasticity can develop at any age. It’s not like you have to start when you’re young. You can start at any age and gain benefit.
Rick: And as the Gita says, “No effort is lost and no obstacle exists. Even a little of this dharma removes great fear.”
Tina: I like that quote.
Rick: Yeah, and I’ve also heard you mention, maybe a lot of what we’re saying right now is elementary for some people listening, but it’s good to run through it. I’ve heard you mention several times that these days there are maybe 200 or 300 studies a year on various forms of meditation published, so it really is sort of getting a scientific credibility.
Tina: It is, yeah. It’s gotten to where, like I have a friend who really unfortunately had breast cancer, and she’s fine now, so that’s the good news, but as part of her actual treatment program from her medical doctor was to go and do meditation with a group weekly, and she did, and she’s still meditating. But to me that just shows how mainstream it is and how medical doctors, the research is strong enough that they’re actually prescribing this like a medication to people.
Rick: Yeah. Just to cover a couple of basic objections that come up to meditation. If you tell a friend about it, they say, “Well, I’m too busy to meditate.” What would you say to that one?
Tina: Are you too busy to brush your teeth?
Rick: Right, take a shower.
Tina: Well, that’s the category that to me, when you have it as something like, you know, Stephen and I (my teaching partner) would talk about if you put it in the category of cleaning the garage, you’re not going to do it very often. Or rearranging your sock drawer. But if you put it in the category that the other health practices that you do, would you go a day without brushing your teeth, or taking a shower? Maybe once in a while, but you do it because it’s good for you. That’s why you do it.
Rick: Yeah, I remember a few months ago, George Stephanopoulos was talking about meditation on Good Morning America. He’s a regular meditator, and that question came up about being too busy to meditate. He said, “Well, I’m a really busy guy, but I actually get more done in the day, having taken out 20 to 40 minutes, I actually become more efficient, and I have more time on my hands.”
Tina: Yeah, I’ve been meditating daily for decades now, so there isn’t really— I can’t say what it’s like when I don’t meditate, but back in the day when it wasn’t every day, on the days I wouldn’t meditate and the days I would meditate, I could absolutely see a difference. And for me, I do it in the morning after breakfast, and it just affects the day. So yeah, if you put it in the category of things that are just part of your daily routine, there’s a way you find the time, and it doesn’t have to be huge amounts.
Rick: Yeah. What other kinds of meditations have you practiced in your life, besides that one you learned when you were 15?
Tina: Yeah, well, after that I learned mainly Vipassana, which is insight meditation, very popular around the world really, and did that for many, many years. And then I started doing the Samatha, the concentration meditation, which is what the book that you showed is about, and added that to it. Then did Dzogchen, a lot of Dzogchen practice, and so that really added to it, the Rigpa, and then the Bodhicitta, the heart practices, and also learned the Brahmaviharas in Theravada Buddhism, the heart practices, and then in the Diamond Approach, there are specific meditations that are taught. So those are really the main ones. I do some combination of those as my practice now.
Rick: Okay. I guess another common objection people might have is, “Well, I don’t think I could do it. I can’t sit still. I can’t concentrate. I’m too restless,” or whatever. “I tried it once, and I couldn’t sit there.” So what do you say to those kind of people?
Tina: I think there’s a lot of misunderstandings about meditation actually, that if people understand what’s actually happening to our consciousness as a result of meditating, they might not judge their practice in the ways that you just said. The fact that we have what in Buddhism is known as hindrances or defilements coming up—basically there are times when you can’t stay with your object. So say the object of your meditation is the breath, and you find that you’re lost in thought. You’re going off all the time off of the breath. That is lifting the weight. Basically when you go off and you come back, that’s lifting the weight. And what’s actually happening in meditation, if you stay with it long enough, I would liken to a software upgrade. So basically as you’re doing it, you’re upgrading your own software, and that takes effort because the grooves in our consciousness, when you’re sitting there meditating and you’re going off to do some thinking, those are the grooves that are running continuously underneath the surface the entire time you’re conscious and usually when you’re sleeping too. The same grooves, the patterns. People really look at what those grooves are. We all have our top ten songs, things that pull us off, and no matter what the content of our life is, some people go to planning, some people go to fantasizing, some people go to beating themselves up. These are all deep, deep grooves, and when we go off of that to a neutral object like the breath, we’re deconditioning the ways that we suffer. And so you are going to encounter hindrances in your practice. This is part of the practice. When you encounter them and you come back to your object of your meditation, you are building that muscle and you’re also doing the software upgrade.
Rick: Yeah, I think when the Gita says, “No obstacle exists,” that quote that I just read, it doesn’t mean that you won’t encounter things that may not seem like obstacles, that may seem like obstacles, but that they’re surmountable. With the right sort of angle or some patience or just the right instruction or just the right understanding, you’ll just breeze through them.
Tina: Yeah, well I don’t know about breezing through them.
Rick: Well, somehow get through them.
Tina: Yeah, because overcoming all that conditioning that we’ve had basically since the day one that we were born, we’ve been conditioned into consensual reality and that was needed. That’s part of the human experience. But to say that the identification with the ego self is kind of the end state of human experience, that’s—
Tina: Those are your family members.
Rick: It’s a dog event. Yes, they probably see the neighboring dog. We can just continue. I won’t even bother editing that out. It’s life, right?
Tina: Yeah, absolutely. And I love the animals, so it’s kind of fun. But basically, the idea that we’re going to be able to just… that’s going to drop these defense mechanisms that have gone into basically creating the ego that we are identified with until we’re not anymore. That’s a significant development in the human experience. So the idea that we’re just going to sit down and all of a sudden it’s going to be easy. In 12 years that I’ve been teaching, I’ve seen a lot of people, and I’ve seen their path, and it isn’t— It’s difficult until it’s not anymore, basically. And so I think to come at it with an understanding that the ways we’re identified as an ego self are— they are protective, and when those things start going away, there’s a whole process involved in that. But with meditation and other practices, I’ve seen people gain so much freedom and even some people awaken. And so it’s really “does the person have a fire for that?” Not everybody has that fire for awakening, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with not having it, but for the people who do have it, to understand the process, I think there’s been a lot of misunderstandings. I’m actually starting to teach about that, of what is awakening and what’s involved in awakening and to let yourself be called.
Rick: Well, since you brought up that, let’s talk about that next, and then at a certain point, I want to get back to a kind of discussion of the mechanics of meditation and perhaps the mechanics of different kinds of meditation and how they compare with one another. But in the intro that I read, you said that during a year-long solar retreat, awakening occurred. So what does that word mean in your experience? It could mean many things to many people.
Tina: It does, yeah. When I was interviewed on Conscious TV, they said there’s absolutely no agreement. I’m sure you’ve seen that the way people talk about it varies dramatically. Again, there’s so many different definitions, and the one that makes some sense to me— There’s a lot of technical things I could say about it, but what I would say just in terms of a practical answer is that as we engage in spiritual practice (meditation or other kinds) that we become less and less identified with the “me,” with the ego self, and our deeper nature starts being able to pop through to where we’re having tastes of awakening that are for most people (or maybe for everybody) some of the most meaningful experiences of a person’s life. And they make you want to continue. And at some point, there’s what Steve and I call the 51% rule.
Rick: Stephen being your partner.
Tina: Stephen, my teaching partner, yeah. Stephen Snyder. And we just— when we were talking about our experience, this is what happened to both of us, was that it just kind of, the personality identification started waning and the identification with the deeper nature as what, as the truth of what we are, became stronger. And then at some point, like for me, where that went over 51% to maybe like 75 or 80%, whatever that percentage is was during that year, where now the identification as the “me” is not what I am. I am the deeper nature that underlies the body, the personality, that that somehow goes beyond that and isn’t identified with that.
Rick: Yeah. Now, is that to say that you don’t— It’s not 100%, right? There’s still a personality, a Tina, she has preferences and individual quirks and qualities and so on. But it’s just that that’s no longer the totality of your experience. In fact, it’s not even predominant anymore.
Tina: Right. Yeah. Yeah, so for some people, it may be so gradual that they go from 49 to 50 to 51, and they don’t even realize that’s happened. For other people who have— my experience was maybe a medium. You might have other periods, people who have just blowout experiences where it maybe goes from 20 to 90. So there’s a big range, but if you look at spiritual teachers and people, Which you’ve seen hundreds who are awakening in some way, even the most awakened people still are very different from each other.
Tina: They’re very unique. So that uniqueness doesn’t go away. It’s just what is the person identified with in their experience is what they are. There’s still a functioning that happens of this body, not that body over there on the other side of the screen, and this location, but there’s also a boundless sense of being so much more than that.
Rick: In my view, awakened people become even more unique in a way. They’re more kind of vivid or interesting and lively and creative and different in their personalities. It’s almost like in a tropical rainforest, the ground is so fertile that there’s a huge variety and abundance of diversity among the plants because the nourishment from the ground is so rich and so well connected to the plants, whereas in a desert there wouldn’t be much, maybe there’s a few little scrappy things here and there. So it’s like awakened people are like those plants in the tropical rainforest. They’re able to thrive in their own unique ways and yet have a common ground.
Tina: I like that. That’s interesting. Yeah, I would like to think that that’s true because there isn’t as much of the sort of, well, basically the super ego, the inner critic that is trying to get us to conform to the ego ideals that we have that are keeping the ego in place. That’s part of what keeps the ego in place, is like, I should be X, based on whatever our conditioning was. Or I shouldn’t be X, or I’m going to push against, I’m going to rebel against X. Whichever those are are just being reinforced from that whole ego structure. And when somebody’s not limited by that, you can really be what that unique manifestation that is your individual consciousness can flow in such a way that it isn’t limited by those kind of restrictions.
Tina: I’d like to think that at least.
Rick: It seems to be that way to me. Look at nature itself. I don’t know what as a Buddhist what your orientation to the notion of God is, but if we think of the ground of being as an ocean of intelligence and creative potential, then look at the abundance of diversity and creativity that we see in nature. So that’s an example of a very awakened being, the divine intelligence itself doing its thing. Individuals, I think, who tap that same ground and attune with it, they kind of mimic nature’s creativity in a way. They can express that in their lives more readily.
Tina: Yeah, that’s beautiful. That is very similar to how I see it. And that there’s a flow. Like one of the things I’ve noticed in myself is that over the years, that flow from the ground to the manifestation becomes less and less obstructed.
Rick: There you go.
Tina: And I can feel it. I can feel the obstructions or the lack of that in my body. So for me, body-based practices have been very important for the free flow of that ground into the manifestation that is here in this location called Tina.
Rick: Yeah, I interviewed a guy last week, and our discussion was with Mark Gober about whether consciousness is fundamental and the whole universe arises from it, or whether it’s merely a product of the brain. And the metaphor used was that of a radio, for instance, where the radio waves are everywhere, but the radio is a contraption which can pick up those waves and express them as music or speech or whatever. But if the radio itself is faulty in some way, then the radio waves are the same as they ever were, ubiquitous, but the expression isn’t so clear because there’s something wrong with the contraption. So you could think of spiritual practice as a way of fine-tuning the contraption
Tina: Right, exactly.
Rick: of our nervous system.
Tina: Yeah, that’s totally it. And one of the things about the Samatha practice that’s been so interesting that I experienced myself, especially in the year (gosh, it was so intense energetically) was this raising of vibration. The body has to be able to hold that. And in my case, I had a pretty severe birth trauma. So that was pretty deeply— it’s been pretty deeply embedded in the tissues. All this was pre-verbal. There was no personality at that point. This was the first experience I had was almost dying at birth. And so there’s the body, whatever trauma we have (and everybody, most people have at least some), the body holds that in such a way that if that’s not worked with, in my view at least, it can limit that free flow. So it isn’t just the consciousness that gets worked, it’s also the hardware of the body, like you’re saying, to tune both of those instruments to really be as clean as possible.
Rick: Yeah. So what were you doing during that year? I know you did it in an urban setting. You were in like in a condo, and you kind of wound down your business to the point where you could just leave it for a year and just focus on this private retreat. What was your typical day?
Tina: Yeah, well, that’s exactly what happened. And I was single at the time, not from a wealthy family or anything. So there was some risk involved. My biggest fear in doing it was that I would end up somehow mentally unbalanced and homeless at the end. So once I accepted that, that that might happen, then it was okay to just go for it. Yeah, well, I was practicing. My practice hours of the day got more and more to the point where I was only sleeping four hours a night by the end of the year, and that just happened from an eight-hour night sleeper to a four-hour. So pretty much all the rest of those hours, I was doing different kinds of meditation, yoga, qigong, walking. I didn’t watch TV. I didn’t really read much. So I wasn’t—there was a way that my verbalization function could diminish. And then like once a month, I would resurface, get groceries, pay bills, call my parents, maybe see a friend in a very quiet setting, and do whatever was needed. And then I would sort of go back into the deeper part. And that really went on for the whole year in this condominium in the San Francisco Bay area. It was so amazing ’cause it was just a small place, who had their radios on and trucks beeping and all these things. But I looked down onto this field, and I thought about the old cave yogis and how they’d be up in their cave looking down and seeing water buffaloes and things. Well, I was looking down onto soccer fields, seeing kids play soccer and seeing people go by on their bikes, and it just was so sweet to be able to see life going on down there, but yet to be in this incredibly deep place in the world in a way where I wasn’t going off to a protected setting to do it. And that was pretty intentional that I just felt drawn to do it in that way. Although I did do a one-month retreat near the beginning, I did a two-week retreat in the middle, and then I did a three-month retreat at the end. So in those cases, I was at formal retreats.
Rick: Was that with Pa-Auk Sayadaw?
Tina: No, I hadn’t met him yet at that point. The first month was at Spirit Rock. I was doing mainly concentration, the Samatha practice, and then the Dzogchen. And then I went to a two-week Dzogchen retreat in the middle or 10 days, something like that. And then the three-month retreat, I was practicing a combination of Samatha, Vipassana, and Dzogchen. And the Brahmavihara is a little bit, meta, loving-kindness.
Rick: Yeah. So over the years, especially in the ’70s, I did a lot of long courses, six months at a time, several of those, a lot of six-week courses. And I would sometimes, and others on the courses, would sometimes get pretty nutty in the middle of all that, just rather idiosyncratic, rather unbalanced, just because of the inward focus without a whole lot of counterbalancing integration. Especially me. I wasn’t among the worst. There were people jumping out windows. But I’m wondering if during that whole period, without much social interaction or other integrating activities, you got a little out there sometimes, or maybe not, due to the nature of whatever practice you were doing.
Tina: Well, that was sort of the concern I had to reconcile before I did it was that what if I somehow became mentally unbalanced? And there are—now that I’m a teacher and I interact with a lot of other teachers, Buddhists and other non-Buddhist teachers from all traditions, psychotic breaks are a reality. People have psychotic breaks, and this is not a joke. Sometimes people don’t recover from the psychotic breaks. So this is why working with teachers who know what they’re doing is really important. I’d done so many month-long retreats by then that I felt like I was pretty stable, but there were a lot of teachers who wouldn’t work with me because they didn’t want to be responsible if I had a psychotic break or became unbalanced. So there was one person who was a mentor to me during that time who I could call any time and check in just by phone. And then there was another person who was my— are you getting a bunch of static?
Rick: No, I hear you okay, keep going.
Tina: Okay. There was another person who was kind of like my safety net, and he kind of held the bottom of the kite string while I was out there flying around. And so we had an agreement that I would send an email every X number of days. And if that didn’t happen, he would come over and see if I was okay.
Rick: Okay, that’s good.
Tina: So I had safety nets put in place. I just had wonderful people who were supportive around me, help make that possible.
Rick: Yeah, we had that kind of thing too. We had like a buddy system. And I remember one time I was on a three-month course in Tehran of all places, and Jonestown happened. And Time Magazine had a big cover story all about Jonestown. And I stayed up in my room, somebody’s room, reading this magazine when I was supposed to be in some meeting. People came looking for me because like that’s how kind of on the ball we were in terms of making sure that somebody didn’t (especially in Tehran) that somebody didn’t like get sort of off the beam somehow.
Tina: Yeah, yeah, it does happen. And I’ve done long retreats, but I taught a month-long and got to see some of what goes on for people that when you’re a practitioner you don’t know all this is going on behind the scenes. Where having to really work with a few people to make sure they didn’t get unbalanced during that time. So I can see now why a lot of my teachers are very encouraging for me to do the year, but they were concerned that I needed to have some safety nets in place in case I became unbalanced, but that never happened. I never became unbalanced. Really, the hardest thing was just the amount of Kundalini energy I was having during the year was astronomical. And it got overwhelming at times, and I had to find ways to just manage the energy.
Rick: How did that manifest itself? What was your experience with that?
Tina: Well, it just got really like— I felt like my nervous system was at its limit at times, and I’d have to do things. It’s kind of funny now because on retreats, (on the longer retreats), a lot of our students get this because when you’re doing concentration, this is part of the phenomena that happened to a lot of people, even on a two-week retreat. Some people will need to work with us. It’s extremely rapturous, and it can be very pleasant, very pleasurable actually, but then it can be too much to where you sort of feel like your nervous system is on overload. So there were a lot of things I did. I would sometimes have to just like lay on my bed and just shake.
Tina: You know, just kind of smoosh energy out.
Rick: Just flop around like a fish.
Tina: Yeah, it was like I was trying to have the extra come out of the ends of my hands and feet. And the Buddha’s earth witness posture, you’ll see the Buddha often sitting in lotus or across like a position with his hand in front of him touching the ground, and that’s called earth-witness posture. And there’s a story in the Buddha’s awakening about when he touches the earth and says the earth is his witness to his enlightenment. But there’s a practical aspect to the earth-witness posture, which is that the excess energy can drain out through your hands.
Rick: Like a ground.
Tina: It’s a grounding, yeah. So there are things like that, and again now I’m teaching these things to other people who need them, but for a lot of people they work, and for me that was one thing that helped. So there are a lot of ways to ground the energy out, but it was so intense that I would go out. I remember once I went to the grocery store. I went to a Whole Foods near where I lived. I went in, and the man who was bagging the groceries said, (and this was just in a grocery store) “God, I can’t look at you, you’re so bright. There’s so much light coming off of you.” And it was just the level of energy really that was happening with that kind of intensive practice.
Tina: So I’m not like that now, but it was visible.
Rick: So was there some date that you could have marked on the calendar during this year when this awakening happened? Or was it more like by the end of the year, you felt like you were over 51% and didn’t seem to be reverting back?
Tina: There was a date.
Rick: Okay, and what was your experience on that date? What was the date?
Tina: Yeah, well, that was the date when I had been doing, and you know, it’s kind of cool because I realized that I was doing something that I don’t think is practiced that much now but that I’m now teaching. And Steve and I are teaching together in our two-week retreats where a person does really intensive concentration practice. This is how the Dzogchen, the Tibetan practice of Dzogchen was actually designed. But when I go to Tibetan retreats, there’s a lot of teaching, and there isn’t as much time to meditate, so you can’t actually practice that intensively in the retreats I’ve been on. So you kind of then have to go off and do it yourself. But the idea is to practice the Samatha. In Tibetan Buddhism, it’s called Shamatha. But the practice is almost identical where you’re really bringing concentration. You earlier said we should define concentration. Well, concentration is the unification of mind. It’s the mindstream coming together to where normally our mindstream is very scattered because we’re thinking and needing to do all these things, which is fine. This is part of daily life. But when we’re meditating intensively, coming back to one object over and over, the mindstream comes together. And so doing that practice intensively gives us a laser-like awareness that can really cut through to a more fundamental level of reality in a way that isn’t possible when the mindstream isn’t concentrated like that. So I was doing that for months. And then I did a little bit of Vipassana, and then that became a stepping stone to Rigpa, which is the self-transcending practice in Tibetan Buddhism where you turn the mind on itself, and that’s where the non-duality can potentially arise. And I’d been experiencing non-duality for years doing that, but it hadn’t been what I would have called awakening. But it’d been thinning down to where I wasn’t afraid. So the fear that I had felt in prior years of that identity shift, I could feel it looming. And this is why I did the year. I could feel that this was hovering. I could sort of feel it close. And that’s what made me do the year was that I felt like it was kind of imminent. And at that point, there was a— I don’t remember the date in March— but something happened where my identity actually shifted from the ego self, the personality self, to the ground of being in a way that I never lost that identification, even when I might be functioning from the personality afterwards. This is part of why I joined the Diamond Approach, is to learn how to function. But that knowing of the truth never changed after that. And for the year I was pretty much in it continuously for the whole year. And a lot of teachers—this is where I want to start teaching and I am starting to teach about awakening because I went to a number of teachers in different traditions (Zen, Hindu, Theravadan) who pretty much all said, “This is it. This is going to be your permanent condition for the rest of your life. Just let it settle.” And when I went out and started working in the business world again, then I got married and all this stuff, my patterning hadn’t been digested to the point where I could feel those structures arising. And there was a lot to work with there because I didn’t realize that at that same time, like I was also studying with Adyashanti, and there was nothing, nobody was teaching anything about how to integrate awakening and how to actually function from it. And this is where you have scandals, so many scandals of people who have clearly had awakening that was genuine, but they haven’t digested their personality material. And so they’re acting in these harmful ways, and they’re clueless or don’t know what to do about it. That’s kind of where I was left. And I decided that, well, I didn’t decide. What arose was that I’m going to keep working this because I can see I need to digest this material in order to function in such a way that that arising from the ground is seamless. So, that was sort of the journey through the year and then into the next year that took me into environments where a lot of spiritual people don’t go, like the business world, where nobody cares about awakening. They don’t care, and if you tell them, they’re going to either think you’re unbalanced in some way or just not be interested. So, I realized that this lifetime for me was really about challenging how stable is that awakening? What kind of environments can I be in that aren’t spiritual that are going to test where are the triggers still possible and to work with those actively for as long as that really takes. So, that’s basically what the journey after that has been, has been working with deepening the awakening and then working with personality material that arises.
Rick: Yeah, well, there’s about four or five things in everything you just said that I want to expand upon with you. So, let’s see how we can do that. Bunch of things. Well, firstly, the whole issue of concentration. You know, I was a TM teacherm and I learned TM. And concentration was like a bad word in the TM world. I’m totally impressed with everything you’ve been doing and this is not any kind of argument or anything. I just want to juxtapose the two mechanics and see if we can arrive at a deeper understanding of the mechanics of meditation or of different kinds of meditation. But the logic was that the mind has a natural tendency to seek a field of greater happiness. Subtler levels of awareness are more gratifying or charming to the mind. And if it’s given the correct angle, if it’s given the opportunity, it will gravitate in that direction without any need to apply effort. And that was my experience. And in fact, effort was considered to be sort of unnatural in the sense that it interfered with that natural tendency just as, I don’t know, well an example that we might use is, let’s say you painted your living room and you’re sitting there watching the paint dry and it’s been a couple of days you’re watching the paint dry and then some beautiful music starts playing in the other room or some beautiful aroma starts coming from the kitchen, your attention will naturally shift to that without having to make any effort because it’s more charming than watching the paint dry. So that was, in a nutshell, that was an explanation of the mechanics of that. So, but in your case, I know that you have not advocated, and from reading your book, you’re not advocating any kind of straining, struggling kind of concentration, like, “Damn it, if my attention goes off this thing, “I’m gonna smack myself.” But there does seem to be a greater, pick up on what I just said, let’s see if we can contrast.
Tina: Yeah, that’s interesting. What you just said about TM is good learning for me because I get TM people because TM (you may not like this, but the way I understand it with using something like a mantra) is a concentration practice. I don’t know if you see it that way, but it’s–
Rick: Well, it could be. I mean, a person could concentrate on a mantra and try to prevent other thoughts from coming in and keep their attention on the mantra no matter what, but that’s not the way it works.
Rick: And incidentally, I’m not a TM woman anymore, so I’m not trying to sell TM here. I’m just discussing the mechanics.
Tina: Sure, yeah, and I don’t know enough about TM to really comment, so we can just leave that to the side. But yeah, in Buddhism, there’s definitely more of a sense of effort as part of it, and right effort is one part of the Eightfold Path in Theravadan Buddhism. So clearly there’s a difference in philosophy there. And I respect that, and TM’s been around a long time, so clearly it works for people.
Rick: My wife just showed me a note saying, “Different meditations work for different people.”
Rick: I think that’s the case. Plenty of people learn TM and then stop and go on to other things, and apparently like that better, you know?
Tina: Right, and same thing with Buddhism.
Rick: One size does not fit all.
Tina: Yeah, to me, it’s sort of like if we’re all— in some ways I like this metaphor, in other ways I don’t, But—if we’re all trying to take a path up to the mountaintop, there’s a lot of different paths.
Tina: They’re all, I believe, going to a place that’s similar when you get to the very more mystical core of them, but they could be wildly different paths, and they’re different because there’s different consciousnesses and different people, and different things will be right for different people. So to me, I don’t feel like there’s any one that’s the best or the right one.
Rick: Well, as I said in the beginning, I’m very impressed with what you were explaining in the book about all the different jhanas, which I hope we’ll have time to discuss, and all the subtle nuances of specific things you experience within each of these jhanas, and stages within each one and all. I don’t know too many people in TM who have had that degree of subtlety, although some—that brings up just one more quick point, which I’ll throw out and then move on. And that is that some people just seem to be flashy experience types. You know, they’re wired that way. They sit down and kaboom! They have all kinds of great fireworks and interesting things happening. Other people just don’t seem to have that sort of wiring.
Rick: You run into that?
Tina: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. I’ve had students, some of them are more like the hare, and others are more like the tortoise. The hare being that more, maybe not faster, but there’s more flamboyancy to their experience. Others are just kind of slow and steady, and there’s more of that sandpapering effect. But again, both are valid. It just depends on the person’s unfoldment, and everyone is unique.
Rick: Well, you know who won that race with the hare and the tortoise?
Tina: The tortoise won, right?
Rick: Yeah, so there you go. Yeah, so definitely, there are different types of people, but just to get back to what you said about effort, this is a really important point. And there’s, again now having taught for 12 years with a lot of people sort of going over this terrain, I do feel that the way Buddhism, at least as I understand it, is oriented, there is a certain amount of effort that it takes to get out of the pull of the ego self to kind of escape that gravitational pull, but then, which is kind of the ego self doing it. If you have an ego that wants to participate, it kind of helps at the beginning, with these practices at least, because there’s a way that you’re using that will to escape that gravitational pull. But at some point, if you keep applying that level of effort-ing, and even within that, striving is never effective. Striving is always a hindrance. So you have to really show up fully, but be completely detached and in the present moment, not knowing what unfoldment is going to occur. And then, as the practice goes on, that sense of non-doing becomes more and more prevalent to where at some point, there is no sense of doing at all, and that’s where the ground really, the feeling is that the ground is doing everything. And so, that’s what’s actually been happening all the time, even when a person’s been meditating, it’s always been the ground, but the shift is in our perception, where we think there’s a me doing all these things that are making it happen. Well, at some point, that “me” becomes the obstacle.
Rick: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. In fact, one of the notes I wrote down to ask you is “individual will transitioning to divine will,” if we want to use that terminology. It’s sort of like a person considers themselves to be the doer, most people. They feel like, “I am doing this,” but actually, later on, one might realize, “Well, I’ve never been doing this, not only meditation, but anything.” It’s always been the ground doing, or the divine will that’s the author of action. We just misperceived it.
Tina: Right, right, so meditation, the people who are meditation bashers, it’s like if you think you’re a doer that’s doing anything, it’s still the same amount of delusion. It’s the ground, whether somebody’s drawn to meditate and that becomes their path. It’s all the ground. So why bash meditation? When I look at it, people say, “Well, of course, everyone wants a guarantee if you meditate and do all these things that this is going to happen,” which there are no guarantees. You show up, and it sandpapers down the personality. That’s a guarantee that I can make, is that if you engage fully, it will sandpaper down the personality and that software upgrade will happen. Whether awakening will happen, grace is involved in all of that.
Rick: So when you say meditation basher, I think what you mean is people who say, “Well, if you do a practice, you’re just going to reinforce the sense of doership.”
Rick: There is no doer, so just realize that and you don’t need to do anything. Is that what you meant?
Tina: Yeah, yeah, some people.
Rick: The new Advaita line.
Tina: Right, and there is a truth. I mean, I was in that world, I’ve been in that world, and I appreciate that world a lot. I got a lot of benefit out of the directness of it, totally. So I see the truth that’s being offered there, and at the same time, what I didn’t realize after the year-long solo retreat, I didn’t realize, and then I turned away basically from the Neo-Advaita world because there wasn’t really much to offer me in terms of the embodiment and the integration of working with the material. I didn’t know that Adyashanti, that year started teaching about after awakening and all of the obstacles that happen after awakening.
Rick: Yeah, it’s a big emphasis for him now.
Tina: Yeah, it wasn’t until like two years ago when I came back to that world, I thought a bunch of teachers— there must have been some movement and consciousness because when that happened for me, a lot of people started teaching it and I didn’t even know that. I went on to the Diamond Approach. That was really where I went for the embodiment teachings.
Rick: Yes, if you remember at the SAND Conference last year, when Maurizio and Zaya introduced it the first night, they were saying like 10 years ago, we were in this sort of Neo-Advaita thing. There is no self, and there is no doer, and yada yada, And now we’re all about embodiment and integration and all that stuff. And they actually said in their talk there (or maybe it was Zaya told me at breakfast one morning), they actually got some blowback from people for shifting to that emphasis because I guess maybe some people weren’t ready to shift.
Tina: Oh, yeah, I went to SAND. This was kind of my reintroduction to the whole Neo-Advaita world that I had been a part of really for— I started studying with Adya in like ’93. I went to his events when it was one step after him being the one at the door greeting people. So I loved that world, and it was really important for me to have that, but I didn’t realize that at the same time I was shifting to an embodiment focus, that whole thing was shifting. So I was excited when I came back and saw all these teachers in that world talking about embodiment. I thought, “Oh, good! I can come back now” And it aligns with my experience because what I was hearing at the time didn’t have—there was no talk about any of that. So I think it’s a really healthy thing that the realities of awakening and that you don’t just wake up and you get over 51% or even if you’re at 70 or 80%, you’re getting up there, you still got personality material. And if you think that awakening is just going to blow all that out, like in Zen—Stephen, again, my teaching partner, he was in Zen for years. And in Zen, the belief was with awakening, it just blows it all out and if you’re—whatever you’re doing is arising from the ground, so you don’t really have to worry too much about that because there’s a truth you know that is true, but there’s that distortion, like what you were talking about with the radio. That distortion can still be there, and to me, that’s the part of really— this is what I wanted to do: I didn’t want to be somebody who thought I was going around completely cleared out when actually I was just like allowing distortions to continue. That was my commitment to myself. So that’s basically what I started focusing on. After that was embodiment and how do I live from this all the time?
Rick: Yeah, I’ve heard (I don’t know if this is true but I’ve heard) that in Zen, maybe some Zen traditions, there’s a kind of a rule that after awakening, you don’t just go out there and teach. You wait 10 years, and then during that 10 years, there’s a lot of integration, you know, maturation and clearing out of stuff before you’re presumed to be able to teach.
Tina: Well, that seems really wise to me, that maybe that 10 years is the integration period where that is intended to happen. But the problem with Buddhism— I don’t care what tradition of Buddhism it is, you know, the ones that I participate in as well— Buddhism isn’t really about integration. The Buddhist teachings, they’re like in Theravada Buddhism in the Eightfold Path, there’s right livelihood and right speech and other things that do focus on our action in the world, but the teachings themselves aren’t really about that. And like my teacher, Pak Saido, who I went to after the year, most of the historical traditions, they relied a lot on ordination. The way they handled all—
Rick: Ordination means what?
Tina: You become ordained. You become a monastic.
Rick: Yeah, I was going to ask you. I was going to say probably if it doesn’t place much emphasis on integration, it’s because it’s the custodians or monks, right?
Tina: Right, and they don’t have good teachings because they didn’t—to me, what our era has to offer and what I’m excited about is that our era offers psychology. This is the awakening technologies that we have, are to understand psychology and the nuts and bolts of consciousness and how an ego forms and what to do about it. And this is what I love about the Diamond Approach is that it’s really a continuum from the psychological to the spiritual, and that has helped me understand the mechanics of how the ego self occurs, how it develops, and the potential to digest that completely. I mean, to me, that’s a lifelong or multi-life endeavor, so I see that as an ongoing endeavor, but our era has psychology, so to not include those understandings in our spiritual unfoldment, to me, is missing. something important. And Buddhism, the historical traditions didn’t have that understanding.
Rick: Well, I’m really glad that you’re open-minded about it like that. And I mean, then what happens so often is that people who were raised in a monastic setting come to the West, and next thing you know, they’re alcoholics chasing women around. It’s just like they fall flat on their faces because they had no preparation for this milieu, you know?
Tina: Right, the solution was just renunciation, basically. You renounce all that, and to me, like, again, I feel like I do believe in rebirth, and I believe I can feel and just the way that certain practices were easy for me and for students that I have come and they’re like a practice is easy. They just pick it right up. I’ve had a lot of monastic lives. This life is about coming out from the monastic walls and learning to live in the world and to infuse all of reality with the potential for awakening. I mean, this is what happened in Tibet. It’s a tragedy what happened, but it’s made Tibetan Buddhism come out and be in the world in a way that we can all benefit from that.
Rick: Yeah, you’re alluding to the Chinese invasion, which, as horrible as that was, if it hadn’t happened, we probably wouldn’t have heard much about Tibetan teachings.
Tina: Right, and they’re amazing. They’re amazing teachings for how to function. Within Buddhism, in my opinion, Tibetan Buddhism has the most teachings about how to function from awakening. And they had cave yogis, which has always been my aspiration. That’s what I was in my year, was a cave yogi. That was my year as a cave yogi up in my little condo looking down on the soccer field.
Rick: Condo yogi.
Tina: Yeah, condo yogi. But they were householders, and the cave yogis, they’re, to me, one of the models out there historically one of the few that weren’t monastics, who lived normal lives, and they tried to integrate into regular life. I mean, Theravada Buddhism has that too, and I’m sure Zen does, but—
Rick: Well, I’m a little mixed up. How could they be a householder if they were a cave yogi?
Tina: Well, they would be in the cave for intensive periods, but then they would come out—
Rick: I see.
Tina: And have regular lives. So they would do basically like what people like me do now.
Rick: Going on a retreat, yeah.
Tina: And you. Where you go on long retreats and you can have this deep contact with what’s deeper that gets distracted from when we’re busy doing things. But then you go into the world, and instead of turning away from the world, which is what I initially thought I would do after awakening, I thought I was just going to go off and live in Crestone, Colorado, and live on the cheap, and just be in bliss the rest of my life. And something called me to stay engaged in society and to bring whatever amount of realization I have into the business world, into healthcare, to executives, to other householders who want to have a deep spiritual practice, but they don’t want to turn their backs on the world. They want to bring this into the world. And that to me is the miracle that we’re seeing in our era is so many thousands of people wanting to do that. It’s wonderful.
Rick: Well, two thoughts come to mind. One is that there’s that saying again in the Gita that because one can perform one’s own dharma, though perhaps lesser in merit, is better than the dharma of another. The dharma of another brings danger. So it wouldn’t have been your dharma to be a cave yogi or at least not a permanent one. It’s natural for you to be more engaged in activity. So for your own evolution, your own benefit, it’s appropriate. And then the second thing is that the world really needs it, as you kind of just suggested. I feel that spiritual awakening is really the ultimate solution to all problems, which might seem strange because you don’t necessarily find spiritually awakened people free of problems, but that’s what the world needs, is a raising of consciousness in the deepest sense. And when that happens and as that happens, I think we’ll find problems diminishing, at least for those who aren’t clinging to things that ought not to exist because that might be kind of problematic for them as those things crumble.
Tina: Right, yeah, exactly. I feel that too. Just think if we had, even with whatever remaining egoic behavior, structures, and so on that awakened people or awakening people have, just that intention and that knowing of non-separation makes us not want to do harm. Makes us want to protect the earth and to not harm others and to maybe eat less meat or be a vegetarian and not to consume, to have a small footprint. All of these things kind of arise naturally. Think of what the world would be like. Fortunately, there are more and more people that are moving in this direction, and hopefully there’ll be a tipping point at some point where we’ll start seeing the old consciousness really dying down. Hopefully, what we’re seeing is the death throes. That’s my fantasy is that we’re seeing the death throes of the earth.
Rick: Yeah, I think we are. Well, just as you said, you reached a 51% mark. I think maybe the world could reach a 51% mark, at which there is a significant phase transition.
Tina: Right, absolutely. And I published this in my newsletters, in the Awakening Dharma newsletters, that we put out repeatedly. This was Bill Gates’ favorite two books last year, are independent historians and (well, mostly historians and sociologists) looking at the trends of humanity over, we’re talking like hundreds of years or even thousands. And most people don’t want to believe this and don’t believe it. Sometimes people really want to argue with me about this, but these are the facts, and there are books out there that show this, that there’s been a steady progression of human rights, of education, of lack of poverty, of—
Rick: Steven Pinker.
Tina: Right, and it doesn’t go straight up in a line where it just gets better continuously. There are dips, and maybe we’re seeing a dip right now where a lot of these things are being compromised. But if you look, it’s gotten better and better and better. So I believe that we are moving to that. If you look at the facts, that’s what it shows.
Rick: Yeah, well certainly there are things that are troubling, and there are people in positions of power who don’t seem to really get it in terms of more enlightened ways of doing things. But then they seem to cause others to be more motivated.
Rick: So you have the #MeToo movement, and you have a much bigger sort of environmental outcry and all kinds of other things. People are sort of saying, “Wait a minute, this is wrong.” Whereas if you had leadership which was sort of wishy-washy about it but not so bad, people might think that they didn’t have to do anything.
Tina: Right, yeah. For me it’s been really exciting to see the activation of young people. And I know the Millennials and the younger generations get a lot of bashing for things that they do, the generational stereotypes we have. But the small footprints, the lack of wanting to have possessions, the urbanization where basically you’re consolidating all of the human impact, all of these things to me make me hopeful that when they become our age that they—and the acceptance of people of all backgrounds, races—
Rick: Races, genders, all those things.
Tina: Genders, sexual orientations, sexual identities. To them, this is a no-brainer.
Tina: Not to all of them but to the majority of them, they’re global citizens. They’ve been global citizens since they were born. And with their gadgets, which have their own problems. But there are good things happening that to me make me hopeful that we may be moving towards that.
Rick: Yeah, great. All right, I’m going to shift gears here. So in my notes here, you say early in your book, “The path to liberation includes three stages. Ethical behavior or morality: Sila. Concentration or serenity: Samatha, And insight: Vipassana.” So we’ve talked a little bit about all three of these, but let’s go through them again in a little bit more detail. Does it make you scratch your head? Maybe it’s just what we were just discussing about how the people who have— many of these teachers who have come to the West didn’t have the training for dealing with Western society. But certainly they had— if these three are really the pillars of the path to liberation— they must have had ethical training. And yet scandal after scandal after scandal keeps rocking all the different sanghas, Buddhist and otherwise, not only with Eastern teachers but also with Western teachers who get fairly— Spirit Rock just had a big scandal. Some guy got kicked out. So what do you make of all that? How do you come to terms with it?
Tina: Yeah, well, this is to me the whole lack of understanding and lack of emphasis about awakening. That I believe that when people get a taste of reality, there’s a way that they overestimate the impact of that on their personality conditioning and on their behavior. And it’s easy to justify in one’s mind because there’s a truth in one’s experience of oneself as having had awakening at whatever level that is, that there is a sense that the doer isn’t what I thought it was. And so if doing is happening, if functioning is happening, it must be coming from the ground of being.
Rick: Right, and so—
Tina: And yet the distortions, these traditions don’t have embodiment practices. And they overestimate the impact of awakening, and they underestimate the strength of the ego. You’ve got to bow down to the ego, and you see how powerful and strong it actually is. It’s an amazing structure in our consciousness.
Rick: Another way of putting it is Maya. Delusion is so blinding, and you don’t know you’re deluded when you are, you know?
Tina: Right, and the way that there’s been such a power differential between teachers and students and not—this is one of the good things I think the Western evolution of spirituality is bringing is a flattening of that hierarchical sense and a greater accountability. But I really feel that this whole move towards embodiment and understanding what happens after awakening is a big part of it that’s been underestimated grossly. And I would also just add to that, those are the three stages of the path in the Theravadan, but I would add to that Rigpa or a self-transcending practice that is really part of the stabilization of awakening in my understanding and experience of it. So this book wasa Theravadan presentation, but my own practice includes some other things and my own understanding.
Rick: So I remember hearing a quote from Padmasambhava, which, and you’ve probably heard this, which is that, he said that, “Although my awareness is vast as the sky, my attention to karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour.” You heard that one?
Tina: I love your quotes. I’m going to have to write these down afterwards.
Rick: So in other words, he was a pretty enlightened dude, but even he, and there’s another quote from Carlos Castaneda’s teacher, Don Juan. He said, “A warrior,” by that he meant sort of an enlightened person.
Tina: Oh yeah, I was very into those teachings.
Rick: Yeah, he said, “A warrior has time only for his impeccability.” So in both of these examples, what these guys are saying, I think, is that you may be like the most enlightened guy ever to come down the pike, but it doesn’t give you a pass on being sort of diligent and discriminating and discerning and careful and attentive and all that stuff to your behavior.
Tina: Right, absolutely, that’s exactly. I love those quotes because they’re pointing to the same thing that we’ve been talking about, of this attention that still needs to be paid to the places where the distortions are still present in our consciousness, even with awakening. Before awakening, yes. But even after awakening, to continue working that material to, I don’t know if you want to say purify it? Purification of mind is part of the Samatha path, but to digest it so that one’s functioning is as undistorted as possible.
Rick: Yeah, I mean, you’ve probably heard the term “spiritualized ego.” Have you seen examples (I have) where people have what appears to be a genuine and significant awakening, but it actually sort of aggrandizes the ego in a way? It adds fuel to it.
Tina: Yeah, yeah. There’s a huge danger of that, huge. I think that’s probably what’s happened in a lot of the scandals is that it kind of that, there’s an energy, like I was talking about what happened to me in the year with all the Kundalini. There’s a certain kind of power and energy that can come through that is genuine, but if it goes right into the ego, now you’ve got this energy being filtered through a personality that doesn’t know that’s what is happening.
Tina: I think of some of the scandals of people that I, communities I wasn’t in, but gosh, the damage that was done, the damage. And fortunately, I think if there is a good outcome from some of these scandals, it’s that people are a lot more circumspect about their teachers. They don’t just, I think the “going along” is hopefully diminishing rapidly where people won’t tolerate things that they used to.
Rick: Yeah, that’s one of our hopes with the thing that you have joined that I helped found, the Association of Professional Spiritual Teachers, which we’re changing the name of it to the Association for Spiritual Integrity. People misunderstand it as being some kind of holier-than-thou, judgmental, goody-two-shoes kind of thing, but really what it’s an attempt to do is to just sort of increase awareness or raise consciousness about what is or is not an appropriate way for a teacher to behave, for basically any human being to behave, but especially a teacher, so that students don’t look at a teacher and say to themselves, “Well, what he’s doing seems really off, but who am I to judge because I’m just a person and he’s the great, wonderful teacher and his ways are inscrutable.” No, I mean, people should not abdicate their common sense and their judgment and their own discernment. In fact, Buddha is famous for quotes like that, of exercising your discernment and not believing something because anybody says it, including him.
Tina: Right, yeah, see for yourself. I love that. That’s one of the things I love about Buddha was don’t take my word for it. See for yourself, but keep your discernment. Yeah, I think it’s great that you and the others who have founded that organization are doing that. I’ve always, because I’ve been sort of affiliated, even though I’ve been kind of a free agent in a certain way because of the way I got authorized to teach, kind of went around the system that has existed, which had its own problems in the West. I’ve always been affiliated loosely with a couple of different groups, one of which was Spirit Rock and used their code of ethics and also the Diamond Approach code of ethics.
Rick: We looked at all those, by the way. We had a dozen different codes of ethics that we kind of poured through to fabricate one for our thing.
Tina: Yeah, and that’s great, but that’s always been something I’ve known about and felt was extremely important to have one that was published on the website and that I lived by. But people are hanging out shingles as spiritual teachers. Anybody really can hang one out now. And so to have a place where teachers can go and say, “OK, I’m going to commit to this, even though I’m not affiliated with a particular lineage or organization,” it gives them some guidelines, and it gives students some ways to have accountability for teachers too.
Rick: Yeah. So if ethical behavior is one of the three stages on the path to liberation, why is it?
Tina: Well, I wouldn’t define Sila necessarily. Maybe it’s in the book. It’s traditionally been defined that way. But really, it’s a lot more practical than that. And the way that I would define it now is as wholesome living.
Tina: Ethical behavior sounds very puritanical. It’s very prudish, very Ten Commandments oriented. So I don’t call it that. I call it wholesome living, where you’re constantly— and this is a very dynamic thing. It’s not like a stage at the bottom, and then once you’re ethical, then you go on. It’s like, OK, I go on retreat or I have some kind of profound insight that’s deep, that affects me deeply, about reality about what I am, and that underlying subtlety that you were talking about. Now I’m coming out. I’m in the world. I’m off retreat. I’m functioning. How do I come back and say, OK, how do I need to maybe function differently to actually be living from what I’ve realized? I need to be constantly looking at my life. And for me, this has been an ongoing practice. I do it every year. I have a time when I look at that. And I’ve looked at things over the years like entertainment consumption. Well, 20 years ago, I stopped getting TV piped into my house. I haven’t had cable TV for 20 years. I do watch entertainment, but I didn’t want to be— I would find I would end up just flipping through channels. And I’m consuming—this was 20 years ago but—I’m consuming junk food. So looking at that or looking at alcohol. I went for eight years where I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol. Not again for purist reasons, but because I didn’t want to have that effect on my consciousness. So these are the kinds of things— I mean, everyone needs to decide for themselves what is right for them. But it’s bringing the consciousness to how we’re living, how we’re impacting others, and how we’re embodying what our realization is, whatever level of realization a person has.
Rick: Yeah. I think wholesome is a good word there because it has the connotation of wholesome food or wholesome exercise or that kind of thing. And we were talking earlier about the brain and the nervous system and the body being the vehicle through which realization is experienced or lived. The big aha for me when I was 18 years old, I dropped out of high school, had been doing drugs for a year, and I was kind of a mess. I’d been arrested twice. And one evening, I was sitting there reading a Zen book actually. It was Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps. You may remember the book. And I thought, “Wow, these guys are really serious. And I’m just screwing around. And if I keep on like this, I’m going to damage this vehicle through which I live my life. And I don’t want to go through life with a damaged vehicle.” So I thought, that’s it. I’ve got to stop taking drugs. I’ve got to learn to meditate, turn the whole thing around.
Rick: This whole thing that you’ve done with all these hundreds and thousands of hours of meditation, you’re purifying the vehicle. You’re purifying the instrument through which whatever realization you have is made possible. And so however we might want to define unwholesomeness, there must be some objective measures of it. It generally impairs our ability to experience, and to realize, and to have clarity and depth of awareness. And so that’s the purpose of it. It’s not because of any kind of moralistic obsession. It’s a practical thing.
Tina: Exactly. It’s totally practical. Like for me, there’s been a temptation over the years to take in too much news. Where I’ll start with 15 minutes, and then it’ll creep up and creep up. Have to go on a little news media diet, which I know a lot of people are having to go on at the moment. But it’s those things. It’s not helping me to understand what’s going on if I overconsume that. If I eat a certain—like chocolate. If I have a certain amount, it’s probably good for my health. If I have this much, it becomes unhealthy. So it’s very practical, like you’re saying. It’s all about—
Rick: Well, the middle way, right? The Buddha said, kind of balance.
Tina: And for each person, that’s different. Some people may want to live in urban environments where there’s a lot of activity, and they can maintain— that’s their path. Other people may want to live in rural environments. Some people may want to work. Some people may want to do creative pursuits, and they just live on very little. All of these things are—
Rick: Well, some people might be news people. I mentioned George Stephanopoulos. He and Dan Harris and Robin Roberts (and all those Good Morning America people) and many others are full-time journalists, but they also meditate regularly.
Rick: You know, that’s their dharma.
Tina: Well, and there’s business people. I mean, look at me. I still go in, and I work with corporate executives two days a week. And that’s part of just— at least for now, that’s part of my manifestation, is to go in and do regular work with regular people. And some of them meditate now. Some of them have started meditating. And I just love the idea that you’ve got corporate CEOs out there meditating and bringing that consciousness to what they’re doing. So there’s all different kinds of walks of life that are possible. But it’s like you said, it’s a practical reality of living in a way that you’re living what you’ve realized in those subtle, deeper levels as much as possible.
Rick: Yeah. OK. So three stages on the path to liberation. And we pretty much covered the Sila one, wholesomeness. Second one is Samatha. And let me know if you don’t want to— I’m going from stuff I found in your book. If you want to go off on other directions, we can. But I thought these kind of jumped out at me. Concentration or serenity: Samatha. And it’s interesting that concentration and serenity would be in the same phrase because you might not think of concentration as peaceful. The one seems like an effort, the other seems like a relaxation.
Tina: Right. Well, that’s one of the first things that I do when I’m teaching, is define concentration. And to talk about—it’s unfortunate that the word concentration we use in everyday language, and it often does mean like, if it’s really raining heavy when you’re driving, “oh, I’d better concentrate.” Or if there’s really bad traffic. And there’s a tightness. There’s a—
Rick: Yeah, there’s a strain.
Tina: Concentration is a natural faculty of our mindstream. It’s like a muscle that’s already there. It’s just how well developed that is. So if we think of it like that, as a faculty of the mind stream, instead of the way we would think about it, like the body language you just showed—
Rick: Yeah, straining.
Tina: –straining. Yeah, if we put that aside and see concentration really as this unification of mind, that’s really what’s being talked about in the concentration serenity. And because those practices, as well as a mindstream that has coherence, is peaceful because we’re not jumbling out all over the place. I mean, think about when a person sits down to meditate and thoughts are just going everywhere. That’s agitation. That is the opposite of serenity. So if I use that analogy, you can see that when the mindstream comes together and settles, what’s happening is there’s less of the hindrances and defilements. That distortion becomes purified. And that’s why the Samatha path, that portion of the path, is called purification of mind. Because the mindstream itself is settling. The agitation’s reducing. The factors that cause us to suffer and to identify with the ego self are all being— they’re all settling. That, to me, is what the Samatha portion of the Buddhist path is really doing, is bringing the mindstream together and potentially that can lead to direct contact with non-duality and with different aspects of our deeper nature. There’s that cutting through. There’s that laser-like awareness that’s possible, that the laser-like awareness brings a faculty that the concentration’s at a level that can cut through to a more fundamental perception of reality basically, where we’re experiencing that for ourselves.
Rick: So you just referred to sitting down to meditate and having a very scattered mind, a chaotic mind. I don’t know if this metaphor is apt, but let’s say you have a big pail full of water, and the water is choppy. The pail has been shaken or something. The water is sloshing around. Now, you could try to stop the waves in the water by pushing on them, but you’re actually going to create more waves that way. Whereas if you just let the water settle, pretty soon there won’t be any waves. So with this whole concentration thing, it seems to me there’s a fine balance between trying to suppress and letting things just settle.
Tina: It is. And that’s one of the main things people work with is this whole aspect of effort that we talked about before, over-efforting is like pushing on the water, and it’s counterproductive. So this is where so many traditions have used the breath as a meditation object. It’s an easy one because we have it. We don’t have to do anything. And to just come back and to rest on the breath is a way that we are challenging the grooves in the mindstream, which if left on their own, for most people, will just keep continuing. So there is a way that we’re not just allowing the conditioning to run on its own, of its own momentum, but to over-effort becomes what you’re talking about, where it is like pushing on the water, and it’s counterproductive. So that’s one of the big things that people learn in their practice, which is extremely useful for awakening because the concentration gives us the stability of mind where when awakening happens, there can be continuity of that contact with or that recognition. Depending where one is in one’s own unfoldment, it could feel like contact or it could feel like resting in my depth of what I am. But without concentration, that’s not going to really be happening.
Rick: Well, once that has happened though, do you still need to actually concentrate in any way, or is it just natural? I mean, you’re not concentrating right now, are you? You’re just resting in your true nature and talking to me.
Tina: Well, the difference is though that without that is the faculty of the mind, like in Tibetan Buddhism, for example, where you have the Sila, the Samatha, the Vipassana, and the Rigpa (the Rigpa is the non-dual, the fourth. You talk about it’s the fourth leg of the path). It’s seen just through Tibetan Buddhism and the 20 or however many hundreds, thousands of years that’s been around, that if the mindstream itself isn’t concentrated, that that stability of the Rigpa (the non-duality) won’t be stable. Even with awakening, one won’t ever forget what one is, but to become identified temporarily with the ego self can still happen. Don’t you think that the spiritual teachers— I mean, this is what I always wonder. When the teacher is sitting there going, “Hmm, I think today I’m going to have sex with this student,” what are they thinking about that thought? They don’t get that maybe there’s some ego identification in having sex with your student and taking money out of the till? They aren’t somehow getting when they have these thoughts arising that there’s something going on there? They’re identified. Basically, they’re acting out their instinctual drives without even knowing that’s happening. But yet these people have legitimate awakenings. To me, this explains that.
Rick: It does. I think that there can be a— even when one has sort of become deluded to some extent and clouded and is behaving inappropriately, once there has been a significant awakening, there can still be the sense or at least the self-assessment that there’s this continuity of awareness. You check and there it is. There’s this continuity of awareness and “hey, that student looks pretty hot.” But you don’t feel like you’ve totally lost it. You look at some of the more egregious examples, like Adi Da, for instance, who seemed to have—
Tina: I was thinking of him earlier.
Rick: Yeah, who seemed to be trying to see exactly how much pollution he could indulge in without—
Tina: I knew people in that sangha. The damage, the damage. So, I would wonder: wasn’t he totally identified at some point? I mean, really. Did he think, “Oh, well. This is all just coming out of the ground of being, and it’s fine for me to be spreading my damage and poison all over the place”?
Rick: Yeah, I don’t know. I keep pondering this issue.
Tina: To me, what is happening, and again this is a lot of what I’ve learned from the Diamond Approach. The Diamond Approach, in my view, has incredible technologies for understanding how the personality functions and what’s happening in terms of undigested material, and that’s why I was attracted to it. But I think that somebody like that was identified completely with their instinctual drives and they acted them out. I don’t know how else to explain it. I guess we’ll never know because those conversations don’t usually happen.
Rick: Yeah, well. They happen here. I mean, I often get into this topic. What were you going to say?
Tina: Have you asked people? What do they say?
Rick: People who have gotten into trouble like that?
Rick: I don’t know if I ever have point blank. I mean, in my own experience, which is always a good thing to refer to, there have been times when I feel like I’ve been a little off in my thinking or in my behavior, and it didn’t feel like it. I was kind of blinded to it by my own— There’s a phrase in Sanskrit. The English is “the blinding darkness of ignorance.” It’s like ignorance by its very nature, or delusion by its very nature, deludes you into not realizing you’re deluded. So you can kind of go off the beam without knowing you’re going off the beam, and perhaps still maintaining the sense that you are this wise teacher, or you’re this enlightened or semi-enlightened person or whatever. And it seems from examples that we’ve seen that you can go really far off the beam before something happens. Some people, Adi Da, continued on that. Maybe he cleaned up his act as he got older, but he continued being the avatar that he said he was until he died.
Tina: I see that as delusion, if he was still doing the damage that he did when the scandals were happening. To me, to act it out, it’s one thing to have thoughts and to go, “Oh, I can see that I’ve got some personality material that’s active there,” but to act it out, to act it out over and over again, to me the person has lost touch with their deeper nature. If they’re harming— because basically, any other being— At least I’ll speak from my experience. When I’m functioning from my deeper nature, other beings don’t feel separate. They feel in a certain way like— this isn’t going to sound right— like me.
Rick: Oh, I know what you mean.
Tina: Me at the deeper— Okay, here’s the me that’s separate, my fingers. Here’s the me that’s one. And if I’m functioning from down here, how can this harm this?
Rick: Exactly. Love your neighbor as yourself because your neighbor is yourself.
Tina: Right. So to me, if somebody is really down here, they can’t do that. They can only act it out. I’m talking about acting it out. Realizing it, working the material, that to me is skillful because then you’re seeing it. You’re seeing, “Okay, there’s something active here that isn’t coming from here that’s deluded.” If you’re up here harming here, you’re lost in delusion at that point. At least that’s how I see it.
Rick: Yeah, and I think there are degrees of delusion. It’s not a black and white situation. There are degrees. And one explanation that for me comes to the rescue is the notion of deflected Kundalini rising. The Kundalini can have risen to a certain extent, and one can have a great deal of charisma and power. Ravana in The Ramayana was said to be incredibly gifted in many ways. Tremendous charisma, wisdom, power, all kinds of siddhis and this and that, but he was demonic. He hadn’t fully gotten enlightened. Joan Harrigan, who’s been on this show, describes it in great detail in her books about how the Kundalini can rise to a certain extent and then get stuck. And the person seems very gifted and very bright and a lot of shakti, and they can give shakti pot and this and that, but they’re not all the way there. They’re deflected.
Tina: Right. I know Joan. This is what happened when I had a Kundalini rising that knocked me unconscious once and went all the way up on one side and on the other side it didn’t go all the way up. And so I sought her out for years, and it was really helpful. Her understanding of that process is very detailed. Very, very, very evolved understanding. So yeah, that could be one explanation of it, absolutely. And this to me is part of why working with the body because those Kundalini risings when they, at least like in my case, there was material, both psychological material and physical in the body, that had to be digested in order for those channels to go all the way up to the top, everywhere. That could be a more mechanical understanding of what’s happening in those cases.
Rick: Yeah, it’s a theory, but it’s something that I try to come to terms with because you can’t deny that some of these people were eloquent and brilliant and bright and impressive in various ways. And that’s what confuses seekers and students because they’re wowed by that stuff, and so they kind of excuse or overlook or rationalize the other stuff because it seems like maybe that must be okay somehow because this is so impressive.
Tina: Right, and it confuses the person. I’m convinced that the most problematic confusion is in the person themself, in the awakening person, the awakened person. Because there is a sense of reality to the awakened understanding, and so it doesn’t make sense that there would be personality material being acted out of, and the fact that there haven’t been good technologies to work with it, I think, has been a big part of the problem. To me, is the leading edge of spiritual practice is how to work with what happens after awakening and not just flounder around with this confusion, both for teachers and students, really.
Rick: Yeah, I know in the Vedic literature, there are a lot of stories of yogis falling. They kind of really get really high, and at a certain point they somehow get too big for their britches and they crash down. And then they have to rework their steps and kind of get back, regain the ground they lost because they had gotten tripped up by their own whatever.
Tina: Right. Yeah, and if one has a belief in karma, which I do, the karma that we accrue after awakening when we actually know the truth, to me is so much more than before when we’re lost in delusion. So it’s kind of a sad situation when somebody who has clearly been awakened does so much damage for them, for them and their own karma.
Rick: Yeah. I hope people find this discussion interesting. It might seem to some people that we’re obsessing on this point, but I get the sense that you’ve run into a lot of it, and I know I have, and I still do. And it’s something I keep kind of dealing with, thinking about, and processing, and trying to kind of come to grips with, and possibly in some small way, do something about.
Tina: Right. Yeah. Well, it’s really up for me because at the end of the month I’m teaching a weekend on understanding awakening. I don’t know if people are going to be interested in it or not, but it’s something I’m passionate about for everybody, whether one is brand new to the path, or whether one has had experiences, taste of awakening, to really understand how it’s understood in different traditions, and a lot of the misconceptions, I think, about awakening, that have led to a lot of harm actually, to students and for teachers who didn’t know really what to do with what was happening in their own unfoldment. And I think for all of us to get real about what it is and to stop having this idealization of awakening— Awakening is just another stage of evolution in the human experience. No one’s better because they’ve awakened. You know? This is part of in Buddhism. there’s Buddha nature. It’s kind of the opposite of original sin where the worst mass murderer has the same Buddha nature that the Dalai Lama has.
Tina: And so their harm and their contribution to the world is dramatically different.
Rick: It varies with a different source.
Tina: But inherently, we’re all the same. We’re all the same. And so that’s why, to me, just because somebody has awakened, they may offer more, they may do less harm, but they’re no better. So that’s where, to me, to kind of de-idealize awakening and to have it be more practical, more real, where we can really talk about what’s happening—
Rick: They’re no better in a fundamental sense. LeBron James and I share the same true nature, but he’s a much better basketball player. So you see, he is absolutely better as far as basketball is concerned.
Tina: Right. There are real differences in terms of somebody’s capacities, for sure.
Rick: Yeah. So we just have to kind of throw that in when we say there’s nobody’s better or worse. Yeah, people are better in certain respects. Mother Teresa was better than Hitler in terms of her—
Tina: In terms of her impact on the world, absolutely. Yeah, and in terms of capacities, that’s true, but I think part of why awakening has been not seen from a practical standpoint as part of the evolution of humanity, and so there have been these situations where teachers could act out their undigested material and no one called them on it. And they may not have even really known what to do with these things. And that, to me, is part of what’s happening in this era that we’re in, where the monastic—we’re coming out from behind the monastery walls and trying to function in everyday life, having spouses or partners, having a sexual relationship, having money, having mortgages, having jobs, all of these things is going to trigger all of these instinctual drives that we have, and so to kind of demystify it where we’re not putting awakened people on a pedestal that makes it impossible to actually deal in a practical way with the realities of awakening. That’s more what I’m saying.
Rick: That’s well put. You know what would be cool is that (and it might be hard to organize this) if there could actually be some kind of a get-together of spiritual teachers in person, not just online. Kind of like SAND but without the audience. Just spiritual teachers all together, hashing these things out together, discussing them amongst themselves. It might actually be a rising tide that lifted all boats a bit.
Tina: Oh, well maybe your group will do that, the Association.
Rick: Yeah, maybe it will.
Tina: To me what happened when this all happened for me, and I can see that I really wanted to keep working on the personality material, it was so taboo. It was so taboo and I felt like—
Rick: And I think I know why it was taboo, but please say it.
Tina: Well, I felt like (1) something was wrong with me and (2) I could see that other people were struggling, other teachers were struggling, with the same thing. I wasn’t a teacher at the time. I was just a person. I became a teacher pretty quickly because of what happened, but nobody wanted to talk about it. And it’s like, okay, if you’ve had awakening, you should be done. You shouldn’t need to talk about these things. And so it was a taboo within the teaching community. And how many teachers are going to want to come out and air their dirty laundry at the places that they still have personality material, you know? But I just feel like this was part of my path, and I want to be real because for those people who actually want to plumb the depths of the personality material, to have people out there like me who are saying, “It’s okay if you’ve had a taste of awakening or awakening and you don’t feel like you’ve arrived, it’s okay, and this is all part of the reality of the human unfoldment.”
Rick: I was speaking with Miranda Macpherson a couple of weeks ago, and she said that she makes it a practice herself, even though she’s a full-time spiritual teacher, to go and see other spiritual teachers and also actually to sit with a therapist from time to time and work through things. But she considers herself to be—she has the humility and honesty to consider herself a work in progress, which I think everybody on the planet is if they’re still breathing. And she makes it a point to make sure that— And this is not so unusual. Doctors go to conferences, and they take extra courses to enhance their doctoring skills. This is typical in many professions, so why shouldn’t it be in the spiritual profession?
Tina: Right, it should. And if we make it where it’s not taboo, then that becomes a lot easier.
Rick: Yeah, and it does mean that you’re not perfect, and why should you try to pretend you are?
Tina: Right, exactly.
Rick: That in itself is dangerous.
Tina: It is. It’s the source I think of a lot of these things that we’ve seen. To have us all be a work in progress and to be at different stages, like you said, there is a reality to that, that we are all at different stages. But to have that humility and to be dedicated, to me— what I want for myself is to have that dedication to always continuing to explore further depth and further freedom.
Rick: One thing I’ve been meaning to ask you, and this will be a bit of an abrupt shift of gears here, is you’ve done this amazing spiritual practice. With three hours at a time and just really deep focused meditation. And we haven’t really gotten into the Jhanas, which are various stages of spiritual experience, but you apparently have mastered all eight of them, and spent many hours in each of them and so on. Does all that concentrative ability make you some kind of a superwoman in terms of your regular life when you engage in a business context or something? Do you find yourself, or write a book, do you find yourself with laser focus and activity?
Tina: I do feel like that’s a capacity that I have. I’m pretty high functioning because in my business life, I work with people who are very high functioning in the world. These are extremely high-functioning people, and I have to be able to function equally to them in order for them to be able to want to work with me, basically. So I guess that part of what I bring to that is those capacities of being able to move through things with a certain kind of focus and intensity. And then the Vipassana and the other practices bring that fluidity, which gets cultivated by those. Each practice does, each of the four categories of practice they’ve now discovered in the brain research, is doing something different to the brain, to the things they can measure, but also to our consciousness. So yeah, I feel like it does influence my life in the world quite a lot, all of that.
Rick: Yeah. Okay, again a little bit of an abrupt shift. We talked about wholesomeness and concentration or serenity, and then there’s insight: Vipassana. And then there’s Rigpa, you said. So let’s just kind of quickly run us through insight and Rigpa because I guess these are like four stages in the process of liberation, right?
Tina: Yeah, yeah, it’s sort of a little bit of a hybrid of the Theravada and the Tibetan, which is what I practice. It’s a hybrid of the two. In insight meditation, where there’s a potential for insights into both our psychological functioning, which isn’t technically what the insight means, the insight really means into a more fundamental level of reality, which would be non-duality and other types of things like that. So that’s done really through examining our experience with a lot of precision. So on the cushion in meditation, we’re really examining the flow of experiences that’s arising in every moment. And through that, we’re cultivating the ability to not get either attached to the pleasant, where we’re hanging on and then we’re going to suffer when it goes away, because ultimately all experiences change into something else, or we’re pushing away the unpleasant Experiences, which are an inevitable part of the human experience. This is the first noble truth of Buddhism, is that part of the human experience is that unpleasant things happen. So that’s really what Vipassana is cultivating, and then is insight at a deeper level into the insubstantiality and the way we’ve constructed the ego self is really a construct in our mind that isn’t what we think it is, that’s constructed through thought, basically. So we’re seeing through that in different ways in Vipassana. And then if you go on in Tibetan Buddhism to Rigpa, that’s really where that practice—again there’s the four categories that they found in the brain: the heart-based practices which do certain things, the focused attention which is the concentration, the open monitoring which is like the Vipassana where really the present moment becomes our object, and then self-transcending practices, which I like the Dzogchen version of that the best, where we’re actually attempting
Rick: That’s Rigpa, the self-transcending?
Tina: That’s Rigpa, that’s where we’re going for the non-duality, so in Zen they would have practices really trying to open that up, open the non-duality up. A lot of different traditions, probably TM has something like that.
Rick: It probably falls into that category because very often you transcend right off the bat in your first sitting.
Tina: Okay, so that would be then a self-transcending practice from the very start. So yeah, this is really where there’s that potential to open up the awareness to non-duality where that becomes sustainable over time.
Rick: And so in terms of it being sustainable—well actually, before I talk about sustainability, a lot of the jhanas interface with the outline you just gave us. I take it that they are— I’ve read in your book that jhana is equivalent to the word dhyana in Sanskrit, which is usually translated as meditation. So would the jhanas be like different depths of meditation, different stages as one progresses?
Tina: Yeah, you can see it like that. The first four jhanas are considered form or material jhanas, so within those four we’re really using objects of the meditation like the breath. There’s 40 objects that are possible to use in the Samatha path. But there’s a deepening of what’s called the jhana factors, and so the hindrances that— we’re basically moving farther and farther out of the ego self and the personality patterning in those. And then the second four (jhanas five, six, seven, eight) are considered a whole different category that’s called formless realms or immaterial realms or boundless dimensions. So these are considered actual dimensions of experience that are boundless. And it just so happens that, in my understanding, they correlate with what’s the understanding is in the Diamond Approach of dimensions of reality that different traditions may emphasize one dimension or another. So every tradition doesn’t necessarily emphasize everyone. Like Christianity emphasizes one that’s more heart-based. Buddhism tends to be more on the emptiness side of the equation. Some are more on the unity side of the equation. This is a way of understanding the world’s traditions that makes it coherent, but basically each of those dimensions comes closer and closer to the ground of being.
Rick: Okay, and is the final one “get to the ground of being” or what?
Tina: Well, in the Hindu path, going through all eight jhanas is considered enlightenment. In the Buddhist path, it’s not because the Buddha did all these. He did the eight jhanas from which he learned from his own teachers because they’ve been around for 5,000 years. They predated the Buddha. Then he added the Vipassana because one of the things that is understood or is believed in concentration, at least in Buddhism, is that it’s—or the jhanas is that it’s dependent on a level of concentration. That if that Wanes, we start falling back into some of the hindrances. So Vipassana is supposed to uproot that. I’m getting a little technical here. And then there’s the stages of awakening within Buddhism that go along with that. But the taste of the boundless dimensions are basically tastes of non-dual realms that when stable are equivalent to awakening. So it gets a little muddled because in Buddhism they had to figure out what to do with these given that the Buddha added to it.
Rick: So you yourself, as I understand it, have experienced all these realms or gone through all these stages. Have you stabilized them all?
Tina: What I would say is that different ones arise and become predominant at different times. This is where again the 51% rule comes in, like what percent am I now? I could take a stab at guessing a percent. At the point of awakening I’d say it was maybe—I don’t know. I won’t even give a percent. But that sense of being the ground never goes away. That’s what I would say in answering your question. The sense of what I am never changes, but the sense of where is my locus. Is it more in the world of functioning where there’s a sense that—I mean all of the functionings arising from that, so that’s clear, arising from the ground. But there may be times when there’s a sense of being deeper in that ground, and there may be times when there’s a sense of being more in the functioning.
Rick: Depends on what’s called for.
Tina: Right, right, so that’s what I would say.
Rick: So ideally—well actually another question first. Do you know many people that you have been on retreats with or that are students of yours that have also experienced all these jhanas in such fine detail as you have?
Tina: No, it’s extremely rare according to my teacher, Pa-Auk Sayadaw, who was authorizing to teach. It’s extremely rare that anybody would attain all eight jhanas.
Tina: Uh-huh, cool, well it doesn’t seem to have gone to your head. You seem pretty down-to-earth about it.
Tina: This is why I say awakening is no—this is when I said that the Buddha nature isn’t any different, and I really believe that. And that’s why to me those are experiences. I feel a sense of grace, and I’ve always had this fire for awakening since a very young Age. I was drawn to this, so I do believe in the rebirth and karma. I believe that this is just this lifetime’s unfoldment, but to take credit for it is ridiculous. When one really sees what’s happening, the idea of taking credit is totally counter to what’s actually being understood.
Rick: Yeah, I agree. Do you think that at the very highest levels of attainment that human beings attain, they would not be able to function very successfully in the world? You see somebody like Ramana who pretty much had to live a reclusive life, or maybe that was just his nature, but do you think his awakening could have been lived in, had he decided to have a family and run a business, or do you think that if you really want to get up there, you have to sort of live a lifestyle like that?
Tina: Well, this is a little controversial in this way, so I’ll just say that before I answer. And Ramana to me was somebody who embodied being—I just talked about whether being on the functioning end or being at the ground end. He was at the ground end, and some people, a lot of people, put that on a very, very high pedestal. Very high. That he maybe was one of the most (in our time) awakened beings because he was abiding in the ground end. And I agree that I experienced through his teaching that that is how I experienced his embodiment and his teaching. To me, the full human experience means living in the world, and so I don’t see Ramana’s embodiment as the pinnacle of the human potential.
Rick: Ken Wilber said something like that when I interviewed him too. Couldn’t it just be that Ramana had a recluse dharma, that’s what he was cut out for?
Tina: Yeah, it’s not a criticism, I’m just saying like what would have happened if he had had to pay a mortgage? What if he had ten children? We would have seen a totally different—this was his unfoldment, and it was perfect as it was. But to me, there’s a way that what I see happening in the whole evolution of consciousness is can we function living all of the potentialities of the human experience to be in a relationship to—I don’t have children, but for those who feel drawn to that—to have offspring, to contribute in other ways and still be fully functioning from that awakened place. To me, that is actually a higher bar than abiding because I was at that point—I’m not saying I was anywhere close to the depth of Ramana—but after awakening, I thought I was going to go off and be basically like that. Be just living my awakening and not interacting with the world that much, and I think this is actually harder. I think what I did is harder. And it’s causing my consciousness to have to do a lot of things that it wouldn’t have had to do if I had just gone off and enjoyed my realization.
Rick: Yeah, I could say something similar. I lived a monastic life for many years and kind of was bound and determined to do that for the rest of my life, but I think that nature had other plans for me. Even though it has been harder in some respects, I would say for me at least it’s been better, and I’m grateful that my life has taken this course. I think I’m much happier, more productive, more integrated, more balanced, and everything’s better than anywhere. I look at some of my friends who stayed with that other course, and some of them are doing great and some of them could use a little integration, but it may be a little late for them now (they’re pushing 70).
Tina: Right, well that’s what I’m saying. Whatever a person’s dharma is, if it’s to be a monastic, I have great respect for that. I’m just saying that traditionally there was this thing, monastics or Ramana, and there was this pedestal that this is the ultimate pinnacle of humanness.
Rick: Right, we want the best thing we can get. We’re zealots.
Tina: Right, and I’m just putting out there. I know it’s controversial. I’ve had people, even spiritual teachers, kind of attack me for saying this, so that was interesting. But I will just put out there that coming back from awakening and seeing what kind of embodiment and what you just talked about with your own life of living as a regular human, what’s possible in that, I’m not saying it’s better, but what I’m saying is that I think it’s equal. And that even the way you asked me that question, there was a little bit of an implication that, well, do we have to abandon regular life to get to the level of a Ramana like his level? I don’t know that his level was higher. Maybe his level wasn’t as functional. Maybe he didn’t have the flexibility to go from being at the base to being in the functioning. Maybe that was limited in him. Again, I have great respect for him, but I don’t know that when I see that, I see the full potentiality of the human experience.
Rick: Yeah, and it’s hard to judge from the outside. If we could step into his eyeballs, behind them, and see the world as he saw it, and then step into somebody else’s and see that, then we could really measure it, but it’s hard to say. But obviously he served a function and he had a huge impact on the world.
Tina: Oh, totally, I have great respect for him, and I think there are a lot of ways to embody full realization.
Rick: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. And there are people, such as Amma behind me, who is a recluse in the sense that she’s not a householder, but who is immersed in a level of activity that would kill the average mortal in a short time, dealing with everything from running hospitals to orphanages, hugging it. So, I guess just to wrap up this point, we’re all sense organs of the infinite, and sense organs each have their own function. You can’t say that the eyes are better than the ears, which is better than the sense of smell or something, they just have different functions.
Tina: Right, absolutely. They’re all manifestations. Like you say, again, they’re the fingers of the hand, and every finger is equally as good as every other finger in terms of that manifestation.
Rick: Yeah, well put. Alrighty, well, we’ve been going on for a while, and we could probably go on for as long as we just did and talk about entirely different things, picking through your book in detail. But I think this gives people a nice taste of who you are, what you’re up to, and what should people do if they want to connect with you more? You have webinars, you have in-person courses?
Tina: Oh, absolutely, the website is awakeningdharma.com, or if somebody forgets that, jhanasadvice.com.
Rick: And I’ll be linking to it from your page on Batgap.
Tina: Okay, yeah, so all of the teaching schedule, both for me and Stephen, are on there. I do work with people one-on-one via Skype, phone, Zoom, around the world, so that’s an option. There’s free talks on Dharma Seed, lots and lots of talks if people want to hear those that get into the teaching more. And then there’s a new offering called Retreat in a Box, so virtual retreats, so we’re going to start offering those soon, which have been years in the making. I’m really excited about it, where people can do home practice and get guidance if they want and not have to go to a retreat center. Just like what I did, but for short times.
Rick: I like that, Retreat in a Box. Just add water.
Tina: Yeah, they don’t actually get a box, it’s all the media streams from online, but basically you can do a retreat. There are videos, audios. I’m so excited about it. We’re probably very close to having that be available, the first one.
Rick: Cool, so I imagine you have some email list that people can subscribe to, to be notified of these things.
Tina: Absolutely, yeah, the newsletter only goes out like six times a year, and it never is shared with anyone, so you’re not going to be bombarded with emails if you sign up for the list, and that has announcements and other things on it.
Rick: Alrighty, well thanks. I really appreciated having this time with you. It’s been fun, and I’m sure I’ll see you again, probably out at SANDS.
Tina: Yeah, I’ll have to come up and say hi. The time went so fast. I wasn’t sure what we were going to talk about for two hours, but it went by really quickly. I enjoyed getting to know you. This was fun.
Rick: Yeah, alright, so let me just make a few wrap-up points. First thing, I want to apologize to the audience for all the dog-growling noises and stuff in the background, barking and whatnot. Dogs will be dogs. They seem particularly rambunctious today. I think because the weather is rainy and they sort of have cabin fever. They’ve been kind of cooped up here. But in any case, this is not NPR or whatever. It’s kind of an amateurish operation, but we do the best we can. So this, as you know, is one in an ongoing series, and there have been nearly 500, and hopefully there will be at least that many more as the years roll on. If you’d like to be notified each time a new interview is published, please go to batgap.com. There’s an email sign-up thing there, and like Tina, we don’t spam you or sell the list to anybody or something, you get an email about once a week when I do a new interview and put it up. And there are a number of other things you can see there too, if you explore the menus, such as audio podcasts, if you’d rather just subscribe in audio than sit and watch videos. So check it out, poke around through the menus, and there will be a page for Tina on the site. And if you happen to be looking at this five years from now or something, under the past interviews menu, there’s a place where you can just go and if you just type in “Tina,” boom, it will come up immediately and you’ll be able to link to her page and then bounce from there to her website. So thank you, Tina.
Tina: Thanks Rick, thanks for inviting me. It was fun.
Rick: Yeah, it was. And thanks to those who have been listening or watching. I’m a little hoarse this week. I have a bit of a cold or something, and hopefully next week I won’t have it. I’ll see you then.