NN: Yes. Sangha is so important. It provides a radically different social context.
Ideally this is the social context of pure view which is a powerful opportunity for undermining dualism. Here we can try to view each other as people who practice pure view and bask in the appreciation of that.
Q: Yes, even though I’m a practitioner, there are still periods of time when I’m not aware – when I’m on automatic pilot or something. Then I come out of it and realise I have been like that. I notice and realise that for the last three hours I’ve been unaware.
NN: Yes – but every time you notice is a success. I assume that you are not speaking of rigpa16 when you use the word awareness?
Q: No. I just mean being present and fully conscious.
NN: Then every moment we become present and fully conscious is the success of re-emerging presence. Every moment of presence enables and encourages another moment, and that enables us to awaken into presence more often. Every three hours is actually astonishing if you consider that there are so many who spend their entire lives partially unconscious.
Q: Yes, the time I spend with the sangha gives me the ability to be more awake, and in touch with practice. This decreases if I’m away from my sangha for too long.
Q2: Retreats can be like a battery charge.
NN: Yes – but it is valuable to be able to take that experience into everyday life. It would be a shame if you became entirely dependent on the presence of sangha. It would be valuable to observe to what extent you can bring a greater sense of being awake into your every day life. This should increase over the years – or else you would have to question the nature of being awake on retreats.
Q: Could you say something about maintaining commitment and energy out of the context of sangha?
NN: Well… it can be hard in the early years of practice to maintain commitment and energy in a country where you cannot practice so openly; where practice is not part of the culture.
It is important for newer practitioners to meet with sangha to practice – to do things together which bring them back to an understanding of themselves as practitioners. Ngala ’ö-Dzin told me how as a child, he and his brother would be especially reprimanded for arguing on a Sunday afternoon. This was because ‘they had just come back from church’. It would be permissible by Monday or Tuesday [laughter], but just after church they should be better behaved – because they should still be under the good influence of church. We don’t have the opportunity to be ‘church on Sunday Dharma practitioners’ in Britain, so it’s important to meet and share practice experience with sangha as often as we can. Eventually the awareness of being a practitioner is always with us.
16. Rigpa (rig pa) (Tibetan): vidya (Sanskrit), primordial nondual awareness