From the 1997 teachings at Vancouver, British Columbia from The Journey of the Mind
Excerpted from Shenpen Ösel Magazine: Volume 2, Number 3 - December 1998

In the instructions of the mahasiddhas of the past, there are basically two approaches to samadhi or meditation. They are called taking inferential valid cognition as the path and taking direct valid cognition as the path.

The first of these, taking inferential valid cognition as the path, is making use of logical reasoning in order to determine the actual nature of things. It is using your intelligence, using your capacity to reason clearly, with guidance, in order to correctly determine that things are not what they appear to be. The practice basically consists of thinking very, very carefully. To give a brief example, if you were to consider the nature of appearances, you might say, "well, what is the actual nature of what appears?" Then through detailed analysis, you would determine that the coarse substance that appear to you are really composed of particles and have no existence whatsoever as what they appear to be. You would determine that what appear to be (shoes and ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings) are merely mental impositions or imputations. Then you would determine that the particles that make up these objects themselves in turn have no substantial or material existence, and that any such material existence is also simply a mental imputation. Then you would turn and examine the status of your cognition, or mind, and determine that it is a series of discrete instants, which have no duration. This type of analysis is the basis of arriving at the understanding expressed in the Heart Sutra, for example, where it says, "No eyes, no ears, no mouth, no nose…" and so on.

The basic approach is to break things down further and further and further. You use analysis in this way to the point of resolving, in decisive way, the actual nature of things, and then you meditate within the confidence of understanding that nature. That, essentially is the first approach, which is taking inference, or inferential valid cognition, as the path.

Now, when this type of analysis is conducted in a thorough way, it resolves two things, which are called the selflessness of person or individuals and the selflessness of things or phenomena in general. The selflessness of person is the lack of inherent existence of person or individuals, and the selflessness of phenomena or dharmas is the lack of inherent existence of dharmas in general. The basic format of this type of meditation and study has been laid down very clearly.

Generally speaking, it comes from the instructions of Lord Nagarjuna and passed down and introduced in Tibet by Lord Atisha. These instructions exist, and we use them, but we do not use them as our main technique of meditation. The reason being, first of all, in the application of this approach to meditation, a great deal of rigorous study is necessary, and only after that study has been engaged in can you begin the process of an equally rigorous scrutiny, applying what has been learned in study. And through that scrutiny and analysis you gradually develop certainty as to the nature of things as they have been analyzed. But at that point, when you begin to apply this analysis and the certainty arising from it as a basis for meditation practice, it seems that it takes a very long time to actually develop a meditative realization. So, according to the lineage of common instructions (Vajrayana), it is to use this type of analytical reasoning as a mode of study and reflection, but not as the primary technique of meditation.
When it comes to the actual practice of meditation, we emphasize the other approach, which is taking direct valid cognition as the path.

According to this approach, in which we use direct experience as the basis of meditation technique, we do not worry too much about the existential status of external things. If external things that appear to us are empty, that is fine: if they are not empty, that is fine too. Because our problem, our situation, is really caused by and determined by our mind, therefore, from this point of view we would say that which is most important as an object of scrutiny is the mind itself. We experience happiness and sadness, we experience attachment and aversion, we experience faith and devotion, and all of these experiences are thoughts or styles of thought that arise in our mind. External objects do not produce them. Therefore, it is our minds themselves that must be scrutinized and it is the true nature of our minds that must be recognized.
Now, we generally never look at our minds. We never examine our minds to see what they really consist of. We have an ongoing and underlying assumption that our minds exist, and we tend to assume that they must have some substantial existence and characteristics. But we have never actually checked to see; we have never actually looked at our minds to see whether or not they really do exist.
Now, when you look at your mind directly, which you may never have done before, what you discover is that your mind is the nature of things, that your mind is dharmata itself. The mind's obvious and fully manifest characteristics are the characteristics of the ultimate nature. And this can be seen and is seen directly by you as an individual, and seeing has nothing whatsoever to do with logical reasoning or the drawing of inference of any kind. Because it is your mind, you are the only person who can directly experience your mind. And it is the easiest thing for you to look at and the easiest thing for you to experience directly as an individual.

No one else knows your mind, but you know your mind.
Now, how do you look at the mind? You could begin by looking to see where the mind is. Is it inside your body or outside the body? Certainly you might say it is not outside the body, but if it is inside your body, exactly where is it? Can you pinpoint it? And, if you find where it is, exactly how much space does it occupy? How big is your mind? Is it big or is it small? And what substantial characteristics, such as color and shape and so forth, does it have? When you try to track down and scrutinize the mind, asking these various questions and coming to the answers not through reasoning but through what you experience as you look at and look for the mind, you gradually discover that there is nothing to find. The mind seems not to be anywhere. In fact, the mind seems to be utterly nonexistent. You discover that, in fact, we have just had this assumption all along that the mind existed, and yet there does not seem to be anything there whatsoever.
Now, you might think at this point that you are not finding the mind because you are not looking in the right way, that you do not know how to look, but that is not the case. Or you might think that you do not find the mind because the mind is too small or because the mind is too subtle or because the mind is too transparent, too diaphanous to be seen. But in fact it is not for any of these reasons that you cannot find your mind. The reason that you cannot find anything when you look for your mind is that the mind is not a self. The mind has no true or inherent existence, which is what the Buddha meant when he talked about selflessness and when he talked about emptiness; this is it, exactly. And when you have seen that your mind has no existence, then you have no need whatsoever to ask anyone about what this nature is - what emptiness is, and so on. This is something that we can each, as individuals, experience for ourselves within our own minds. This is very important. And the first thing you need to understand about this is that this is not some kind of doctrine or belief; it is not something you should take on faith or on authority.

You should not have the attitude, "Well, the lama said there is no mind, so that must be how it is; there must be no mind there." Or, "I've heard that there is no mind, that the mind does not exist; okay, it must be true." This has nothing whatsoever to do with what you have been told about the mind, because this is something that you can see as an individual for yourself. And it is not something that is in any way difficult to discover. Any time you care to look at your mind, you will see this right away. Not only is it easy to see it is impossible for you to look at your mind and not see that there is nothing to see. So please look at your mind.

If you have any questions you would like to ask, please go ahead.

Question: In the application of inferential valid cognition in a meditation technique which is, in its basic form, using direct valid cognition, does one extend the inferential valid cognition until it becomes refined into direct valid cognition? Or, does one consciously relinquish or set aside the inferential valid cognition and transfer one's attention to a separate discipline or experience of direct valid cognition?

Rinpoche: Well, one of the traditional ways that this has been explained is that one can begin by generating a correct inferential valid cognition of emptiness, of the nature of things. And, on the basis of that inferential ascertainment of the nature, then one can generate a direct valid cognition of that same nature. What this involves initially is developing a conceptual certainty of the nature of things, in short, a certain understanding of the meaning of the statement that all dharmas or all things are empty. What is meant by certainty here, according to the instructions of the masters of the past. is such intense certainty, such absolute conviction that, no matter who appeared before you and said, "It is not true, all dharmas are not empty," it would not in the least shake or unsettle you in your conviction.
Now, having first gained such a conviction through the analysis of inferential valid cognition, one would then proceed to refine that by means of thinking about it again and again and again. Gradually the clarity or intensity of the certainty would increase, and through this process, then, its conceptual content would be refined increasingly away through the increasing clarity of this certainty, until it would, at some point, become a direct valid cognition of emptiness.