In March 1999 Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche gave a weekend teaching at Vajradhara Gonpa about calm abiding or shamatha meditation. Here we present an extract from that teaching.

For those who are completely new, there are going to be a lot of technical terms like yoga, shamatha, etc. Don't worry so much, it's just my habit. I have this habit, we Buddhists have a habit of uttering some of these words. It doesn't mean a lot. But once you experience [it], then maybe some of this can give [you] a lot of meaning. For instance, the word 'yoga'. I think for a lot of Byron Bay and Nimbin people [towns in northern New South Wales with alternative populations], 'yoga' just means stretching. Me, I am trained to think in a different way. When we say [the word] 'yoga' - in Tibetan 'yoga' is translated as nal jor (rnal 'byor) - it has a very rich meaning. Nal (rnal) actually means 'being natural' and jor ('byor) means 'wealth', 'richness'.

So we are talking about the richness or the wealth of being natural. As a human being, we need to have wealth - mundane, materialistic wealth, and more mental wealth or spiritual wealth, such as love, compassion, knowledge, intelligence, diligence, patience and so on. Then [we need] physical wealth - beauty, attractiveness, majesty, radiance or whatever. But yoga is the richness or the wealth of being natural. In fact, the word 'yogi', or in Tibetan nal jor pa, means 'one who has such kind of wealth, the wealth of being natural'. In India or in Tibet, we refer to practitioners, meditators, as yogis, meaning they have this richness or they have this wealth of being natural.
The question is, for what should we practise shamatha? To be natural or, in fact, to use more practical language, to be under the control of oneself. That's it. Most of the time we are not under the control of [ourselves]. Our mind is always attracted or distracted with something - our enemies, our lovers, our friends, just everything, hope, fear, jealousy, pride, attachment, aggression, all of this. So, in other words, [it's] the objects, the phenomena, the world, which control our mind; we have no control over it. Maybe we can control [it] a little bit, for a split second; but if you are in an extreme emotional state, you'll lose it.
So the purpose of shamatha meditation you can say, therefore, is to actually achieve a certain control over one's own mind. In that case, it can be used for all kinds of mundane purposes - as mundane as, tomorrow, if you need to go for a job interview, you need to behave well in front of whoever is the new employer. Your state of mind should be relaxed, you should not cough too much or you should not scratch. You should not do certain things, otherwise this might make the person who's supposed to give you a job think twice because you are behaving strangely. So, on every level in our world, we need control and in order to gain such control we do shamatha meditation.
Then, of course, for a Buddhist the objective is not just a worldly, mundane, short-term objective. We are supposedly looking for enlightenment, we are supposedly looking for higher achievement. For that, definitely, we need control over our mind.
From the Buddhist point of view, being natural has got a lot to do with [being] unfabricated, unfabricated by all kinds of dualistic references. So, in this sense, for example, the highest vipashyana or insight meditation, such as maha-ati of the Nyingma tradition, emphasises a lot not fabricating and remaining in the state of being natural. So I guess for those who have a long, solid aim to follow this path and gradually practise advanced Buddhist meditation such as Dzogchen or whatever, they should get used to this term of being natural.

As a human being, when a problem comes, our immediate habit, our strong habit, is to counter-attack or to overcome it or try to do something about it. That's the habit that we have. No one - not many people anyway - can accept that, in fact, the best way to combat this problem, the best way to overcome it, is by remaining in the state of naturalness. That's kind of difficult because, first of all, we do not know what 'being natural' [is]… And, you see, in the absolute definition, being natural is being free from dualistic references, so you are going beyond not only aggression, passion and all that, but even [beyond] so-called good thoughts like love and compassion, serenity, sanity, all of that - because all those are also a bit of an emotion, all of those are also thoughts, concepts.
But right now for many of us, if we talk about reaching to a stage where not only [do we not] have negative emotions but [there are] also no other dualistic thoughts such as love and compassion and all that, that's beyond our reach. We have a lot of this religious habit, for instance, 'I'm a Buddhist, I should be compassionate.' That's good, there's nothing wrong with that, but there's something that you have to actually add. Not only should one be compassionate as a Buddhist, but one should actually really try to remain in the state of [naturalness]. That's probably the main aim of the Buddhist teachings.
In fact, as you would hear if you received teachings like Mahamudra, if we can remain in this state of [naturalness], that is referred to as wealth. Why is it wealth? When you have this ability to remain in the natural state, then you will manage to find all this wealth of love and compassion automatically. So, in this sense, what I'm saying is that if you do shamatha meditation - just watching the breathing in and out, in and out - when the thoughts come, do not reject them, do not encourage them. That's not what you are supposed to do. You only watch the breathing, in and out. Slowly, all this fabrication of thoughts becomes less or weak or slow. When that happens, the true colour or the true nature of the mind then has some space to function.
Right now we are not giving this mind any opportunity to act like itself. There's just no space to manifest itself. Then the [next] question - maybe a curious question - is if we let this mind perform, what kind of performance does this mind have? What is the true colour [of mind]? This is where the Buddhist answer comes in. Here, the Buddhists [would] ask, 'What is the definition of mind?' Luminous. This luminosity has a big definition. It's endless. Most of the Mahayana teachings, all the Vajrayana teachings, are taught in order to explain what this luminosity means. So it's not something that we can just say in a few hours. But, generally, in order to encourage practitioners, we usually give beautiful names to this true nature of mind, this true colour, such as 'buddha nature', 'the buddha within'. Now, as I say this, it sounds a little negative because I'm almost saying we just give this a beautiful label that it actually does not deserve. I'm not [meaning] that. It does deserve [the label]. This true nature of mind is given a name 'buddha nature', 'the buddha within', 'basic goodness', and it really does deserve this name of buddha nature.
Why? It's quite difficult to tell you because it's like you don't have eyes on your toes. So if I tell you, 'Imagine how you would see the table through your toe', you cannot imagine [it]. You can use the reference of putting your head upside-down and looking at it, but it doesn't work. It's slightly difficult to imagine. Why? Because right now this mind of ours… Every time we use this mind, we are always using this mind through these emotions, through this fabrication, through these fabricated filters. That's the only reference we have. These emotions, these negative things, like jealousy, pride, that's the only way. That's it. This is why the true colour [of mind] is not manifesting, because that's the only way we can understand.

Now, if I say, imagine your mind without anger, without aggression, without ignorance, without dullness, without agitation, without references, without knowledge, without education, without a political system, it's quite difficult, isn't it? The Buddhists have decided to give this beautiful name, 'the buddha within', 'buddha nature', to this true colour [of mind]. And it does really deserve this name because what Buddhists think is this - 'buddha' [means] the awakened one - the true colour, the true nature of the mind is the awakened state. The ignorance, the desire, the jealousy, all these are not awakened. So what I'm saying is, the term 'awakened' is used in reference to these emotions. The emotions, the negative emotions like desire, aggression, they are not awakened. Why are they not awakened?

It's easy to know because when you have aggression, you are blind, definitely. On a gross level, when you have aggression you only see one thing, what you want to see, what you have decided to see, what you are taught to see, what you are fixated on seeing. That's it. You don't see the whole picture. You only see that one side of the picture, and even that one side we don't know whether that is the real one side. It could be just your imagination. That's why it's not awakened; it is totally in a deep sleep. As long as you have this ignorance, these emotions, these things are making us not natural. That's it. Why are we not natural? Because of these things. We are angry, we lose our naturalness. We are jealous, we lose our [naturalness]. The real mind has none of these.

So now, what are we doing? Shamatha is now a big trick. Shamatha does not necessarily grab this true colour of the mind and say, 'Look, this is what you should be looking at'. That's not shamatha's job. Shamatha knows very well that you are distracted by all this, you are fabricating, you are being not natural because of all these [delusions]. So shamatha then chooses another object and says, 'Hey, pay attention to this, divert your attention to this', and by doing so, you then realise all this [distraction] is surrounding you all the time, constantly, and that's already an achievement. The moment you have this realisation that, 'I have been surrounded from beginningless time [by] all these thoughts, these distractions', that's a very big achievement. You should be throwing a party every time you [realise] this.
Another reason why we are not in touch with the natural state of mind is we are not in the present, we are never in the present in the normal time. When you meditate, as you do shamatha, thoughts arise. If you think [about it], most of these thoughts are something to do with the past or the future. Some may be not that obviously [about] the past or may be not that obviously [about] the future, but they are related to the past or the future - something that you have done in the past, something that you are going to do in the future. This is where we dwell. We waste so much of our life, dwelling in the past and the future, brooding about the past and fantasising about the future or [fearing] the future, using these two [reference points], sometimes using the past as a reference and thinking that something like that might happen in the future - hope, fear, always.
This creates a lot of unnaturalness because the most important [thing] is the present and this we always take for granted. Not only do we take it for granted, but this we never dwell [in] actually. We don't dwell in the present. In shamatha, as you will see, you are dwelling on the present moment's breath. This is why, as you concentrate on the breath, you shouldn't be concentrating on the past breath or the future breath - 'Oh, I did that' or 'I'm going to concentrate on this future breath'. This breath that you are breathing now, this is the most important [one]. This is what you should be concentrating [on]. If you dwell in the present, preoccupation with the past and the future is going to definitely reduce or become weak. And if you have less of this preoccupation or fabrication, definitely that's the state of naturalness.

Let's see, now that you have this idea. Try to do one more [meditation], watching the present moment's breath. If you lose it, it doesn't matter. Just breathe and concentrate on the present moment, this moment's breath, this moment ...