Overview of different schools of BuddhismDownload
Overview of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions, problems of factionalism and sectarianism, and a short Q&A
» Want to read the transcript of this teaching? CLICK HERE
We have a lot of ground to cover in the next two and a-half days. We’ll do our best.
I’m going to do a very quick digression. One of the strengths of the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism is that it inherited virtually all of the teachings of Indian Buddhism. The Theravadan became known in the Tibetan tradition as the Hinayana. The Mahayana teachings—compassion and emptiness—and the Vajrayana teachings—deity practice, energy transformation, and direct awareness. In that sense, Tibetan Buddhism is unique, inheriting the earlier teachings that had migrated before the ethic of compassion became a central component of Buddhism.
And China, for some reason or other, never took to the Vajrayana. There are elements of Vajrayana scattered through Chinese Buddhism and there’s references to the Black Hat Sect, which of course is the Karma Kagyu and so forth. Even though the Karmapas and some of the Sakya patriarchs were priests to the emperors, that was mainly the Mongolian Emperors not the actual Chinese Emperors.
And Japan, of course, inherited the Mahayana tradition from China, but just the very vestiges of Vajrayana. So Tibetan’s quite unique.
So, you have the Hinayana, and the Mahayana, and the Vajrayana. And there’s a certain amount of polemics, shall we say, about the various relationships.
Now, you take something like dzogchen. Dzogchen is a direct awareness practice like mahamudra, like path and fruition in the Sakya system, and so forth. Like the great Middle Way. It’s very sophisticated. And I had the pleasure of doing a retreat in dzogchen studying one of Longchenpa’s Treasuries—Treasury of Basic Space and it was very good. One of the things that Longchenpa does in this is to go through all of the other approaches to practice and discuss their shortcomings.
There is great benefit in that but there’s also a great danger. And it’s very easy for people who, out of a feeling of loyalty or devotion to a tradition and a way of practice, do not understand that when Longchenpa is exposing the shortcomings in a particular approach to practice, he’s really talking about what is happening in the individual. He’s not actually criticizing the school.
So, for instance he says, oh, there’s one verse about, those who follow the bodhisattva path getting caught up in the sophistry of negating self. Well, I don’t know how many of you’ve looked at Jeffrey Hopkins’ Meditations on Emptiness. Anybody know this? It’s like this thick and it’s a very, very detailed philosophical analysis of the concept of emptiness. Utterly boring from my point of view.
But that’s one of the things that happens when we practice. How many of you have had a little internal debate about what is emptiness, etc., etc., inside you? And this is really what Longchenpa is pointing to—that tendency. He’s using language but he’s not really lambasting the whole Mahayana tradition.
Yesterday, in discussing skepticism or wrong views, I made reference to a description of refuge which I’ll actually read,
To take refuge in Buddha is to rest in the emptiness of original mind, free from any reference or defining characteristic. To take refuge in the Dharma is to experience the clarity of original mind, the natural awareness that knows what experience is and how experience arises. To take refuge in the Sangha is to be one with the unimpeded arising and subsiding of experience free from the three poisons of attraction, aversion, and indifference.
Okay, what tradition is that from?
Student: Baptist. [Laughter]
Ken: Pardon? Baptist. [Laughter] What does it sound like?
Ken: It sounds like Vajrayana.
Ken: Pardon? It’s a Theravadan formulation, yeah. Changed a couple words, but it’s basically a Theravadan formulation.
In Los Angeles, I started a group of teachers. And we have representatives from the Tibetan, Theravadan, and the Zen traditions. We’ve been having a number of discussions. We meet about every two or three months. And we spend an hour talking about scripture or teachings, an hour on practical teaching matters—you know teaching skills—and then an hour on practical matters like how to organize a retreat or something like that. So, it’s very fruitful.
One of the other teachers is a very bright and, to my taste, a refreshingly eccentric Theravadan teacher who knows Pali and translates, so it’s very good. And in the last meeting, we were discussing the first two verses of the Dhammapadda which is this poem of aphorisms.
This particular text wasn’t translated into Tibetan until the nineteenth century, which is horrifically late. And the translation of the Tibetan is significantly different than the opening line from all the other translations into English. So, I raised this point. I said, “Is this word existing in the Pali, the word for nature? I think it’s, All experience is the nature of mind.” I thought that it doesn’t sound like a Theravadan formulation. And he said, “No, it isn’t, and you Mahayana essentialists…” And I just laughed because the Hinayana has been setup as a straw dog by the Mahayanists to make the Mahayana look good.
But when you really get into the Theravadan tradition, you find things like this all through it. And it was just such a delight to appreciate that the Mahayanists have been set up by the Theravadans as a straw dog accusing them of essentialism, which is the cardinal sin in Buddhism. You know, you think there’s actually a self? A thing? There’s an essence to mind? What kind of nonsense is this?
So, the reason for this digression is that in practice, we all have our own formulations and things that we are comfortable with. But make sure that you understand the meaning in the formulations of other traditions. And don’t just pick at the words. Because my own experience is there isn’t a heck of a lot to pick and choose from. They’ve all really got some very, very important things. I just want to underline that. I find factualism and sectarianism in Buddhism quite distasteful. And there’s enough of it in other ways going on in the world and I don’t think we need to contribute to it. Okay?
Student: Get to choose one [unclear]?
Ken: Actually, yes. Jamgon Kongtrul once said, When you’re studying, study everything under the sun. When you are reflecting, keep a really open mind. When you practice, do one thing.
That’s very good advice, because to practice we need to go deep and you can’t go deep if you’re doing a lot of different things. I’m trained in the Tibetan tradition. What that means is that I’m trained in anywhere from a hundred and fifty to two hundred meditation techniques. You know, you can’t practice them all. And I’m not even counting individual deities as separate meditation techniques. You add those then it gets up into the thousands. Well, you can’t practice them all and it’s absolutely not necessary.
When I work with students and in my own work, I always say you study and you practice and at a certain point you hit a practice that speaks to you. You may not like it, you don’t always like the one that speaks to you, but that doesn’t matter. When you find one that speaks to you—that’s it.
And the other thing, just since we’re discussing this, is that usually I’ll have people do two practices. One which the emphasis is going to be on the wisdom or awareness side, and one which is going to be on the compassion or side.
Ken: Well, take two practices, very simply. You know, say resting in attention, or mahamudra, or dzogchen on the one hand and taking and sending on the other—which is a compassion practice. That would be one example of pairing, but there are so many practices you can choose different pairs. Deity meditation, which is a visualization practice which has to do with form and manifestation, and a direct awareness practice.
When people are doing things like the death meditation or the karma meditation, I’ll often—because people are pretty busy and they only often can only practice once a day—I’ll have them do one day just resting with the breath and then one day kind of a reflective practice that we’re doing so that it has that kind of alternation.
It’s good to have those two parts, those two components. But very definitely, when you find a practice that speaks to you, mine it, and just keep going with it.
The person who wrote the original the Seven Points of Mind Training, Chekawa Yeshe Dorje, his practice was taking and sending. He was a person who had memorized the Kangyur—one hundred and eight volumes. And he was completely well-versed in all of the elaborate tantric practices. He wrote commentaries on the Sixty-four Deity Practice of Khorlo Demchog and Chakrasamvhara, and so forth. But, in his colophon to the taking and sending, Seven Points of Mind Training, he said, Because of the arousal of potential from former lives, I ignored criticism [and something else] and practiced this teaching. That was the one that spoke to him.
Another one of my teachers, Dezhung Rinpoche, when he came to Seattle he went, “Hmm, not many monasteries around. What am I doing here?” Then he came and visited our center and he was just amazed that Kalu Rinpoche actually had people doing Chenrezi meditation. And like, “Wow!” He’d been in the States for about ten, twelve years by that point and hadn’t been able to persuade anybody to try Chenrezi meditation.
So, he was so inspired by that that he resolved to say a hundred million mantras before he died. Whenever we went to visit him he was sitting there—Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum. That was his practice. So, very important you find a practice which speaks to you and then you go.
Student: Would you suggest that when you talk about study, studying a wide range, pick one, read all through it, and then do another, and do another, or just pick and choose [unclear]?
Ken: I always believe in learning things thoroughly. I meant to know a lot about Buddhism. It’s not true. I’ve really only read three or four books—but I know them. One of them is The Jewel Ornament of Liberation.
I mean, we’re so fortunate with the amount of material we have available to us. You take some like the Bodhicharyavatara, Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Words of My Perfect Teacher, Treasury of Precious Qualities, which is a relatively new one by Kangyur Rinpoche. You take any of these books, you actually learn them. Take any one of them and you really learn them, you’ll be in very good shape.
Student: How about Wake Up To Your Life? [Laughter]
Ken: Well yes, you could use that one too, I suppose. Okay.
From your practice….
» Close transcript
Patterns As PersonalityDownload
The characteristics of patterns (mechanicality, resonance, crystallization, habituation, layering, webbing), patterns, personality, presence. Meditation instruction on physical reactions when a reactive pattern begins to run.
» Want to read the transcript of this teaching? CLICK HERE
Well, yes you could use that one too, I suppose. Okay.
From your practice: yesterday we focused on the ten non-virtuous actions and exploring the results, the four kinds of results. That is, the full ripening, the predisposition generated internally, the way that your own world of experience changes because of your action, and the way your perception of things shifts.
Now, we did one of the physical, one of the verbal, one of the mental and we’re just touching things. If you wish to pursue this I suggest you go through all ten of those and then you go through all ten of the virtuous actions which are the opposites. The purpose of this is not only to get a good appreciation of actually how your actions shape your experience in the way we’ve been talking about, but also to help you identify basic patterns that run in you.
Now did anybody have any insights into some basic patterns from their work over the last day or so? Any volunteers just for examples? Sure.
Student: Just seeing how prevalent [unclear] ignorance is.
Ken: Be a little more specific. What do you ignore?
Student: Well, finding ways to ignore or not get to the painful part [unclear].
Ken: Okay, okay that’s good. Anybody else? Yes?
Student: When we were doing the [unclear] yesterday my experience [unclear].
Ken: Very good. So, you identified things where you ignore or move away from pain in a conversation and you discovered a great deal of internal aggression and rage and—
Student: What I find interesting while being swept into it is that at the same time how [unclear] how I behave so it’s very, it’s very a definite need to be totally still with this tremendous energy that was very hostile and at the same time just filter it so that I couldn’t actually [unclear] holding it [unclear].
Ken: So you developed the level of attention so you weren’t swept up by it all the time.
Ken: No, that’s good. I feel safer around you now. [Laughter] Yes?
Student 3: I have been kind of noticing [unclear] things like hesitation and doubt, and not necessarily [unclear].
Ken: So you’ve been observing how doubt and hesitation show up in your life a lot.
Student: And I’m not able to find myself on [unclear]. [Laughter] [Unclear]
Ken: Does this mean we bow to you now?
Student: I wasn’t able to locate [unclear].
Ken: Right. Well, if you look at the actions which are the result of doubt and hesitation you may find it easier to locate some of your actions in the ten non-virtuous acts. Start looking there okay? Yes?
Student: I would like to share my own experience was that at some point I realized that every time I would reject my experience I was feeling [unclear].
Ken: That’s right.
Student: Not in myself but someone else.
Ken: I think that’s a good point. Doubt and hesitation are very effective modes of killing things in us.
Last comment—go ahead. Yes?
Student: Yeah, I learned [unclear] a lifetime of exhaustion…as a result.
Ken: Okay, a lifetime of exhaustion.
Student: Well, I feel like I fit the pattern and exhaustion is being the result of this pattern [unclear].
Student: For example, when I got here the other night I could see myself doing this a million times. [unclear] I found a reason to dislike everybody. And then when you relate [unclear]. And by the end of the day yesterday I found myself naturally doing tonglen for everybody that was here. It was with genuine affection, love, and compassion for everybody here including myself. But it’s always [unclear].
Ken: Well, this is a very good example. I’m going to use it if I may.
Ken: Okay, so your first response when things aren’t the way that you want is dislike.
Student: [Unclear] It’s almost self-directed but [unclear].
Ken: Right. Yeah, Susan?
Susan: I have hard time connecting with creating things [unclear] comes up [unclear] what presented itself make one step [unclear] about myself, my life [unclear]. Very skeptical about myself.
Ken: So, doubt about yourself gives rise to feeling of envying of others. And of course, once you start on that road then you have far more reason to really doubt yourself and think you’re totally worthless which increases the envy and, yeah. [Laughter]
Susan: I want to kill everybody.
Ken: A lot of killers around here. Newcomb can we make a note to remove all sharp objects from the room. [Laughter]
Newcomb: I’ll get somebody on that right away.
Ken: Thank you. Okay. Well, these are good examples.
Newcomb: [Unclear] red alert [unclear]. [Laughter]
Ken: Now, what I want to talk today about a bit is about the nature of patterns and the pattern dynamics. What is a pattern? A pattern is a mechanism that functions to erode attention.
In Charlotte’s example, she encounters some tension or pain in a conversation and moves away from it. A pattern erodes attention in order to prevent something from being experienced. What would you have to experience if you didn’t move away from the pain? What would you have to experience inside?
Charlotte: Well, heartache, fear.
Ken: Yes, heartache and fear. Heartache and fear is what you’d have to experience if you didn’t move away from the pain. What would you have to experience if you didn’t move into aggression?
Student: The first that came to my mind was I would have to experience the ultimate [unclear] love.
Ken: Which is somehow threatening.
Ken: Yes, exactly. So, these are two good examples of how there’s a feeling there: one is a feeling of fear and the other is a feeling of love. And for these two individuals, for their reasons we don’t need to go into any further at this point, those feelings are threatening. So a pattern is triggered and operates in order to erode the attention so that those two things are not experienced. This is always the case.
Now, once a pattern starts to run, you have no awareness. Everything that follows is totally mechanical. You may think you’re acting rationally but you’re not—you’re running a tape. I’ve used the analogy of a computer program: you’re just running a program. It’s totally mechanical process. It is triggered by resonance with a pain, a discomfort or a feeling which for whatever reason one is threatened by or uncomfortable with.
So, this pattern kicks into operation so that you don’t experience that feeling. Now, over the course of time that pattern crystallizes into structures and those structures we call our personality. One person might be always putting on a pleasant face, doesn’t matter what’s going on. She’ll present herself very pleasantly—there’s never any problem. We get into Pollyana here. Another person’s basic defaults setting is attack—aggression. And so he becomes known as a short-tempered, hard person to deal with because it doesn’t matter what happens. And that structure has been crystallized right into the personality, so it’s just there.
And then the fourth characteristic—the three are mechanical…or mechanistic…resonance, crystallization, and the fourth one is habituation. (The first one’s mechanicality, if we’re going to make it a noun.) Habituation is exactly what we were working with yesterday. That is, you act this way and the whole world and everything in you is configured to keep going in the same direction, so it becomes more and more habituated. And that’s how things get tighter and tighter and we get less and less freedom in our lives.
So, those are the four characteristics of patterns. Mechanicality, resonance, crystallization, habituation.
There are two other aspects that I might mention at this point. One is layering, patterns build up in layers. And the other is linking, and that is that one pattern triggers the operation of another pattern. When you get into this business then things get really claustrophobic because you can just keep changing tracks and never get any moment of awareness.
Student: Would you like to talk about resonance a little more?
Ken: Sure, what would you like me to talk about?
Student: Is it like a residue [unclear] that resonates with you or some sort of trigger resonates with the pattern [unclear]…
Ken: Yes. To discuss this fully, we’ll talk about the formation of patterns. And before going there, I just want to say one thing: The formulation that I’m presenting here is, in a certain way, an instance of the Middle Way. Traditional Buddhism takes the viewpoint or the position that all actions are volitional. Freudian psychology, on the other hand, takes the position that no actions are volitional. Well, all of us have had experiences of acting volitionally and I think most of us had the experience of acting non-volitionally, i.e., just reacting. Or am I the only one in the room that’s had that experience?
Student: Do we know the difference [unclear]?
Ken: Not always. I can recall situations where they just happened. I mean, my favorite one is: okay, you’re going into a meeting, maybe it’s with one other person, a conversation. You’ve worked out everything you want to say and exactly how you want to say it—and that lasts about thirty seconds. Anybody know that? Yeah, that’s what I mean about non-volitional. Something happens and you can’t get the words out, or you open your mouth and something that you didn’t intend to comes up. Okay. That’s a very good example of a pattern taking over. This clear to you?
Ken: Now, going back to your point, David. What happens in those kinds of situations?
David: Are you asking what happens in the situation that you were just describing?
Ken: Yeah, that was a rhetorical question—I’m going to answer it. [Laughter]
Through the course of growing up—and one can hypothesize other sources possibly but I’m just going to speak in that context right now—we encounter various disappointments and frustrations, painful experiences. In particular, experiences that we couldn’t or situations that we couldn’t experience completely. They were too threatening, too shocking. They don’t have to be negative, they can be positive as well. But we did not have at that stage of our lives a capacity of attention to actually experience them. So, they remain there in us and central to this is an understanding of the basic function of a feeling.
What is the basic function of a feeling? What does a feeling live for? What does a feeling want above all else?
Student: To be felt.
Ken: To be felt, all right. That’s what a feeling wants—it just wants to be felt. Okay?
Now, we all know that when we don’t feel something it keeps nagging at us. For instance, a friend does something which hurts us. And we say, “Oh, I don’t want to deal with that.” But it happened. We continue to interact with the friend but it’s there. And it keeps nagging us and actually can poison the relationship until one day we just think, “Okay, I was really hurt by that.”
And when you actually let yourself experience it, then maybe the friendship ends or maybe you decide to address it with your friend. You say, “You know, you did such and such and that really hurt.” And you find out what the real basis of the friendship is at that point. Whether they are listening or whether it’s a one-sided form of communication, and so forth.
But until you actually allow yourself to feel that feeling, it nags at you. And the more that you push it down, the more layers you put on it, the more unbalanced your life becomes. Now, suppose you have something like that in you and somebody comes and tells you about a very similar experience they’ve had with a friend. What happens in you?
Ken: Yeah, resonance and some—
Student: Start talking about it.
Student: Start talking about it.
Student: Oh yeah. It happened to me too!
Ken: Well, maybe you start talking about it.
Student: Or you deny it.
Ken: Or you deny it and you say to them, “Well, you can’t think about that kind of thing.”
Student: It never happened to me.
Ken: Yeah. Or because you haven’t dealt with that discomfort in yourself, when another situation resonates it, you’re not going to present in that situation—you’re going to react to that. And this is how the imbalance in you begins to manifest itself in the world. Okay, so that’s what resonance is about. All of us have lots of these things lurking inside of us—we all do. Just as Charlotte, and what’s your name?
Ken: Scott observed doing the practices on the non-virtuous actions—something like this is operating every time we react. There is a resonance, a mechanism starts to operate and the attention which was just about to experience something is eroded. And now we go back away from that feeling and on with our habituated lives.
So, from this perspective, we keep falling out of awareness into habituation every time we encounter a situation which resonates with something that we are not prepared to experience. We’re not willing to experience. Yes?
Student: Well there was something resonating [unclear] in my mind but then [unclear] mind I…[unclear].
Ken: Well, yes we do resonate with original mind all the time—that’s something that until you have a certain amount of training is terrifying to experience. For instance, almost always when I’m giving a talk on emptiness, there’s somebody in the room who starts arguing with me vociferously. They usually don’t make a lot of sense. And one of the reasons, I’ve learned, is that when you’re talking about emptiness, you’re talking about not existing as a thing. And this tends to evoke a bit of fear. And so rather than be in attention and experience that possibility, this mechanism is activated. And now they’re just going to shoot this argument down, destroy it, whatever they can do. And as I said, always somebody in the room. There was somebody in the room yesterday. I’ll let you figure out who it was.
Student: Is this the reason the resonance part [unclear] the book The Power of Now?
Ken: Yes I think it’s very similar. That’s how Eckhart Tolle talks about it.
Student: I have a question. You said that once the patterns start to run, there’s no attention.
Ken: That’s right.
Student: But I find that sometimes I know that I’m running my pattern.
Ken: Can you stop it? [Laughter] Can you? How often do you?
Student: Well…[laughter] I feel like I have a choice.
Ken: Can you actually exercise it?
Ken: Well, the thing is that there are degrees, okay? Sometimes when a pattern runs it’s just running.
Ken: Okay. Other times pattern runs—you know that you’re doing the same old…[laughter] and…
Student: But you feel good, you know, in the very end.
Ken: No, you don’t feel good. Attention is relieved in the pattern, but you don’t feel so good about it because you, I mean, you’re just generating karma. That’s the evolution. The process of evolution is unfolding, with all the results of that.
I’ve said over the last couple of days that the purpose of our practice is to cultivate a capacity of attention. Attention is the key thing here, because as our capacity in attention increases we become more and more able to experience the undischarged emotion that’s at the core of the pattern. And when we can experience that undischarged emotion then the pattern doesn’t need to run. You follow?
Student: No, I’m…I’m not clear.
Ken: Okay, lets take Charlotte’s example. She’s having a discussion with someone and it’s getting a little uncomfortable. What happens in Charlotte, if I may, is there’s a little fear, like, “Oh, there’s tension building up here, and there’s a hurt in the heart.” Now, ordinarily she’d move the conversation to something else, right? Suppose she had the capacity in attention just to experience the heartache. What would happen then, Charlotte?
Charlotte: When that tense happens, when it does happen, while it shifts the whole dynamic in the other person [unclear].
Ken: It shifts the whole dynamic in you too, doesn’t it?
Ken: Yeah, right and that’s what happens. When you have that capacity, you are staying present—you’re staying present with what is arising in you.
Student: I don’t see how that…I can’t remember the term you used, “erodes the emotions.” Is that what you said?
Ken: “Erodes the attention.” The mechanism erodes—
Student: No, that part’s clear—but [unclear] ,like, I can use the example of Charlotte because I feel like, done that plenty of times too. That when you stay there with it, it’s completely uncomfortable when you don’t divert your attention onto a subject that’s more comfortable. And it feels very vulnerable and very raw.
Student: But then what? Then how does that diffuse? Yeah, “discharge” was the word you used.
Ken: What I’m talking about here is the instance when you can experience that resonance in yourself and not move away from it, which is what the reacting does—it moves you away from it. Then you stay present in the conversation and, as Charlotte just pointed out, everything changes. Okay?
Now, as you do this again and again, you build up your capacity of attention to do that. An understanding is going to arise that this heartache, or this pain, or this discomfort which you always tried to avoid is actually only a feeling—it’s not a fact. And it isn’t going to kill you if you experience it. Okay?
That’s a very important understanding and it has to be an experiential understanding. It can’t be a theoretical understanding or an intellectual one. And the way you do that is by developing this capacity of attention so you actually sit through the experience of the heartache and then you go, “Oh.”
Many of you will have experienced this in your meditation. You’re sitting in your meditation and something comes up and you’re angry, or you’re jealous, or you’re sad. And your first impulse is to try to get away from it. But there you are in a retreat or in your meditation session. There’s nowhere to go. There’s just you and the feeling and you’re going to have to sit down and work something out. So you say, “Okay, fine.” And you go through it and you go, “Oh.” And it hurts, and it hurts, and it hurts, and it hurts, and it hurts. And you may cry. And then it hurts some more. And then it doesn’t hurt anymore. And then you go, “Huh? What happened?”
You’ve actually experienced it. And you haven’t died, of course—but you’ve experienced it. And that’s what I mean about developing a capacity of attention, so that you can actually experience that undischarged feeling. When you experience it like that, then when it comes up in another conversation or something like that you go, “Oh.” And now you’ve gained another dimension of freedom in your experience that you didn’t before. Okay.
Terry: How do you be in the experience in a situation and not look like you’re having a nervous breakdown? [Laughter]
Ken: Well, what’s the problem with having a nervous breakdown?
Terry: Well, I don’t [unclear] it’s just that I have more [unclear] then you know—
Terry: There are certain proprieties which I could care less about, but, you know—
Ken: Right, I mean…
Terry: …except interactions with [unclear].
Ken: People. So you’re talking about in your work?
Ken: Yes, well your work is on the front lines, right?
Ken: So, yes, there is a certain professional decorum.
Terry: Which I always push and—
Ken: But don’t push it in you. It’s something your going to present. But just because you’re there doesn’t mean to say you can’t be feeling it inside. And if you let yourself feel it inside, you find that your interaction with your clients actually becomes more honest.
You know, that’s a capacity you can develop. And one of the ways you can develop it is by taking situations from your work that have been painful and in your meditation open to the experience of them.
You can use any of a number of the meditation techniques. You can use simple attention with the breath. And as you sit with the breath, then you just let yourself feel the pain. Don’t concentrate on the pain. It’s what I call inclusive attention. That is, you rest with the breath but include the sensation of the pain—how it effects you physically, emotionally, all the stories, and you sit with it.
Depending on the situation, it may take five minutes, it may take five months of just doing it on a regular basis. Then you will get at what that pain resonates in you and actually experience it. And now when you encounter that situation in your work or in your life, you will be able to stay present.
Terry: And not react to the pain?
Ken: And not react to the pain.
Terry: And have it overwhelm you.
Ken: Overwhelm is a form of reaction, yeah.
Ken: All right, yep. This is a thing we have to work at, yeah.
Scott: [Unclear] a lot of people didn’t realize. And in many ways, I realize I’ve been putting the cart before the horse for a long time. And I think back of all the times that I’ve tried to sit about my life and [unclear] and to be here, you know, transcend it all. And yet it felt very uncomfortable, because the only two things—two of the most powerful things I ever did were [unclear] and primal therapy. And I remember vividly when I was twenty-two years old living in this ashram, and I guy turns me and he says, “I don’t get this, man. This morning I woke up, I wanted to kill everybody in this place. I sat down and jerked off, and then I had the clearest meditation I’ve had in months!” [Laughter] And I thought, “Wow, that makes a lot of sense.” [Laughter] You know, and in fact it is all of this stuff that Buddhism and the things…and you know, I mean all this stuff that we read about and all these pictures in this room—these people—means nothing, I realize, in me until all of this is looked at and felt and understood. At which point all that makes sense, and it doesn’t overwhelm nor threaten me, but it invites me to things, the aspect of it that’s right for me. That’s what I just…
Ken: It’s not about transcendence. At least, that’s not my understanding anyway. Maybe somebody else can talk about that. It’s Buddhism. The practice of awareness is about experiencing what is. Now, do you have a choice about what is?
Ken: No, you don’t have any choice. And it’s the willingness to experience just what is arising right now, and in the next moment right now, and the next moment right now. Step by step.
Student: I still struggle with the overwhelm. I also don’t have a choice: I don’t have a choice in what happens; I don’t have a choice in my emotional reaction to what happens. I mean, I do but I don’t. I’m a human being, I react. I have emotions.
I have been overwhelmed, probably everybody in the room has been overwhelmed. I’ve been overwhelmed in trying to do these practices and I’m still overwhelmed. And in one situation it took me about three years to not be overwhelmed anymore. And I think of the possibility of being in a war and killing people in the anger that was described [unclear]. Or I wouldn’t even use the word anger—it’s beyond anger, people killing [unclear].
Ken: Well, you’re describing how suffering is generated. Suffering is generated by incapacity to experience what is arising right now.
Student: I don’t want to experience being raped.
Ken: No, but are you being raped right now? No. But can you experience right now? One of the things that we tend to do, we tend to take instructions such as I’m giving right now and take it to extreme situations. It’s a form of rejecting the instruction. Start working with what you have right now and you do what you can. And see what evolves out of that.
You know, if I was going to take up running, for instance—I’m not a runner—I wouldn’t be planning on running a four-minute mile tomorrow. Oh well, then I shouldn’t try running. That’s a ridiculous argument. You know, you do what you can right now and see what comes out of that.
I understand the feeling of fear of being overwhelmed. I think you’re quite right. Probably everybody in this room and certainly I’ve felt overwhelmed—experienced overwhelm. And one of the things I’ve learned from that is a certain sense of humility—it can happen to anybody. But also, when I see the way that I react when I’m overwhelmed it makes me want to develop a capacity of attention so that I’m never overwhelmed, because that’s where suffering starts. You follow?
Ken: Yeah. And so, we start from where we are. And yes, the path may look intimidating, it may a bit daunting, but what else is there to do?
Student: Is there really a need to label things an emotion or is just [unclear] experience?
Ken: In the end you just need to experience them. For many people, being able to label them is very helpful but my own experience it is not absolutely necessary. What is necessary is to develop the capacity of attention. Okay. Susan?
Susan: [unclear] everything out there that’s then into our consciousness [unclear] this moment and so it shouldn’t be projected into those supposed situations out there. [unclear] What do we do with the world out there that doesn’t exist right now in this space?
Ken: Iraq, I think, weighs on everybody’s mind right here. Can we do something about Iraq itself? No. But can you be more or less present with what weighs on your mind right now? Yes.
Paul: Seems to me really useful to identify these patterns if I’m all alone and then triggered by something. And then I have the right [unclear] to work through it and so on. If the minute that truth is [unclear] the deeply habituated pattern. And something triggers one or the other and it [unclear]. And let’s assume the other person is not a practicing guru who’s well-advanced as the curve is [unclear]. Then we’re left with our own feelings [unclear]. What, do we take time out? I just… [Laughter]
Student: I love it.
Paul: I mean you’re driving along right now [unclear] how practically, not only what you do, but how do keep from sort of projecting the same people [unclear] or working it through. I don’t know. [Unclear]
Ken: Can we leave that till this afternoon? I was going to do some exercises, some paired exercises right on this point. Because, you know, what good is it if you can’t do it in your life? But there are ways to bring attention so that you diffuse reactivity first in yourself and then possibly in other people. There are ways of doing that.
Okay. I want to get to the meditation period so just one, two.
Student: So, you’re talking about the Iraq situation and you can’t do anything about it. Is it a delusion for us to try to do something about it to alleviate our own suffering? Like, I made little baby things and send them to Iraq to—
Ken: No, I don’t think that’s a delusion at all. You knit things and send them to Iraq—it’s going to help somebody. What’s conceivably wrong with that? Mary, then.
Student: Back to a question that Josephine had and the question of the terror of original mind and I don’t understand it [unclear].
Ken: The terror of original mind. You don’t understand that?
Student: How would you feel if somebody said to you right now [unclear]?
Ken: I would be quite happy with that [laughter].
Student: [Unclear] For me that would inspire terror.
Student: Well, actually when it actually happened my legs ceased to hold me up—I tripped. But today I would be thrilled.
Ken: Until it actually happened [laughter].
Student: But at this very moment I would be thrilled and then maybe it would shift as the experience…
Ken: Well, you remind me of something. I was with Rinpoche in Vancouver, and we’d had dinner at a very nice home. It was a typical Vancouver winter night—rainy and stormy, etc. Temperature a little bit above freezing.
We’d had this very nice dinner and we were seated around a fire in the living room. I don’t know what got into Rinpoche that evening but the husband of the family said, “Why do people get interested in Buddhism?” Rinpoche said, “Well, we just had a nice dinner and we’re sitting here around this nice warm fire. Suppose you had to take off all of your clothes and walk out into that storm knowing you could never come back. How would you feel? Death’s much worse than that. And we’re all going to have to die.”
So, there’s certain things that you use to function and orient yourself in the world, right? Let them all go right now. Everything you’ve known and used to function by, everything that tells you what to do. As Didé was saying, “All of those belief systems.” Drop them right now. What do you feel? You never have them to refer to again.
Ken: Why don’t you do it?
Ken: Yes, but what prevents you from doing them right now? Doing that right now?
Ken: Can you do it? Right now? Okay. What do you experience? Go back to it you were there a moment ago.
Ken: Go into it, leave the mind behind.
Ken: Keep going. Now, where you are right now—live from there.
Student: I had trouble identifying the I to respond.
Ken: Do you need the I to respond?
Student: I had to come back to it.
Ken: Yes, that’s how you moved out of it. You don’t need the I to respond. In other words, you encountered, right there, the fear that Josephine was talking about. When you looked for a response you couldn’t find the I. You panicked, looked for the I. The panic is very fast.
Student: It seems the experience is more of inability to identify.
Ken: And what prevents you from being able to? What is there to identify? You see, you’re looking for structure right there instead of moving straight into just being. And that’s exactly what Josephine was talking about. You experienced it: flashed through. It was good.
You had one question.
Student: I had a question about the use of the word “patterns” [unclear] like [unclear].
Student: And now I feel in larger forms that you do not require patterns to function in the world or you claim that…because I’m thinking about patterns that we [unclear] to have awareness and [unclear] you know when [unclear] you bring attention to access [unclear] so that they can focus [unclear] and work with you in it all the time hopefully [unclear].
Ken: It depends. The difference is whether the patterns are running us or we are in awareness as we do something which we’ve habituated, learned how to do. And when the patterns are running us, that’s what I mean by a reactive pattern. Now of course, we use patterns, we’ve learned how to do things. We do them in a habituated way. The question is, are we also in attention at the same time? Are we there?
Student: So in the situation of the I, are you saying that we can function with our structural, without any reference points to [unclear] structure?
Ken: Yes, because there’s no one in charge of the structure. It’s an illusion that someone is in charge of the structure. But it’s an illusion we cling to tenaciously.
Okay, now I do want to stop here. We’re already late to start our meditation practice. We’re going to take a short break, so if you can just stretch and be back here in a few minutes.
We’re going to do some meditation practice again or squeeze a little bit into this retreat. [Laughter] I don’t usually talk this much but we’re just getting to know each other and I get the feeling there’s kind of adjustment in perspective taking place—which seems to be helpful to you. Is it?
Ken: Okay, you’re allowed to say no. [Laughter] I’m not sure what I’d do but you’re allowed to say no.
This morning I opened the remarks by asking for some examples of habituated patterns that you identified. And for the next periods of meditation that’s what I want you to do. Because of linkage or webbing, while our behavior can appear very complex, most people have at most three or four major patterns that drive them and everything else is an elaboration of interaction.
Now, if you’re able to identify one of those three or four major patterns, that will be very useful for the purpose of this practice. If you can’t, just take anything you can get your hands on. Now, does anybody have a problem identifying even one reactive pattern in themselves? Okay, I don’t have to do something bizarre and provoke a reactive pattern, so. [Much laughter] It’s very reliable.
So, in your meditation again, let your attention settle for the first ten or fifteen minutes. And then take a situation, a concrete situation in which that pattern ran. And I want you to go through the situation step by step. And you’ll, I think, find it helpful and keep the meditation from just becoming a mass of thoughts if you check into your body sensations at each step through this.
If I can use Charlotte’s example again: you’re having a conversation with a friend and you recall that it got to a painful point. And you diverted the conversation—started talking about the weather.
Okay, so there you are having a conversation with your friend. Okay, how do you feel in your body? The emotions, thoughts, and stories? And then she said something and you felt some tension. How do you experience that in your body? What emotions came up? What stories and associations?
And at a certain point you’re going to identify where the reactive pattern started to run and pay particular attention to the body sensations, and emotions and stories that are running right there. And don’t analyze them. Don’t try to figure out what’s going on in you psychologically. That can be helpful, but it’s not the method of this practice.
As you feel the body sensations, and the emotions, and the other things, they may feel a little intimidating. Here, you use your breath as a rope. And you kind of lower yourself into the feeling with the breath. So, you have the breath as a reference point and by resting with the breath and including the sensations of that experience—you move into it.
And this way, you may—if you’re able to do this—identify the feeling which was the resonance of the pattern, that undischarged feeling inside. If you do identify that then to the best of your ability, just rest with the feeling. And when I say rest with the feeling I don’t mean concentrate on it; I don’t mean focus on it. Continue to rest with the breath and let the feeling open to you in it’s own way, in it’s own time. You just rest there and let it open to you.
Now is that specific enough for you to work with? Okay.
Now, where did we end with the interviews? Okay, you were last so start with you, okay. Then Leslie and Ron.
» Close transcript