Two Ways Of Freeing Thought (Thanks To Tskoknyi Rinpoche)

How do we, beginning or–most especially–more seasoned meditators, free ourselves from thought?

Tsoknyi Rinpoche speaks about three ways in his book Fearless Simplicity: The Dzogchen Way of Living Freely in a Complex World:

There are three ways to be free. The first one is called freed upon arising. In this state, arising and being freed are simultaneous, like a drawing made on the surface of the water. Second is naturally freed, a snake tied in a knot unties itself. And the third is freed beyond benefit and harm. This is like a thief entering an empty house: there is nothing to find, nothing to steal.

pp. 146-7

Freed upon arising refers to the “simultaneity” of “thought occurrence and its arising” (p. 148):

You are nearly distracted, but not really. When in mind essence [your essential nature], you stay with the nonmeditation [the basic nature] without distraction. But a movement [a thought, a stirring] comes, a distraction is about to take over, and as soon as it presents itself you have the opportunity to release the movement before getting carried away [hence, before clinging]. In the moment of almost straying, there is a refreshing of your own state that immediately dissolves the thought. In other words, the first onset of thought does not mean that you are really distracted yet.

p. 148

So much for being freed upon arising. What about being naturally freed?

This second mode of freeing comes about by recognizing the very fact that the identity of any type of thought is and always was rigpa [a Tibetan concept denoting one’s essential nature]. Recognizing that fact makes it so that no matter how much the thought jumps up and dances around, whatever it tries to do, the boss is still in charge. Rigpa is still in charge and can put it straight immediately, all by itself. It is never said that a separate remedy is necessary to do away with each type of thought.

pp. 149-50

Let’s set aside the third way in this post as the first two seem especially relevant for those who are reading this post.

What, in essence, is the first way? What the second way?

As I understand it, the first one relies upon cognizance or knowing: the knowing “brightens” just before one ‘gets caught’ and thus is ‘carried away’ by thought. While this may sound like a highly voluntary affair, in practice it’s almost automatic: like rigpa is doing itself itself. (In fact, it is.)

The second way of freeing is like realizing that any thought is only a ripple of water in a vast body of water. It is and has only ever been this water, this rigpa. This is seen directly and immediately and thus the thought, far from proving to be a distraction, is nothing but further “evidence” for the ubiquitous nature of rigpa.