Teachings | Training
The context for the four immeasurables in Buddhist practice, how they differ from other emotions including their power to transform ordinary experience into presence; how different traditions view the immeasurables; clarifying pain, hurt, suffering and harm; the purpose, cost and benefit of practicing the four immeasurables; meditation instruction on equanimity practice, Q&A
Ken: So, we’re going to begin what is a six session class on the four immeasurables. And I think, as all of you know, we’re going to be meeting every other week—not every week—as we have in the past. On the alternate weeks the regular Tuesday group will be meeting here. Is that right?
Ken: And so anybody in the class is welcome to join and this is a group of students that have been studying and practicing, most for quite a long period of time. But also some newer people who get together and practice, and also interact around their practice. And they’ve learned how to do this in the way that is mutually beneficial. And that’s a very good skill to learn. So all of you are welcome to attend that. Yes?
Student: It’s 7:30?
Ken: 7.30. Right? Yeah. Okay.
Now, this evening, I want to cover a few points: one is to set the context for the four immeasurables. Where does it sit in the whole realm of Buddhist practice? Second, there are several approaches to these meditations. There’s the one that I’ve described in Wake Up to Your Life, and there’s a second one, which I’ll be introducing this week—or tonight—which is actually much simpler. It works on somewhat different principles. And I want to explain how that’s done in the context of equanimity practice, which is where we’re going to start.
So, in terms of cultivating the four immeasurables in twelve weeks—which is what we have—it’s a very, very short period of time. But I think it’ll be long enough for you to at least get a taste of these, and understand how the various meditation practices work and go from there.
So, let’s start with the context. The four immeasurables is the Mahayana equivalent of what is known in the Theravadan tradition as the four abodes of Brahma. The actual Pali or Sanskrit term is Brahmavihara. And they are loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. They are called the four abodes because this is where a noble person hangs out—as in loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.
As Buddhism evolved and the Mahayana evolved, the name was changed to the four immeasurables. And I think this has something to do with the Mahayana emphasis on limitless space. And we find this reflected in the Zen version of the bodhisattva vow:
Sentient beings are infinite, I vow to save them all, and so forth.
These four qualities—loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity—in ordinary western thinking, we regard those as emotions. And this immediately creates a little confusion because in many contexts in Buddhism emotions are regarded as bad things. You know, we’re trying to be free of emotional confusion and emotional projection. So, how do we reconcile this with these emotions of loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity? Well, one way of looking at this is that there is a qualitative difference between such emotions as anger, pride and greed, etc., and loving-kindness, and compassion and equanimity. And the difference to my mind is that the first group of emotions is organized around a sense of self and functions to maintain and reinforce that sense of self.
So, if you take a look at the emotion anger, we get angry at anything which threatens our sense of identity. Whether it’s our physical identity—i.e., our survival—emotional identity, our emotional needs, or our picture of who we think we are. When something threatens that we get angry and we seek to destroy it. And with the emotion desire—anything that supports that sense of self—we seek to own and posses and get more of. Makes us feel good. Equanimity doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t reinforce a sense of self. Nor does it reinforce a sense of other. So there’s something qualitatively different about the way equanimity functions.
Loving-kindness is little trickier because we confuse that with love and affection, either of which can be very much in the thrall of a sense of self. But true loving-kindness is wanting the other person to be happy. No strings. It’s open. Or to put it a different way, it’s radiant warmth.
And this special quality of these emotions was captured by William Shakespeare in the line, which I’m sure many of you are familiar with. I remember this very well because it was the first Shakespearean play that I studied and our teacher drilled this into us:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. it is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
[From Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice]
And so this verse illustrates another key point with respect to the immeasurables, and that is that they have a transformative power. And whether it’s compassion, or loving-kindness, or equanimity, or joy. When you just have that open—let’s take loving-kindness—that open wish that others be happy, or that the person you’re with be happy, and they feel it. Both of you are united in a moment of presence. There is radiant warmth, and the other person is receiving radiant warmth. When you’re on the receiving end of loving-kindness, you experience no separation from the world. That’s very profound. When you’re expressing loving-kindness, you experience no separation. Nor any sense of ownership, or control, or anything like that.
So you can see that these emotions function in a very different way from other emotions, such as anger, and desire, and greed, and so forth. So for that reason, I sometimes refer to them as the higher emotions—or if I’m feeling mischievous, the impersonal emotions—because they don’t reinforce a sense of being a person or your personality. They actually open things up. I like to play with words that way, sometimes. They aren’t the reactive emotions. These aren’t emotional reactions. And that’s the distinction.
Now, these practices and the practices to cultivate these emotions play different roles in different traditions of Buddhism. In the Theravadan tradition, loving-kindness primarily, and the others following are used very deliberately to generate high states of emotional energy, which is then used to power attention.
In the Mahayana, the four immeasurables are used primarily as a basis for the generation of compassion. Using such techniques as taking and sending, and many others. And then compassion is used to transform one’s experience of the world.
Zen tradition, and we will be taking a look at the way Zen approaches this with this book [Refining Your Life: From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment by Uchiyama]. These are seen as ways that natural awareness expresses itself in the world. So they’re coming—as is typically Zen—from a very high level. So, in some traditions these are regarded as energy transformation techniques. In others they are regarded as ways to work through emotional material: purification practices. And in others they are regarded as qualities that manifest naturally as the result of understanding and insight.
We’re going to approach them—the way that we’re going to work here over the next few weeks—partially as energy transformation practices, and partially as ways of coming in touch and learning how to be present in deep-seated emotional material. Properly speaking, I would not say these are beginners practices. These are about middle-level practices, for the most part.
But like many, many practices with Buddhism, they can be—and have been taken by many great teachers in the past—as the basis for practice. One of the old mythical symbols in Indian Buddhism is the wish-fulfilling cow. The cow was the source of everything. You know, it was the source of food, and fuel, and all kinds of things, so this was a symbol. But you can work with these as deeply as you wish, and they will just continue to nourish your practice.
In the Mahayana particularly compassion is regarded as the central path. And so in practising these, one was laying a foundation for that particular path. And in my own training in the Tibetan tradition—and in advanced yogas and things like that—these practices are really, really important to keep you from going astray; to keep bringing you in touch with how things actually are. Because it’s very easy to ride on energy, and lose some kind of connection with the world.
Now, in this work, and in any work in spiritual practice, it’s very important to understand what you’re doing with a particular practice. So I want to spend some time on this this evening. And I’m working from page 253 in this little book.
Four efforts: know the purpose, trust the method, understand what happens in practice, and accept the results. Now, it’s quite astonishing how many people practice a particular form of meditation, and really don’t understand what the meditation is meant to do, or why they are doing it. And then they wonder why they run into problems, you know, two months, four months, six months, or a year, or two years down the line. So, the purpose of this practice, well let’s leave that for a moment. You have the mics ready?
We don’t have to go around to everybody, but I’d like to hear from some of you, anyway. Very simple question. Why are you here?
Student: Someone’s got to record the class. [laughter]
Agnes: To minimize suffering.
Agnes: I guess if there’s a no-self…but I’m suffering.
Ken: So it’s your suffering? Okay. You are here to minimize suffering. No, no, you got the mic, we have a little chat now. Are you here to minimize suffering or to end suffering?
Anges: I am not presumptive enough to think that I could end suffering. So I work at the intermediate stuff—minimizing.
Ken: That’s very interesting. I want all of you to take a situation in your life, in which you tried to minimize the suffering in that situation. So maybe it was a conversation with your partner or spouse, maybe it was how you handled a certain situation at work. Julia is grinning ecstatically over there! Because this is what we generally do. We try to minimize the suffering.
Okay, so all of you have got a situation in mind? Okay. How successful were you? You know, you try to avoid all of that hurt and it didn’t quite work? We’ll just leave it as it didn’t quite work. Okay?
Now I want you to think of something else. I want you to take that same situation. How would you have acted if your intention was to end the suffering? Would that have made a difference? Several of you are nodding your heads. So let’s hear from a couple of you. What’s the difference? Chuck.
Chuck: I think if you’re trying to minimize suffering, you’re still closed up. But if you are trying to end suffering, you open up and let the cards fall where they may.
Ken: Very interesting. Okay, I think that’s basically right. But let’s hear from some other people. Anybody else? Julia.
Julia: I think when I’m trying to minimize it, I’m still trying to get something from the situation. But with a minimum amount of pain. [laughter]
Ken: Which usually turns out to be the maximum amount!
Julia: Exactly. Whereas when you are trying to actually end the suffering, there is something you have to do, and that usually involves sacrificing something that’s to do with what you want.
Ken: And you stop trying to protect and—
Ken: Yeah. Okay.
Darryn: The word that comes to mind when I think about this is euthanasia
Ken: I guess I am going to have to ask you to expand on that. Which is euthanasia, is that minimizing the suffering or…?
Darryn: Well, stopping the suffering might result in the putting something out of it’s misery.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. That something may be part of us, right?
Darryn: It may be part of us or maybe part of…
Darryn: …a dynamic.
Darryn: But it’s the destroying part of the—
Ken: Well, it may be destroying, but the point that I was trying to bring up here, is when you think of minimizing suffering, you can feel how there is all that entanglement, and enmeshment, etc. And there is all of that maneuvering. But when you think of ending suffering, things get a lot clearer don’t they? Okay.
You don’t agree, Agnes. There’s a microphone right there.
Agnes: The intention could be ending the suffering. But the reality, you know. Obviously, everybody wants to end all suffering. Realistically how do you do it?
Ken: Ah, now we get to the next point. How do you do it? Okay.
So, we started this because I asked why are you here. And Agnes said, to minimize suffering. So we had this little chat. Let’s hear from somebody else. Why are you here? Sean.
Sean: Well, what you said about suffering, the idea of pain being mandatory in life, but suffering being optional and—
Ken: In theory!
Sean: In theory. That comes down to a certain amount of acceptance. And in that acceptance I’m left with holding on that need, and I don’t do that very well. So I guess I’m here to learn how to better hold the unmet need.
Ken: Okay, very good. One other person. Why are you here? Leslie.
Leslie: Well, I took the class with you years ago. And found that it helped transform things in my life, in a way that almost nothing else has. So I’m back for a refresher. [Laughter]
Ken: What do you want transformed? Or, what do you want to transform?
Leslie: I want to work with relationships in a way that doesn’t create additional trouble. That’s really pitiful. [Laughter]
Ken: I think that’s the tip of the iceberg. Let’s go for the iceberg.
Leslie: Well, I have one relationship in particular in my life, that is so complicated that just keeping it there, minimizing the hurt, seems like a worthy goal. I can’t help it if it’s pitiful! It just is.
Ken: You are calling it pitiful. I don’t think anybody else is using that word.
Leslie: I mean, so when I use these practices, I can feel the relationship in a completely different way. And I see the usefulness.
Leslie: But I don’t, you know, I don’t always keep it present, so I need to work with it more.
I’m going to put this in slightly different language, and Leslie you can either nod or shake your head as whether it sounds right. But one of the ways of thinking about what Leslie was just saying, is that she finds that the four immeasurables practices allow her to experience things without the projection of thought and emotion. See things more clearly and is able to relate to them just as they are. And I think we need to talk about some of these terms. I’m going to throw four out: pain, hurt, suffering, and harm. Because our lives are full of relationships. Not only with other people but also the great array, or range of relationships we have to different parts of ourselves. It’s probably just as complicated as relationships with everybody that we know.
And just so we can be a little bit straight about vocabulary, these are the ways that I am going to use some of these terms. Pain is a sensation. It’s a sensation which can be physical or emotional—I suppose it could be cognitive as well—which arises in certain conditions. One is holding your hand in the flame of a candle. You are going to experience pain there. And this is keying off what Sean said:
pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Which always makes me think of Yogi Berra.
In theory there’s no difference between practice and theory. In practice there is.
Suffering is reacting to experience or reacting to sensations. So you can have pain, but if you just experience the pain then there’s no suffering. If you react to the sensations, that’s when you suffer. You know, we react in all kinds of ways. Our body tenses up and we try to stay away from it emotionally, and we get all kinds of stories about it. That’s suffering. So, that’s the distinction that I’m going to make. Pain is sensation, suffering is reaction to experience. And some people, they suffer when they have pleasurable experiences because they react to those in odd ways.
And this is probably a little more arbitrary distinction, but I also like to distinguish between hurt and harm. Hurt occurs in relationships, you know. Whenever two people interact in a way which doesn’t fulfill the expectations, or wishes, or hopes, or aspirations of the other person, they’re hurt. Harm is when they are damaged in some way.
So, in this world of interaction, it’s probably—I won’t say absolutely—but it’s probably difficult to avoid hurting people from time to time. But I think we take as something very fundamental in our practice to live our lives in such a way that we don’t actually harm people. Because when we harm people, one way of thinking about what we’re doing—is that we’re affecting them in such a way that we’re increasing their reactive tendencies, and so increasing their suffering. Do you follow?
Okay. So out of this very brief discussion, we come to this point: we’re here to end suffering, or we’re here to learn how to interact without harming people. Is that fair, Leslie? Yeah. Do you have a question? Okay.
Ken: So, what is the purpose of these practices of the four immeasurables? The purpose is to cultivate the capacity to experience and express these emotions in our lives. Now, I’ll tell you right off the bat it’s going to hurt. But it is very unlikely this is going to harm you. In fact, unless there is something fairly seriously wrong with you, it’s not going to harm you. If there’s something fairly seriously wrong with you, the chances are you wouldn’t be here anyway.
But one of the things I want you to do as we go through this is to gauge this. You know, “Do these practices actually do that?” And “Are these practices in line with my own intention?” Because many, many people, as I’ve said, engage in practices which don’t do what they actually want. They do something quite different. And then they get confused when they’re experiencing things and say, “This isn’t what I wanted.” And absurd example of this was a person who came to see me many, many years ago. Can’t remember how many years ago, probably in about mid ’90s. A psychotherapist and having difficulty with his practice. And he thought meditation might help.
And we agreed that we would meet for four sessions, which is not very long, as you know. And by the second or third session, it was clear that he wasn’t connecting with the practice. So I just said, “Why are you here?” And this took a little while to sort out. We finally got the answer. What he wanted was solace. Solace. He wanted to be made to feel good. Well, how many of you find meditation makes you feel good? I mean, it does in a certain sense, but not immediately. So I looked at him and said, “You know, this is the wrong place for that!” And so we just ended right there.
Second is trusting the method. Now, we cannot know how we’re going to feel about something that we haven’t experienced. That’s not possible. So in the beginning, the trust that we have in a certain practice is almost always based on hearsay. It’s because a friend said, “Oh, this is a good practice.” Or we read about it in a book and it says, “This is a really good practice.” Or we hear somebody say, “This is a really good practice, and it will do x, y, and z.”
And because we either trust that friend, or we trust the book, or we trust the teacher, we say, “Okay, I’ll give this a whirl.” That’s what I mean about it being externally based. As such, that kind of trust is relatively weak. It’s unstable. But it’s all we can go on. As you engage the practice and see what your own experience is with it, then a very different kind of trust develops. It’s a trust that comes through your own experience. You can feel what it does in you. You can see how it changes things. So now you begin to trust the way the practice works. And because it comes from your own experience, it’s a much more stable form of trust.
You practice enough and you come across a third kind of trust. And that is as with something like the four immeasurables, when you come to know loving-kindness yourself, for instance, and you go, “Wow! It actually is everything it’s cracked up to be!” This is no longer a trust in the practice. This is a trust in the quality itself. Because now you’re not separate from it all. So, it’s another way of putting it. It’s a trust in the knowing that comes through the practice.
Now, I could probably expand that into five levels of trust, or seven, but those three are sufficient. One is the external, the second is internal through our own experience, and the third, we could say, is the secret or hidden. It is from knowing itself.
Then the next thing. Understand what happens in practice. For many years I worked with a couple of guys in Orange County. One was an attorney; one was a management consultant. I happened to meet them both on the same day. And I asked them if they really wanted to do this. And they both immediately…they were separate, but they both said, “Yes!” You know, just seemingly enthusiastic. I suppose it was about five years later, because I had an office in Orange County, I would go down there for one day a week every day. And it was about five years later. And the thing that amazes me is that they both did this on the same day. They came in and sat down, and said, “I remember when I first met you and you asked me if I really wanted to do this. And I said yes, cavalierly. I will never say yes, cavalierly again!” And what was remarkable is they both used the word cavalierly! [Laughter]
T S Elliot, in Four Quartets, I’m not sure I can quote this verbatim, but, to the effect of:
To know what you don’t know, you have to go by the way of ignorance.
To become what you are not, you have to go by the way in which you are not.
There ar a couple of other lines, but those are the two that I can remember.
How many of you would say you were enslaved by the reactive emotions?
Student: What did you say?
Ken: Enslaved by reactive emotions? Okay. I have a story about that in a moment. This is about stepping out of that slavery. What’s involved in becoming free of slavery?
Ken: Who do you have to fight?
Student: Your captor.
Student: The person who is enslaving you.
Ken: Well, these patterns or whatever. And how willingly do slave masters lets slaves go? Not very. So that’s what’s in stall here. There’s no escape from this. We’ve all learned to live a life a certain way. And the suffering that we create in our life comes from this way. And now we’re going to end suffering and end our tendency to harm other people. Which means stepping out of deeply, deeply habituated ways of experiencing things.
And so there is a separation involved. And separation—even if it’s a separation from a bad relationship—is painful.
There are many good things that happen in the practice, many good things. One discovers the possibility of being free of judgement and prejudice. One discovers the possibility within oneself of radiant warmth, of being able to be completely present with another suffering in pain. And of being able to celebrate success and joy of others, which is wonderful. But all of those come by becoming free of the reactive emotions that currently operate within us.
All conditioning is an attempt to avoid pain. The way we become free of conditioning is to experience the pain that the conditioning is trying to avoid, and know that that pain is not what we are. And knowing this intellectually is useless. We have to know this experientially. And the way that that comes about is that we experience the pain; the pain comes and goes. If something comes and goes, it can’t be what we are. But my saying that is useless to you. You have to actually experience it. That’s how we become free.
Now, that’s a very brief description of what happens in this kind of practice. If you want to read more about it, read section ten in the karma chapter, chapter five in here. I go into it in some detail.
And now we come to the fourth effort, accepting the results. How much control do you have over what happens in your life? Anybody think they have any control over this? A few die-hards hanging on to that myth desperately? So you are going to embark on this practice? You have no idea at all what you’re going to experience. I just want to be really upfront about that. I have no idea what you’re going to experience. And it is probably fair to say that whatever you experience will be different to what anybody else experiences. You are walking straight into a mystery. You cannot know—you do not know—what it’s going to be like.
So the fourth effort here is to simply accept the results. That doesn’t mean to lie down and be passive. But it means that you don’t try to control what you experience to conform to what you want to experience. That’s how belief operates. It contorts experience, and twists and molds it, etc., so that it conforms to what’s inside.
Accepting means just opening and experiencing that, not trying to change it. And for many of us that’s a very different way of relating to things. I have a very good friend. She’s been a friend of mine, I guess, must be twenty years now. I met her relatively soon after I came to Los Angeles. She started her business, and I started Unfettered Mind in the same year. And we would call each other up and say, “How are you doing?” She said, “I’m undercapitalized. How are you doing?” “I don’t have any clients!” And it went back and forth like that. Well, she has just got into a relationship. And she’s calling me up and saying, “Ken, I’m not used to this. I don’t have any control. I’m so used to controlling everything in my life!” That’s how it is.
The purpose of our practice here—what we’re really doing—is how to meet what we experience, not control it. And we can say that the aim of Buddhist practice is to develop the capacity to experience whatever arises. Internally or externally. One may think, “Oh that doesn’t sound like much.” But actually it’s huge. Because if you can actually experience whatever arises, you never have to react to a situation. That’s huge. Okay.
So that’s as much of a frame that I want to set for these. What I want to do in the time remaining, is to go over the first meditation, but before then I’m happy to take any questions that you have, or comments that you have on anything that I’ve said up to this point. And if you’re in raging disagreement, that’s fine! Rage away. Anything you want clarified, elaborated, deleted? Got a mic for Joe?
Joe: I was really interested in re-reading that chapter on your suggestion that different approaches use one of the three poisons as an energizer for this work. And first of all I would like to know how that applies to what we’re going to do and secondly, I have an idea what using attraction might be. And what using aversion might be, but I can’t quite get a handle on what using indifference might look like.
Ken: Okay. You okay? The way I understood your question you were asking about how each of the three poisons can motivate, or be used as the transformation point for the practice. That right?
Joe: Yeah. And how that might look like.
Ken: And you are particularly interested indifference.
Joe: In what? In indifference, yes.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. Well there are several ways to respond to this. One that comes to mind—the primary method for people who have a strong connection with aversion—is to cultivate a relationship with death and impermanence. And for people who have a strong relationship with desire, they cultivate a relationship with suffering because that decreases desire. And for people who have a strong relationship with indifference, they cultivate a relationship with non-self.
That’s usually done, at least in the Tibetan tradition, by cultivating a relationship with devotion. So if you relate these to the four immeasurables, in the Theravadan loving-kindness is used as the engine to transform. In the Mahayana, the emphasis is put on compassion. And in the Vajrayana the emphasis is put on devotion. That’s how indifference is transformed. Okay. Zll of the traditions have methods for that. So that’s one way of looking at it. We’re not going to be touching on devotion, per se, in this work, but we’ll have other methods. In fact, the first method we’re going to be using—equanimity—is very much directed at the quality of indifference. Okay?
Ken: Other questions or points for clarification? Anything else? Okay. Deborah. We’re ready.
Deborah is going to hand out the meditation practices which she very kindly put together at my request, which I only passed on to her today. So thank you very much for this last minute effort. Actually I could use one too. Thanks. Okay. Does everybody have one? Okay. One Page.
Now. My plan for this class; we have six sessions, this is the first one, so over the next two weeks we’re going to work with equanimity, and then loving-kindness, compassion, and joy. That will take us up to the fifth week, or our fifth class. And then we’ll have one more class after that. Kind of wrap it all up.
And I do want you to proceed in this order. In the Theravadan tradition, they start with loving-kindness because they are using that to drive everything else. In the Mahayana, because it has more emphasis on space and openness, they start with equanimity. Part of the reason there is in order to develop these emotions for everybody, the Mahayana perspective is you’ve got get rid of prejudice and preference first.
Now, I wrote these four lines, and they’re actually a compilation of techniques from the Theravadan, Mahayana, and dzogchen, and mahamudra traditions, all rolled into four lines. Just so you know. And many of you will be used to meditations based on aphorisms, which will be worded very similarly to this. These are not aphorisms. These aren’t even wishes, even though they are framed in that kind of vocabulary.
Rather, each line is intended to put you in touch with areas in us, where the particular immeasurable is either blocked or is already present. And as you say each of these lines, you’re going to feel that. You’re going to feel those areas. So the way you work here, if you take the first one,
May I be free from preference and prejudice. Just take a moment and say that first line to yourself.
May I be free from preference and prejudice. Okay. What happens when you say it? What happens in you? Anybody?
Now, I should put a note here before I forget for people who are listening on the podcast, these four lines are available, this page is available in a pdf file on the website, so you can go there and get it.
Did you kick it up to Franca? Okay.
Student: Not yet.
Ken: Please. Now that I’ve said it, I’d really appreciate it. Okay.
So what happens when you say,
May I be free from preference and prejudice. Joe.
Joe: I want it to be different.
Ken: You want it to be different?
Joe: The line. Yeah.
Joe: Oh. Because I don’t quite understand it. I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what it’s going to do. I wish it was simpler. You think I make preferences or prejudices.
Ken: And if you go below that set of reactions what do you find?
Joe: Oh, fear that I will fail, that I will look bad. That I will not be who I think I am.
Ken: So you can hear all of this judgmental quality, about yourself. Right?
Ken: Now, what if you just let that be there. What happens?
Joe: It just is there.
Ken: And how do you feel?
Ken: Okay. So this is the method of practice. You say these lines. All of this stuff comes up. As a friend of mine would say, the monsters come out of the basement. What do you do with them? Well, with long experience with these monsters, chasing them doesn’t work very well. Trying to get them back in the basement, doesn’t work very well. They’re there.
And so when you say these lines, you may become acutely aware of how prejudiced you are. Or how much preference actually operates. And you may be very uncomfortable with that. Well, guess what, you just got your first reward from the practice. Now you experience it. Because that’s the point. When we don’t experience it, that’s when we exercise preference and prejudice. When we can experience it as an arising in ourself, that’s where we become free of having to express preference and prejudice. And eventually we come to know that it’s just an arising. And it loses it’s enchantment, it’s ability to enthrall and enslave.
Catherine, you have a microphone?
Catherine: So what if you feel release and space when you say that line?
Ken: Then you rest in the release and space.
Catherine: Does that mean later, other things are going to come up? [Laughter]
Ken: You know Catherine, I have no idea!
Catherine: Thank you.
Ken: You’re just going to have to find out.
Ken: Okay. So let’s take the second line.
May I know all things without judgement. What happens there? Catherine, what happened there?
Catherine: When I say that, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.
Ken: You don’t believe it.
Catherine: I feel tense.
Ken: Oh. So this must mean you view things with a certain amount of judgement now.
Catherine: The word judgement.
Ken: That rings some bells, does it?
Catherine: Yes. I do feel tense.
Ken: So can you just experience that?
Catherine: Yes, I am going to just experience it.
Ken: Do you like experiencing it?
Ken: Okay, you got the point. Good. Anybody else, when you say these lines? Deborah. Microphone’s right here.
Deborah: I feel resistance, because there are so many things that are just wrong and I know that. [laughter]
Ken: Thank you. Yeah, I understand.
Deborah: I don’t want to let go of it.
Ken: Yes. What determines whether something is wrong?
Deborah: It depends on what it is, but to an extent how much pain or suffering it causes?
Ken: That’s one possible factor. But does that always…?
Deborah: Well, no. Me. I would be the other thing that always determines.
Ken: Yeah. Basically, it’s our idea of the world. Right? What would it be like to be experiencing the world without having any preconceived idea about it?
Deborah: It would be very relaxing, like just stepping into a flow.
Ken: Okay, interested in the possibility?
Deborah: Yeeeaaa…maybe. But there are so many things that are wrong.
Ken: There you go, right. So knowing these things are wrong and these things are right, that’s kind of a comfort for you, isn’t it? Yeah. Just experiencing things, that’s like, “Don’t know how to navigate that.” Okay. And for many people that’s the case. So, when you’re stepping into an immeasurable, you’re stepping into a very, very different world.
Now I want to make clear this doesn’t mean that we just say, “Oh well, you know, mass murder, that’s just fine.” It doesn’t mean that. Thich Nhat Hahn, in a poem, I think it was called, Remember My Name. The last line is particularly—he was writing about the boat people in Vietnam, after the fall of Vietnam, in this one line anyway. And says,
I am the ten-year-old girl who was raped by a sea pirate. And I am the sea pirate who was so blind he did not know what he was doing.
Student: I can’t hear.
I am the ten-year-old girl who was raped by a sea pirate. And I am the sea pirate who was so blind he did not know what he was doing. That’s along the lines of without judgement. It doesn’t make it right. But it opens the possibility of seeing the other person, even though they were doing something totally heinous, as a human being. Okay? But it runs straight into those categories we have inside. Just as you were describing.
Okay, let’s try the third line.
May I experience the world knowing me just as I am. Rory.
Rory: [Unclear] sigh.
Ken: Well, there’s a little more than a sigh there.
Rory: Initially when I read it, it just made me feel warm inside, but listening to some of the comments about the first two lines, it almost balances out the first two.
Ken: Anybody find this terrifying? Okay. A few people find that. So again, it’s going to bring up material, where there’s resistance to this kind of complete openness and equanimity. And, or, it will move you into where you will feel a resonance with that openness and equanimity.
May I see things just as they are. Now, we all say that we want to do that. How many of you actually want to do that? [Ken whispers] No. As I like to say, most people don’t want to be aware. They just want to feel that they are aware. Because when we are aware, we have no choice about what we are aware of. We are just aware. Most people don’t want that. So,
May I see things just as they are. is declaring an intention to be that aware.
Ken: So, the way that you work here, is—for the first week at least—in your meditation period, just rest for about ten or fifteen minutes with your breath, and then say these four lines, one by one, slowly. And with each one, you are going to feel stuff. You are going to feel a shift of some kind. And you just experience that shift. And this is where we go back to stuff that we’ve discussed before. What do you experience in your body? Always start with your body. You know sometimes there will be a tensing, sometimes there will be a relaxing. People have commented on that already.
And then note the emotional ones. And you may have to say the same line again. You may say the first line several times. And the point is, you keep saying it so that you are able to note and be right in all of the reactions and responses to that line. And then you say the second line. Go through the same process. And then the third line. And go through the same process. And then the fourth line. And go through the same process.
Now, it may be that things get a little bit hot in there, in which case, just rest with the breath for a while. Allowing all of that stuff just to be there, and experiencing it to the extent that you can. I want to emphasize that if you find yourself hardening against the experience, let everything go. That’s not doing you any good. If you are experiencing it and you are hardening it and it’s like this, just let it go, rest with the breath, and then bring it back. One needs to have a firmness, but also a suppleness or a softness. If you’re hardening or tensing up against it it’s not so helpful.
In the course of fifteen or twenty minutes of this, you may go through these, once, twice, maybe three times. If you’re going through it more than that, you are probably going through it a bit too quickly. But you can tell me how it goes.
The point here is actually to feel the resonances with each of the lines. So, at the end of fifteen or twenty minutes then just let everything go and rest. If you know how to rest in open awareness, do that. If you are not familiar with that form of practice, then just rest with the breath and allow all of the emotional stuff that may have been stirred up just to be there. And allow it to dissipate, disperse in it’s own way. Don’t try to control it. Just rest with the breath and let it be there.
So that should be about a thirty or forty minute period. Realistically you should be aiming more for forty to forty-five minutes rather than thirty minutes, if you want to use this practice fruitfully. Ten or fifteen minutes to allow the attention to rest, fifteen to twenty minutes working with the actual meditation, and then about ten, fifteen minutes just resting again at the end. That kind of sandwich approach is very effective.
In the beginning you’re going to work with yourself. It’s, “May I be free from preference and prejudice.” You’re going to experience all of these things. Two weeks is a relatively short time to work on this, but after about a week or ten days then I’d like you to start extending it. So you’re going to replace the I with, “May those close to me be free of preference and prejudice.” May those close to me see things without judgement.
And you’re going to notice it’s a very, very different feeling, because now you are developing this aspiration or this intention with respect to others. And you may find yourself feeling things like Shantideva. He says, “Well, it was fine as long as it was focused on me. But as soon as it focused on others, I’m not interested!” [Laughter] We have these little quirks in us!
And see what that experience is. When you’re doing this as a complete practice, you would start off with those that you feel close to you, that you like. Then you’d move it to people you feel indifferent about. And then you’d move it to people you really don’t like. You know, “May those people—people you really have trouble with. And this is how we actually establish the quality of equanimity, within ourselves, and with respect to everything that we experience. Now, are you going to be able to do all of that in two weeks? Probably not. But I want to give you the framework for this, so that you know where the practice is headed.
Ken: Any questions about the practice? Kate. Then Michelle. And then Carol.
Carolyn: Carolyn. That’s okay.
Ken: Carolyn. Sorry. I’m just terrible with names.
Kate: When I read these lines, for instance,
May I know all things without judgement. I mean I obviously know that I have judgement—more judgement about some things than other things. So, would it be helpful to bring up in my mind, you know, the things that I have more judgement about? And sit with that?
Ken: Is that necessary? When you say those lines, don’t they just pop up?
Kate: Well in the very beginning it all sounded good to me, until I started thinking about the things that I have more judgement about.
Ken: Yeah. And so there it is.
Kate: So, okay.
Ken: And now the next time you say those lines, there they are. And you got to experience not only having judgement about those things, but having judgement about you having judgement!
Kate: So it’ll all come up anyway.
Ken: That’s my experience here. Yeah. Michelle.
Michelle: I think I already know the answer to this one, but what about the opposite of Shantideva’s reaction? ”May those close to me be free from preference and prejudice, because then, of course, they’ll see things my way.“
Ken: Yes you’re quite right. Some of us go one way, and some of us go the other. But, what’s your way?
Michelle: Whatever I think is right at the moment, of course.
Ken: Yes. Is that free from judgement?
Michelle: Well that, of course, would depend on whether my ego or something else was speaking.
Ken: Yes. But that’s why we start with us. Because if we started with others we could actually go there. But when we start with us, first we have to be free of it. And just letting some of that stuff go, like that’s really uncomfortable. Right? So that’s why we start with us. Okay? Carolyn.
Michelle: Thank you.
Carolyn: This is just practical. You said we should start with ourselves, and then after how long?
Ken: I would like you to spend at least a week working just with these four lines with respect to yourselves. Then experiment with expanding it to include others.
Carolyn: Okay. And when we do that, we shouldn’t probably go through those four lines more than two or three times in a session. I mean that’s about the speed you’re recommending.
Ken: Yeah, three of four times I think. And you may find it goes faster than that, because there’s a lot of variation between people. But it’s not a case of just saying the line, ”Okay, I feel that“ and going on to the next line.
The purpose of Buddhist practice is to experience whatever arises. So we say that. And at least in my experience I say something like this, it arises, and I am in the experience for about two or three seconds, and then I check out. You know, something takes me off.
When a pattern releases, it’s a very different thing because then when it arises there’s a shift. And then you find yourself just present. And if that happens, just rest there, that’s fine. But I find that when we’re working with uncomfortable material it’s very easy to get distracted. I mean the body sensations arise. And we say, ”Yeah, stay with the body sensations.“ And then we immediately start thinking, ”Well, you know, if I just did this that would feel better.” And we are already out of it, just like that. Do you know what I mean? So this is very much working with the experience. Okay?
Carolyn: Thank you.
Ken: Okay. Susan.
Susan: I could sort of anticipate particular lines giving rise to perhaps strong ideas or emotions.
Susan: Is the instruction kind of a dzogchen instruction? Just rest in awareness and do nothing, or is there something…?
Ken: And what would you like to do?
Susan: Well the other one is, there’s ways to work with it. You can move into it. And try and experience it fully or…?
Ken: What’s the difference between that and dzogchen?
Susan: Sometimes it just dissolves and nothing hap…I mean like….
Ken: Sometimes it just dissolves? Sometimes when you move into it, it just dissolves. What’s the difference?
Susan: Sometimes when you move into it, you get dragged into a whole thing.
Ken: And sometimes when you just sit with it open, you get completely distracted! What’s the difference?
Susan: What if you just open and then you move onto the next line.
Ken: Ah. It sounds like you are moving too quickly. Slow down! Okay? Any other questions. Lynea? Then we need to close for the evening.
Lynea: Is there any reason not to work with these off the cushion?
Lynea: Is there any reason not to work with these off the cushion?
Ken: Oh no. It’s great to work with these in your daily life.
Thank you for raising that up. Yep. If you memorized these, and just go around saying them all the time. Thank you very much for bringing that point up. And just learn them by heart, that’s really good. And so that way you keep the practice going through the day. Yep. Okay.
Dedication. Before you start.
So this I’m saying for the benefit of the podcast: So this is the end of the first class in the equanimity. And you can find more information about Unfettered Mind on our website, unfetteredmind.org.