The Key to Meditation is Awareness

By Tergar Community Team • 6 min read

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What’s going on in there?

Ordinarily, when we talk about “the mind,” we’re referring to memory, perception, thoughts, feelings, and so on. But in the meditative tradition, these describe mere mental events. Clouds move in the sky, but clouds are not the sky. Awareness is the sky, in which the clouds of mental events come and go. Awareness is simply knowing. You know that at this moment you are reading these words. You know what your senses of sound, smell, touch, taste, and sight are picking up. You know your own perceptions. That itself is awareness. Regardless of the state you’re in — cheerful or depressed, distracted by the thrill of first love or the annoyance of an ingrown toenail, frightened or serene — awareness is present.

A torch is a metaphor for the light of awareness in meditation

Raise your hand if you get it . . . or if you don’t

Right now, raise one hand slightly. Does your hand feel warm? Cool? Numb? Painful? Knowing what your hand feels like is awareness. Is there no particular sensation there at all? Knowing that, too, is awareness. Now put your hand down. Do you know that you just put your hand down? If so, any guesses as to what is at play? Yup! Awareness! Do you get it yet? If you get it, that is awareness. If you think you don’t get it yet . . . and you know that you think you don’t get it yet . . . that’s awareness!

Awareness and the inner voice

Awareness is not the same as the inner monologue — you know, that constant stream of thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and images yammering away up there 24/7. It’s not the same thing as the conceptual mind, either, though we use concepts, thoughts, and emotions to describe our experiences to ourselves. For instance, let’s say you pass someone who is walking a puppy on a leash. First your mind identifies it, categorizes it: puppy. Immediately, your mind is off to the races. “Ooh, adorable puppy. I must pet it,” or, “Oh no, I’m afraid of dogs. I hope it doesn’t come any closer.” The mind is going all over the place. Yet in the bigger picture, awareness transcends all of those perceptions, responses, and imaginings.

“Whatever we experience, as long as we’re aware of what’s going on, is meditation.”

– Mingyur Rinpoche –

Awareness of the present moment

Right this second, what you are experiencing is knowing (unless you are unconscious. Are you unconscious? No? Congratulations, you have awareness!). And within this awareness are love, compassion, and wisdom. They’re all there together. And this is the truth of who you are.

More Resources

Recognizing Awareness with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

In this video, Mingyur Rinpoche discusses how awareness is central to meditation. He elaborates on how the recognition of awareness is the very foundation for one’s meditation practice.

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About the Author

By Tergar Meditation Community Team

Tergar Meditation Community supports individuals, practice groups, and meditation communities around the world in learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of our guiding teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, our online and in-person programs are accessible to people of all cultures and faiths, and support a lifelong path toward the application of these principles in everyday life.

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