Somehow, in our day-to-day lives, we tend to identify ourselves with many different thoughts. But when we are able to understand ultimate awareness, we can rise above these concepts. There is a beautiful example that is given in the Buddhist teachings: namkha tabu, which means the mind is like a sky, and all the thoughts are like clouds. There’s also another metaphor: the mind is like the ocean, and the thoughts are like the waves.

When we get to that level of understanding, then we will not identify ourselves with all the different thoughts. When we are not aware of our awareness, what happens is we identify with all the different conceptions that we go through, like emotions. When we are feeling sad, we identify our whole being with sadness. And because we allow ourselves to take on that identity—I am sad—then we have few feelings of joy. When we put our whole being into joy, then we say “I am happy.” When we are feeling angry, how do we actually identify ourselves? We identify ourselves as “I am angry,” right? When this happens we are not letting our mind be like the sky. We immediately let ourselves get carried away into these different conceptions, emotions, and things that we are feeling and thinking. So that is what happens when we don’t understand or when we don’t reach that level of being aware of awareness.

When we actually understand how we are aware of our awareness, then we will understand how our mind is like the sky. And if we start to understand how spacious and open our awareness is, then somehow we will rise above the conception. So that is why understanding awareness is very important. Many times when we practice meditation, many people try to practice meditation by shaping or training their focus.

People think that meditation is just about training their focus, focusing on one object and then remaining focused on that object for a longer time—they think that that is meditation. Yes, that is one part of meditation, but it has to go beyond that. In order to be able to go above that, this method of being aware of awareness is very necessary.

When you rise above the awareness, when you don’t identify even with your awareness, you rise above your mind and your thoughts. When you are in that state of being aware of awareness—being like the sky—that will help you feel more spacious and open. That is freedom. There is great freedom in that: you will not feel caught up in many different parts that are arising in your daily life.

This method of letting yourself be aware of awareness is a very profound teaching that was given by Buddha Shakyamuni and then carried into Tibet. To put this teaching in simple language that everybody can understand: just let your mind be open like the sky. Just practice that. Let your mind be open like the sky, and then let all the thoughts float freely like clouds. Let yourself remain in that state, and then you will actually experience being aware of awareness in your day-to-day life.

You don’t need any specific philosophical or religious background. Personally, I’ve found that being aware of awareness in my day-to-day life is very helpful because when situations arise, instead of letting myself get carried away or dragged into the situation, I just pull myself out of the situation. You can just pull your mind out of the situation and let your mind be like a sky, looking at the situation above, not from underneath.

If you let yourself be underneath the situation, then what happens is we bring the situation so close, and we are underneath it. It’s like you have a small rock in your hand, and you’re bringing it so close to your eyes that it feels like you are under a big, huge rock when actually, it is just a small rock. It’s just perspective. We tend to look at the situation from underneath and so close that we exaggerate the situation, and then we make that situation so big. Then we think, “This is what my life is; I am just crushed by this.” In reality, if you look at it from above, it’s not a big, big thing. It’s just a small rock. That is open awareness. 

Excerpted from Za Choeje Rinpoche’s Dharma Talk video “Being Aware of Awareness.” Watch the full video here.

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