Buddhist Philosophy

Spacious meditation plays an important role throughout our Buddhist practice path. Buddhist teachers often emphasize spaciousness as a quality we should develop. But sometimes, we can become confused about this term: what does it mean to be spacious?

Spacious Meditation

Spacious Meditation: Not Spaced Out

What is the difference between having a “spacious” mind and being “spaced out?” A student recently asked Phakchok Rinpoche this specific question.

When we meditate with spaciousness, we also maintain clarity. Yet, the moment we lose that clarity, we have “spaced out.” We can recognize this pattern, right? We often say we, “spaced out,” don’t we? And we generally don’t value that as a good thing. We actually lose our awareness. Sometimes we might say we experienced a state of “non-thought.”

We may call this spaced-out state by many different names. However, we should recognize that when we space out, this is not meditation. We’re really experiencing a fuzzy state with no clear distinctions. Just a kind of “gap.” We’ve lostSpacious Meditation our clarity and we’re not really aware of what is happening, right?

So having a gap like this is not our objective — not a good thing — but it is very natural. We don’t judge ourselves when this happens, but we do need to recognize that we have strayed from our meditation. Because we tend to stray, being aware of a sense of clarity is very important.

Reflection Exercise

As you sit in meditation, investigate your own awareness. Are you maintaining mindfulness? Do you feel a sense of openness, but also a sharpness or clarity? Can you notice when you drop into a “gap” that may be pleasant but loses that clarity? You don’t need to create this feeling if it doesn’t occur, but are you aware of when you have wandered off?

Can you understand how this is a different type of distraction than having many wild thoughts racing through your mind? When you bring your attention back, do you experience clarity in your awareness?

Both of the photos on this page show a sky, but one is open and unobstructed. In the “gap” photo, we see a sky between two hills, but it is covered with pleasant clouds. Do you see a similar contrast in the experience of spaciousness versus spacing out?

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.