Stillness, Occurrence and Noticing
When embarking on meditation practice in the Mahamudra tradition, the meditator is taught three aspects: stillness occurrence, and noticing.
The cultivation of stillness means to train in cutting off involvement in memories; you disengage from entertaining any thought about what has happened in the past. The same regards the future; you are not supposed to construct any plans about the next moment. And in the present, right now, simply and completely let go. Drop everything and settle into nowness. In the Mahamudra tradition, stillness refers to just being this way—not following thoughts about the past, the future, or the present, not churning out any new thoughts.
A beginner will notice that totally letting be without any thought involvement does not last that long. Due to the karmic force of the energy currents, new thoughts are formed—thoughts grasping at subject and object, at the pleasant and unpleasant. The activation of such patterns is known as occurrence.
When the attention is quiet and still, there is a knowing that this is so. When one is involved in thinking about this and that, there is a knowing that this is so. In this context of stillness and thought occurrence, this knowing is called noticing. These are the three aspects known as stillness, occurrence and noticing.
Now, the training is this: each time you notice that you are thinking of something, you disengage from it and pull back—suspending your attention—into being quiet, into being still, an simply remain like that. When after a while you notice that you are thinking about something, again simply return to the stillness. That is the training. By repeating this over and over, you become more familiar, more experienced. That is how to progress.
As you grow more capable, there comes a point when the thought occurrences no longer have such a strong hold on the attention. It becomes easier to arrive back in the quietness. Then later, every time a thought again begins to stir, rather than getting caught up in it, we are able to simply remain, until the force of the thought occurrence weakens and the aware quality grows and strengthens. The dividing line between stillness and occurrence fades away. That is the point at which we can recognize the actual identity of noticing what it really is. In other words, vipashyana can begin.
The great yogi Milarepa said, “In the gap between the past thought and the following thought, thought-free wakefulness continuously dawns.” This is the way it is whether you recognize it or not, so the difference is to recognize. The opportunity to recognize is there all the time, and that is the training. In the beginning, a thought vanishes; that is called stillness. Next a new thought arises; that is called thought occurrence, and one notices that these are happening. These three—stillness, thought occurrence, and noticing—have to do with becoming increasingly aware of the gap between thought. This aware quality grows stronger and stronger, which happens only through training; you cannot pull on the gap to make it bigger. You cannot artificially increase the power of training. At some point, once you recognize that which notices and what the awake quality is, that is the difference between shamatha and vipashyana in this context.
If your shamatha practice is simply training in being absentminded, remaining in a neutral, indifferent state without any thought activity whatsoever, this is known in the Dzogchen system as the all-ground. It is simply a way of being free of thought involvement. When attention becomes active with the expanse of the all-ground, according to Dzogchen, that activity is known as dualistic mind. But when the dividing line between stillness and thought occurrence fades away and instead the strength of the aware quality is intensified, that awake quality, according to Dzogchen, is known as rigpa. Depending on whether one is using the Mahamudra system of the Dzogchen approach, there are different terminologies, but the actual training is essentially the same in both cases.
“Correlating Mahamudra and Dzogchen"