Woman resting in grass

The rider—the mind of innate awareness— Is mounted on the horse of mindfulness. Propelled by the wings of the unimpeded wind,
It moves through the path of the bodhichitta central channel
And arrives at the secret door of bliss at the crown.
—from the twenty-one nails,
  dzogchen teachings from the zhang zhung nyen gyü

When your mind  maintains awareness in meditation practice, it can travel a clear, direct path to higher meditative experiences.

When your mind lacks awareness, it is inevitably propelled into places it doesn’t  necessarily  want  to be. It gets caught  up in endless internal chatter, fixates on problems and worries, and gets dragged  into anger, guilt, pride, or desire. Whichever destination your mind arrives at there is just one essential force that propels  it there: the vital wind known as prana, chi, or (in Tibetan) lung. Prana  is the essential  energy underly- ing all of existence. All of the ways you can relate to the world  and to your  own  mind,  energy, and  physical  body  are affected  by prana and all are inseparable from prana.

Prana has everything  to do with your ability to think and see clearly, laugh, cry, pray, digest your food, drive a car, and even stay alive. Importantly, prana is also  fundamental to meditation practice. Your practice will have no effect unless your mind can touch the central issue, whether that issue is cultivating joy, purifying karmic traces, generating devotion to the master, or connecting with the most subtle experience of the nature of mind. How  mind touches  the issue is through prana.

How Mind and Prana Interact

To enter  the doorway of the mind,  therefore, you  must  harness  and guide  prana rather than  be driven  by it. Consciously guiding  prana begins with a basic understanding of the energy body. Unlike the physi- cal body,  which  is made  up of flesh, blood, bones,  cells, blood  vessels, and vital organs, the energy body is made up of mind and energy: a sys- tem of spheres  of light, sacred  winds,  channels of light, and chakras.**

Tantric practitioners develop  their  awareness of the  energy  body  in order to attain the body of the deity. Developing this awareness requires skillful visualization in meditation practice.

The Bön Mother Tantra uses the analogy of the horse, rider, and path to explain the relationship between mind, prana, channels, and chakras:

  • Prana is like a blind horse. Without your  mind  holding the  reins, prana gallops  unaware in whatever direction karma forces it to go.
  • The mind is like a lame rider. Without prana to propel  it, your mind is unable  to access and connect  with higher experiences of freedom, openness, and  clarity.  It also can’t effectively reach  others  through prayer.
  • When the lame rider catches the blind horse, your mind can go where it intends, experience the right kind of space, connect  with the right qualities, and manifest in the right ways.
    How does your mind catch and guide the prana? Through awareness.
  • The channels are the path. Just as a horse will naturally follow a clear trail  through a forest,  prana travels  through a system  of channels running throughout the body. There are gross physical channels such as your body’s nerves and blood  vessels, subtle energy channels, and very subtle channels that  are more related  to mind.

Reprinted from TIBETAN YOGAS OF BODY, SPEECH, AND MIND by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, edited by Polly Turner with permission from Snow Lion Publications, www.snowlionpub.com.

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