Views are fundamental frames of perception in Buddhism. And in life.
Each meditation stage corresponds to a specific meditative view(Daniel P Brown)
Non-meditation meditation, the Lion´s View
What´s so important about the concept of views in Buddhist meditation?
I was completely surprised, when close to the end of a 6-day Mahamudra/Dzogchen retreat the teacher gave us the pointing out instruction:
I suddenly understood, that Mahamudra meditation was not what I had thought it to be.
Before this retreat I had used Culadasa´s "The Mind Illuminated" (Yates (Culadasa) & Immergut, 2017) guide to concentration meditation. I understood meditation as a set of various mental activities. These included strenuous concentration, techniques and strategies to block or modify the occurrence of spreading thoughts, activities to deal with meditation flaws and faults, and activities to achieve specific goals. In short: a lot of "doing".
Now I understood, that at the end of a multi-step learning process during the retreat, all meditation activities, techniques and strategies can eventually be discarded. Even meditation itself, as concept, can be let go of in the "meditation of non-meditation" . All that is left, is a view, a perspective. And even that can be discarded as a concept.
Techniques can be compared to a boat that has served to cross the river and can now float away. Or, they can be compared to a ladder than can be discarded once it has helped to climb the roof.
Instead, I now saw meditation as "ways of looking" (Rob Burbea 2015), as ways to take a specific perspective and then "lean back and watch".
Or, as Keith Dowman expresses it, "the view is the meditation only if meditation is defined as nonmeditation, or ´doing nothing demonstrative and identifying with the natire of mind´ "(Dowman 2020c).
As a total beginner, I hadn´t known then that in those six retreat days, Daniel P Brown had brought us up through all the stages of meditation: from attention training / calming the mind (shamata)up to Dzogchen non-meditation, the letting go of all concepts and "doings".
What is a view?
In the words of Rob Burbea in "Seeing that Frees", a view
in any moment is constructed from the total mix of assumptions, conceptions, reactions, and inclinations, gross and subtle, conscious and unconscious, that are present at that time" (Burbea, 2015, p. 35).
For the purpose of explanation, we can differentiate between views in general, and views in Buddhist meditation.
Sam Harris in his Waking Up "Daily Meditations" has a different way to name views: he uses terms like "prior position", or "posture in the mind".
What is meant by "view" in general?
As we go through the day, we constantly shift from one perspective or view to the other, with more or less awareness of what we are doing, and with more or less awareness of the "view" we are currently holding.
For example, I may be fully aware that I am currently being run by emotions, or by rational thought. If I am aware, I am aware of my view or at least of parts of it.
In contrast, I may unconsciously identify with each thought or emotion, being "grabbed" by them (Daniel P Brown´s preferred term). In this case, my view could be compared perhaps to that of a piece of wood floating in the river.
Beliefs and other mental constructs
Rob Burbea gives an example from everyday psychology in which way beliefs act as "views".
The view that is operating at any time will (...) be a decisive factor. Experimenting in practice we may discover that the very belief in a store of past wounds or a notion of purification actually perpetuates the experience of ‘difficult stuff coming up’. Beliefs inevitably function as views – they shape the way of looking – so will always affect what is fabricated, and thus what is experienced. And depending on the exact view adopted, the mind might also tend to reach out towards certain associations, weaving in remembered, or even conjectured, incidents from the past, near or distant. In doing so, it further constructs and solidifies a particular way of looking – all the while believing in the objectivity of what it experiences. (Burbea 2015,p 275)
Fundamental perceptual priors
At a deeper level, our view at all times embodies much more fundamental unconscious conceptions ("priors"). For example, we may hold the unconscious view that the objects we are seeing through our eyes really exist "out there as perceived" as such, completely independent of us.
Alternately, if we have trained in for example Mahamudra meditation, we may hold the assumption at a deep level that these objects are also "fabrications" like everything else. What we see is a reflection of "something" through and in our awareness.
Psychedelics and views
Equally, everyone who takes a psychedelic substance, will have an immediate and irrefutable experience of this fabricated aspect of our experience. That is why Chandaria in "The Baysian Brain and Meditation" (Chandaria 2022) never forgets to mention psychedelics as equally effective in destroying firm beliefs.
One will immediately and irrefutably know through experience that what seemed to be a firm reality is the product of a specific view. Quite literally, for example, the apparent stability of perceived visual objects is the result of a particular view on reality. In this everyday view walls and flowers do not move, sway, or breathe.
For example when I at age 61 for the first time saw flowers doing an erotic dance in their vase, after I had taken Ayahuasca, I immediately "grokked" that "my mind was moving the flowers". This is not meant literally. But it's the mind that shapes the appearance of whatever is there. Certainly there are no flowers. There is no body.
Views in movies: "there is no spoon"
A good illustration of this idea in a famous movie (Matrix) is the moment in which Neo is taught that "there is no spoon" .
"Ways of looking" approach
Chandaria (2022) in his extremely informative neurologically informed explanation of meditation illustrates "views" or "ways of looking" (he quotes Rob Burbea) as such:
Views and meditation stages: specific views in Mahamudra
Much of Mahamudra meditation training is guiding students on how to adopt and then hold specific views, first in the formal sitting meditation, and eventually at all times.
In Mahamudra, there is not only one view that the student has to learn to "settle into" . Instead, there is a sequence of views that build on each other, where each view requires a different type of mental operation.
The sequence of views described by Daniel P Brown is largely described by his model of Mahamudra meditation stages (Brown 1981). In each subsequent meditation stage of view, one more layers of deception or "fabrication" are removed. At the end, very little is left other than a kind of mirror-awareness: awareness showing itself to itself by itself to awareness.
In a much simplified form, Daniel P Brown has described these stages (with their associated views) in his explanation of the Heart Sutra as a complete development project.
Dualistic and non-dualistic views
Our ordinary consciousness observes and experiences the world from the perspective of an isolated Self: this is me, and that are the events and objects out there. This perspective is called dualistic.
The non-dualistic perspective is one where the distinction between inner and outer is dissolved in experience.
A famous teaching metaphor for a non-dualistic perspective is the "ocean and wave" view and metaphor.
This view requires the meditator to take on the imagined perceptual position of a conscious ocean watching its own waves. It corresponds to Stage 3 in the above model. In this metaphor, the ocean is the "space of awareness". The waves are the mental events (sensations, perceptions, thoughts, emotions) which arise and subside in this space. However, they are not different from the ocean itself that is also the totality of its own waves, its own movements.
This view is more difficult to realize than a simple focused attentional view in concentration meditation. In this dualistic "ordinary mindfulness" view, the individual meditator-Self observes thoughts arising and subsiding as separate meditation objects.
The ocean watching its own waves metaphor is supportive of the transition from the dualistic to the non-dual view.
Example 1: A hypnotic Ocean and Wave induction
As a practical demonstration of what a Buddhist meditation view is, I want to give you an inner experience of a particular view in Mahamudra and Dzogchen. This view allows a so-called non-dual awareness, where the duality of experiencER and experiencED, or, seER and seEN is collapsed into one.
I have constructed a short hypnotic script that facilitates a transition into this view. In this script, I use hypnotic language elements, for fun, and because in some ways Dzogchen and hypnosis fit well together. ((Gebel, 2021c)
The script plays out at an imagined empty beach. It shifts the listener's perspective away from a point of view where the observer (the subject) observes that ocean (the object of seeing). Instead, the observer becomes that ocean watching its own waves. This is a so-called non-dual view.
This script is not suited for those of you with a fear of being under water, in particular not when you cannot imagine breathing underwater.
Here is the short view:
Be the ocean watching its own waves
And here the long view, which through a guided meditation type of approach gradually eases you to take that view. For some people, this may not be necessary. Others many find it useful.
Take any comfortable relaxed position, and close your eyes.
Imagine this: you stand at an empty beach of an endless ocean, your feet in the warm gentle water, as you face the ocean. You see and hear the ocean and its waves, some closer, some in the distance. The warm waves can be drifting lazily towards you, or they can be lively. Perhaps the sunshine reflects on the waves. Perhaps there are drifting clouds. Whatever your mind prefers. It doesn't matter. Take some time to form that scene in your mind.
Now: Imagine that you have acquired the ability to breathe not only air, but also water. You have become amphibious again, a water breather, like we all were at the very beginning, when the first animals crept out of the water. Or, like you were as an embryo sweetheart swimming in your mother's womb.
You decide to walk a few steps deeper into the water. Then you continue to slowly walk onwards into the ocean, farther and farther, step by step, deeper and deeper, until your body and then very slowly your head is fully submerged in the warm water.
You now have switched to breathing the warm water, effortlessly because you can. Water is like air. Imagine, still with closed eyes, being underwater with open eyes. Deep in the water, in its shimmering green, look slowly around. Take everything into awareness. The water, the fish, the plankton, the light from above.
Now, as you look, stop and wait for a moment as you are very calm. Now imagine this, and enjoy: you very slowly at first begin to dissolve into the warm water. Very slowly the body dissolves, starting with the outer layer, as you notice that your entire body consists of a transparent substance, perhaps like a translucid soap that dissolves easily in the warm water, layer by layer, drifting away.
And also you become conscious that your consciousness too dissolves. Your consciousness, though, does not dilute its clarity and perception. It stays as it is, fully aware of everything, as it expands, and it even becomes clearer and more aware the wider it spreads itself throughout the ocean .
In this manner, your body and your mind dissolve throughout the entire ocean, and merge with it, as they dissolve, slowly at first, then very fast, and then very fast, in seconds, from one coast to the other.
Now, imagine this. As you have completed that dissolution, you have become that ocean. Because even your molecules and atoms have dissolved, and your awareness has permeated the entire ocean, and the ocean has therefore also become that conscious lively you.
Now, really imagine fully and vividly that you ARE the ocean. The ocean and its waves. And you are the ocean, quietly watching its own waves. And this is a new way of seeing: you watch your own waves from every point in the ocean at the same time. There is no more localized observation point, no point of reference, apart from the entire ocean, and each wave, at once. You ARE the entire ocean, watching all its own waves, all those waves which are the entire ocean.
Now open your eyes again. Slowly imagine that everything you see hear feel is like a wave of the ocean of your awareness. Keep the view that you are that ocean of things and events that before seemed to be external to you.
You are the ocean where everything you see, everything you feel, everything you hear is you. Everything inside and outside arises as a wave, with no effort at all.
Example 2: the "Lions view"
This is the famous "Lion´s view". It is a metaphorical teaching to adopt a view where the student is instructed face his own awareness.
This view leads to "awareness showing itself by itself through itself to itself".
(This can also be seen as a pointing out instruction of the "search operation" type)
When you run after your thoughts, you are like a dog chasing a stick: every time a stick is thrown, you run after it. Instead, be like a lion who, rather than chasing after the stick, turns to face the thrower. One only throws a stick at a lion once. (Milarepa, 2021)
This is a wonderful metaphor for "awakening": once one has had a glimpse of this "awareness showing itself to awareness" at a deep level, one will never forget.
Daniel P Brown, in the intro the Tapihritsa´s work "The Six Lamps", describes the view like this:
This view...entails taking the limitless, timeless field of awareness itself as the object of meditation, holding the view of the non-dual unbounded wholeness uninterruptedly, moment-by-moment, without looking at anything in particular. In this way, any tendency of the mind to pick out anything in particular is viewed as the activity of the unbounded wholeness itself, in such a way that the view no longer interferes with the direct recognition of the unbounded wholeness that is always right here.(Tapihritsa et al., 2022, p. 4)