Taking and sending, Point 2: Main practice
Knowing whatever arises for what it is; the natural response of compassion; the three poisons and dualistic thinking; why taking and sending works; taking and sending & the four immeasurables; the three objects, three poisons, and three seeds of virtue; meditation instruction for awakening to what is apparently true, taking and sending; questions from participants
Yesterday I talked about what this experience we call “life” is. And when we accept experience just as it arises, ordinarily for us, there’s a sense of self here, objects that we perceive out there, and the dualistic framework. And we generally take this completely for granted. When we examine, or investigate, or look at what is actually going on, it very quickly becomes quite mysterious.
The example that I was giving yesterday was just looking at a grey rectangle and asking, where does the seeing take place? And anyone can come up with all kinds of psychological or rather scientific or neurological explanations, but none of those actually answer the question, Where does the seeing take place? or, Where is the seeing? And the more we investigate it, the less we’re able to say about it.
Now, when we move from regarding everything as out there and me in here, and we move into this more mysterious way of experiencing things, which is summed up in the instruction,
regard everything as a dream, then we find ourselves, effectively, in a different world. And one of the ways that we can characterize that world is that in that world it’s impossible to share or trade any experience or to have any exchange with anyone, because there isn’t anyone there. There are just the constructions out of our experience.
Now you may think, “This is a horrible way to experience the world, because then I’m there all alone.” Well, as I kept saying yesterday, it’s worse than that, because the sense of I is equally fictitious. So not only is nobody else there, but you’re not there either. In other words, it’s simply experience. This is the world in which we practice taking and sending.
We talk about waking up. Waking up means to know what is arising and to know what it is. And there are these two aspects. Well, to know what is arising, to know what it is, that’s on one side, and the other aspect is to know how to interact with it.
So what we’ve been discussing so far is to know what is arising—know what it is. And what is arising is a bunch of experiences that are nothing in themselves. You may recall from yesterday when we were exploring, Where does the seeing come from? Where does it go? Where is it? We couldn’t say anything about it.
And so it would appear to not exist. Well, it doesn’t exist in the solid way that we ordinarily think. But it does exist in as much as it’s an experience. And in the same way, when you dream of a flower, the flower doesn’t exist as such, but it does exist as an experience in a dream.
Now, all of you know that when you’re sitting meditation and a thought arises—these beginning stages of meditation—you don’t relate to that thought as a thought. Well, you relate to it as a fact, and you go off into the world of the thought, which we call a distraction. And sometime later the thought dumps us, and we go, “Where was I?” All of you know this experience.
That is because we don’t know what the thought is when it is arising. It appears to us as something solid, real, etc., and that’s how we relate to it. So we’re distracted. And the same way with feelings like anger and pride and desire and so forth.
So a very important part of our practice is to know whatever is arising for what it is, so that when an emotion like anger is arising, you know that it’s just a feeling, and that the whole world that’s it’s projecting—we discussed this a few days ago—is the hell realm, in which everything is regarded with opposition…that none of this is actually true, but to know it in the moment, and not intellectually, but to know it experientially.
And it’s a little strange sometimes when anger arises and you can feel yourself very angry, and you look around, and you think everybody hates you, and you know none of it’s true. But then you’re much less likely to actually act on the anger, which decreases the amount of suffering for yourself and for other people, usually.
Now, there’s another little bit here that’s a very important transition. When you see someone who’s caught up in a situation or a bunch of feelings that you yourself have worked through, and you can see how upset and maybe angry or confused or hurt, whatever, they are, what do you feel for them?
Ken: Yeah. It arises quite naturally, doesn’t it? And this is because although the particular suffering may vary from person to person, the actually process of suffering, the way that suffering arises, is the same in every person. And when you’ve worked through something, and you can see somebody caught up in that, you naturally think, “Oh, you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to experience it that way.” Your heart goes out to them very naturally.
So the more deeply we are able to understand that thoughts are thoughts, emotions are emotions, and things just arise in experience—and the less we get caught up in the apparent reality of things—then quite naturally the more compassion we feel for people who are caught up in it.
And then there’s a little matter of how do we relate to all of that? Well, the habituated way in which we relate to the world of experience is very simple. Whatever supports or reinforces or enhances things that we like—our sense of self and so forth—that we’re attracted to. Whatever threatens, disrupts, disturbs, diminishes our sense of self or our position in the world, we dislike; we’re adverse to. And everything that doesn’t matter one way or the other, we don’t care about; we actually tend to ignore.
So these are the three poisons: attraction, aversion and indifference. And if we examine the way that we relate and interact with the world, it’s all about me. And that principle governs everything. We habitually put ourselves first in the way we relate to things. And in doing so we consistently reinforce the dualistic framework in which we experience the world in terms of I and other.
So the main part of mind training—the Mahayana mind training—is to start addressing that fundamental imbalance, which I talked about as self-cherishing, I think on Tuesday evening. And the way that we do this is that we reverse the process. Instead of me holding onto and thinking of all the things that I enjoy and say, “These are mine,” and saying, “Everything I don’t want, I just leave out there for others,” we take everything that we don’t want as ours, and we give everything that we do want away to everybody. This is sometimes referred to as emotional suicide.
Now, the actual technique of meditation is very simple. And if you look in this booklet on page eighteen, you see the instruction
Train in taking and sending alternately. Put them on the breath. So this is a breath meditation, which makes it nice and easy. As you breathe in, you imagine all the negativity, all the pain, all the negative emotions, all the confusion of all beings coming into you and you’re experiencing them. As you breathe out, you imagine your own happiness, health, good fortune, joy, virtuous activity going out, and everybody gets that, so that they’re happy, joyful, wealthy, and so forth. And then on the next breath, you’re taking in all their pain and suffering and their horrible attitudes and life and so forth. And you’re breathing out everything you value and enjoy in your own life.
To help this we imagine all of that negativity, the unwholesomeness of other people, all of their criminal, insane activity—I’m being quite literal here, I’m not using that as hyperbole—but all the criminality in the world, and all the insanity, all the craziness, all the pain, all the illness coming in the form of thick, black smoke, coming in. And imagine it coming in your right nostril and coming down into your heart where you feel it, and you feel that you’re experiencing it.
And then as you breathe out, your happiness, joy you have in your family, the feelings of success and fulfillment you may derive from your career, your house, car, other possessions, the good times that you’ve had, the qualities like that…you have in yourself, like your good health and physical fitness, and intelligence, and so forth, honesty, imagine that taking the form of silver light like moonlight, coming out of your heart, going out of your left nostril. And just going, and all beings receive it, and they experience it. You’re giving it away to them. That’s why it’s called taking and sending.
We seem to have been stuck with this translation in English. The word in Tibetan is tong len. Tong is the verb to send and len is the verb to take. But Tibetan forms abstract notions by juxtaposing two concrete words. So the word for temperature for instance is hot-cold. And the word for distance is near-far. So I would say that the proper translation of tong len is exchange. You know, take-send, exchange. And you’re exchanging your happiness for others’ suffering; or others’ suffering for your happiness.
Now, this doesn’t sound like much fun. Here’s where the four immeasurables come in. Well I’ll back up a step. Rinpoche was once asked, “Why would you do this meditation?” His response was, “If, with a single breath, you could take all of the suffering and pain, insanity and cruelty in the world, and in one breath, you could experience all of it, and everybody else would be free of it, would you hesitate?”
It’s interesting, isn’t it? From a Buddhist point of view, our fundamental nature is compassion. And what one’s doing in this practice is creating the conditions in which that natural proclivity for compassion can express itself. Actually, it’s not just a human proclivity. There’ve been some interesting experiments done on animal behavior in the higher primates.
There’s an experiment that’s done in psychology. Two people are put in a room. One person is given twenty dollars in one-dollar bills. He can decide how much of that he or she gives to the other person—give one dollar or five dollars or ten dollars or all of it. Research shows that if a person just gives one dollar to the other person, the other person often refuses it. They have an innate sense of fairness, and they just say, “Eh, I’m not going to have any of this. I’m not going to play this game.” If they give something close to around ten dollars, like seven or eight, then it’s okay. What’s interesting is exactly the same behavior is experienced, or is observed, in chimpanzees. There’s an innate sense of fairness built into us, if you wish.
So because of our conditioning, because of the habituated way we relate to the world, this open free, fair, equitable sense that we have becomes distorted, confused, suppressed, ignored. And what we’re doing in this practice is creating the conditions in which that can re-emerge, reawaken in us.
And those of you who’re familiar with the four immeasurables, this practice actually includes all of the four immeasurables in every breath. When you are sending out your own happiness and joy and good fortune to others, that essentially is the wish that others be happy. That’s loving-kindness. When you take in the suffering and pain and negativity of others, taking it away from them, that is the wish that they be free from suffering, which is compassion. There’s something actually joyful about that exchange. It feels good. That’s joy. And because we do this impartially, without any preference for any particular sentient being or prejudice against any sentient being, that’s equanimity. So with every breath you’re practicing the four immeasurables.
Now a couple of things—practical points that have come up many times when I’ve taught this—one is that some people find it very difficult to take in the suffering of others, and other people find it very difficult to give away their own happiness and well-being. That is some people just can’t relate to this part of it, and some people just can’t relate to that part of it. And it will be interesting to observe which is the case for you. Maybe you can relate to both. That’ll be fine.
Because of that tendency, some people tend to favor taking in the suffering, and when they do this practice, they get depressed. And other people favor giving away all of their happiness over and over again—they really get into that—and they get totally blissed out and elated. And they just don’t take in any of the suffering.
So what I’ve found, it’s very, very important to do this exchange with each breath. That is as you’re breathing in you’re taking in the suffering, and as you’re breathing out you’re giving your own happiness. You don’t sit there taking in the suffering for a while, and then think, “Oh I’m going to breathe out the happiness for a while,” or vice versa. With each breath, you do both. And people say to me, “Well, I can’t really get into it then. It’s happening too fast.”
To which I say is, “Imagine there’s an apple in this hand. [Tossing to other hand] How long does that take? Imagine there’s an orange in this hand. Now an apple. Now an orange.” We’re much more versatile than we think we are. But I’ve found that that balancing is very very important.
One of the things that’s a little difficult for us to appreciate, in here we have two pages of instructions with very brief commentaries, here we have about a hundred page book. We can read these two pages in about ten minutes, at the most. We can read this book in a couple of hours. Because of our education system, we think, “Okay, we’ve read the book. Now we know it.”
But it doesn’t quite work that way with practice. This is a meditation manual. And what we discussed yesterday afternoon, well, for most people that’s a good three to six months’ work, some people more. This actually is a lifetime of practices. You could probably get by practicing Buddhism with just this book. Don’t need any other.
The copies of the four thoughts, as they’re known—the precious human birth, death and impermanence, working with karma, and shortcomings of samsara—in the three-year retreat we worked on those very very quickly. That is, we spent eight hours a day for a week on each one of them. That was doing it very quickly.
It takes time for these things to be absorbed, so don’t think that just by doing this for half an hour or forty-five minutes or something like that, then you’ve understood it. You get the idea of it, of course, but actually instilling these ways of relating to the world, relating to our experience, takes time. And that’s why we practice meditation. It’s through that process these ideas are deeply deeply instilled in us. And we’ll find our way of experiencing the world gradually changing.
We have a tremendous fondness for insights and new understandings. And they’re useful, but they just represent little adjustments in our view. When we get up to the chapter on proficiency, or the section on proficiency, then you get a much better feeling what it’s like really to assimilate these.
So when you begin practice you may find yourself like, “I can’t relate to this.” Okay. We’ve got three or four days, and it takes a little while to form a relationship with a practice. Whenever starting a new meditation practice, I always find that the first few days, it’s just a mass of confusion, because there’s all kinds of distractions and things like that. And then gradually it begins to settle down. And then I begin to get into the practice itself. That’s just the way things are, so it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It means that you’re at the beginning of the learning curve. We’re so used to instant results or learning things actually very very quickly that many of us have lost the relationship with something that is actually cultivated and matures over a lengthy period of time.
So you do the exchange with each breath, which means that when you’re breathing in you have to touch into the pain of the world. And when you’re breathing out you have to touch into your own joy and well-being. And as I said earlier some people have a predilection for really being able to touch into the suffering of others. And other people have a predilection for really being able to touch into their own happiness and joy, and we’re bringing about a balance in that. We’re using both of those.
And then people say wonderful things like, “I don’t have anything to give away.” So we’ll start with the basics. Everybody here is basically healthy. Everybody here has enough to eat, clothes to wear, a place to stay, source of income, you know, which distinguishes you from about ninety-five percent of the rest of the world right there. So yeah, you’ve got plenty.
A psychiatrist I was working with on this—a very very bright guy—and as we were chatting about this I said, “Of course you’re giving away your own intelligence.” And he went, “I never thought of that!”
So there’re many things that we take for granted about ourselves and don’t appreciate, and this is an opportunity to form a connection with them and then give them away. A lot of people in a certain sense don’t realize how good we have it. And many of us have a negative self-image, and so one of the aspects of the sending here is that we have to get in touch with what is good and positive in our lives. And if we have a negative self-image of ourselves, it tends to screw that up pretty royally. So it becomes a very inconvenient practice, which is good.
On the other hand, when it comes to taking in the suffering of others we often get an outbreak of what we call “magical thinking.” That is, “If I take in the pain of others,” or “If that person’s got cancer, and if I take in their cancer, I’m going to get cancer.”
Well, this practice has been done for approximately, conservatively a thousand years, probably closer to fifteen hundred, by thousands and thousands of people. I don’t think there’s one recorded case of somebody getting sick from doing this practice. But maybe you will be the first; I don’t know.
We call that magical thinking because it’s characteristic of a certain stage in child development where the child is really not able to distinguish between what they’re thinking and what actually is, so whatever their thinking is what actually is from the child’s point of view. And when people get under stress or are working with something uncomfortable, that often just pops up.
But, you imagine taking this in, and there will be an emotional jolt. You know, it’s intimidating, and particularly it rubs against that whole way we have of relating to the world, which is controlling our experience and taking care of our world so everything is nice for us. And guess what? That’s exactly the point of this meditation. So when you feel that friction and discomfort, you know you’re on the right track. See why we call this emotional suicide. Okay.
Now there are a couple of other wrinkles here. In any meditation we have distracting thoughts, or thoughts come up, and we tend to get distracted by them. Taking and sending provides us with a wonderful way of working with all of those thoughts. Whenever you think of something you don’t like, something that’s upsetting, something that’s painful, you immediately incorporate that into the meditation by saying, “I will take all of that from all sentient beings right now.”
So if you’re sitting there in meditation and you remember, “So and so really wasn’t very nice to me yesterday, and I’m going to do something to get even with them.” I don’t know whether anybody else has those kinds of thoughts. Then you think, “Oh, may I take in all of the pain of being insulted and all the desire for revenge from all sentient beings.” And you just breathe it in. And what this does is it allows you to experience whatever is arising, not in pianissimo but in fortissimo. So you really experience it.
And then another thought comes up, “You know, I’m really happy with my car.” And then you think, “I’m gonna give my car to all sentient beings.” ARRGH! You know, I mean these are trivial examples, but that’s exactly what you do.
The instruction here is,
Three objects, three poisons, three seeds of virtue. The three objects are things that we’re attracted to, things that we are adverse to, and things that we’re indifferent to. The three poisons that are immediately elicited are attraction, aversion, and indifference. And what we do is we use our experience of each of those poisons and transform that experience into a virtuous gesture, right in the meditation.
Student: What do you do with the ones you’re inclined to ignore?
Ken: Well, you take “may all the ignoring”—all of the just putting it out of mind, all the confusion, which is another aspect of ignoring—“come into me”. So whatever you’re experiencing, you just incorporate it into the meditation. Is that clear? Okay. Michelle?
Michelle: Do you want us to just skip over the usual progression about first visualizing ourselves and then visualizing someone we’re close to and then someone we’re indifferent about and then someone we can’t stand?
Ken: Yeah, just jump right in. And that progression is usually in the context of the four immeasurables, and I would just start straight in.
Now when you do this—another wrinkle here—the idea of taking in all of the famine in the sub-Saharan countries, for instance, you go, “I can’t do that.” And you immediately feel that contraction in yourself. When you feel that contraction, you can feel yourself closing down, start doing taking and sending with the reaction, because that’s something lots of sentient beings experience. So you think, “May that withdrawal, or contraction, or fear, or whatever, may all that come into me.” So you work with what you’re actually experiencing. And as you feel that contraction release, then you’ll be able to take in the suffering of starvation, and so forth.
That’s very important to work with one’s own reactions, because if you don’t work with your own reactions, then you’ll just basically ignore them or step over them, there’s a subtle form of suppression that takes place there. And that isn’t helpful.
And in the same way, you think of giving away something, and you can feel like you really don’t want to, then you start working with your own attachment to it. So you’re working with your own reactions. And that’s how I interpret,
Begin the sequence of exchange with yourself.
It’s also very useful to take a phrase so you can remind yourself, not only during the meditation session but also during your life. My two favorite phrases are,
Gain is illusion; loss is enlightenment. That’s one of them. I remember I had a student in Orange County who just went berserk at this idea. He was very much into building up his life and his wealth and his career, etc., “What do you mean, ’Gain is illusion?’” But it’s actually true, it’s wonderful, because every time you think you’re getting somewhere, you’re actually just reinforcing your sense of self, and you’re getting more and more into illusion. When you have everything stripped away from you for whatever reason, then you’re actually much closer to experiencing what you actually are, even though it can be quite painful.
The other one, which is the very famous one from Langri Tangpa’s Eight Verses of Mind Training is:
I give all gain and victory to sentient beings, I take all loss and defeat for myself.
And there’s an interesting exercise that you can try sometime which puts this into practice, and that is when you’re playing a game with someone, lose.
There’s a very wealthy real estate developer that I was working with back in the nineties, again in Orange County, and he was very very much into winning everything all the time—you know, completely habituated, of course, and it was part of the reason why he was so successful. And I insisted that he learn how to lose. So eventually, picked an arena for him, which was when he’d play one-on-one basketball with his son. And it took him a good six weeks before he could actually lose to his son. And he was very surprised when the world didn’t fall apart.
Shortly after that, the real estate market crashed, and he had to liquidate his whole business and everything like that, and he had a whole ream of troubles with the government and the savings and loan scandal and everything like that. And his experience of learning how to lose served him very very well in getting through that, because he didn’t have any choice in that one. So learning how to lose, it’s actually a very good skill, because then we don’t have to win. We actually have choice about what we do in a situation.
So this is your practice now, and we’ll be doing this practice for the rest of the retreat. People will say, “Okay, well, how do you do this?” Well, there’s a great deal of latitude here, so I’ll just give you some of the ways that I’ve found work for me.
First, if you wish, you can simply start off by imagining taking in the suffering of others and giving away your own happiness and just feel a little bit of what goes on in you emotionally. And do that for a little while. And then just start resting with the breath, with the thick, black smoke coming in and the clear white light going out. And just rest with that. It’s a very simple visualization, you’re resting in the experience of breathing. And make sure you’re doing the black coming in and the white going out with each breath.
And then every seven or eight breaths, remind yourself what you’re doing. Saying, “I’m taking the suffering of others in, giving away my own happiness.” And just practicing that way for a while is fine.
And you’ll find that that in itself will gradually deepen. As you get more used to taking the suffering in you’ll find you’re naturally thinking of all the different kinds of suffering. And as you breath out your own happiness and joy, you’ll think of one thing after another. And so the practice will actually enrich itself over time. So that’s one way. And that’s a very good base to come back to if you get terribly caught up in things; you just come back to that very simple, symbolic exchange.
The second way is to work through, methodically, various kinds of suffering and pain and misery. Many of you are familiar with the six realms: the hell realm and the hungry ghost realm and the animal realm and the human realm and the titan realm and the god realm. But you may not be aware that there are eight hot hells and eight cold hells and four neighboring hells. And then there’s the occasional hells.
And then in the hungry ghost realm, there are four different kinds of hungry ghosts: those with outer obscurations, those with interior obscurations, those with both outer and inner obscurations, and those with the fourth kind of obscuration.
And then in the animal realm there are wild animals, and then there are the animals above the ground, on the ground and under the ground; animals in the ocean; there are domestic animals; there are wild animals; there are lots of animals.
And then in the human realm you have the sufferings of birth, old age, illness, and death. Those are the major sufferings. And then you have the minor sufferings, which is not getting what you want, getting what you don’t want, not being able to keep what you have, and—sorry, got those a little wrong—not being able to be with the people you want to be with, being with the people you don’t want to be with, not being able to get what you want, and not being able to keep what you have. Those are the minor sufferings of the human realm.
And then in the titan realm, well there’s not a lot of breakdown there. Basically in the titan realm you’re always going up against the gods, and they always beat you up. And you’ve got all of this wealth and all of this power and things like that, but there’s always somebody better than you. And you just can never get to the top. Sound like anybody you know?
And then in the god realms you have the desire realm gods, the heaven of the thirty-three stages. And then you have the seventeen form realm gods, and the four formless realm gods, so there are lots to deal with there. Now suffering gets pretty refined up in the top of the levels of the formless realm gods, but you know.
And you’re wondering how do I know all of that stuff. Well, it’s because when I was doing taking and sending, I worked through every one of those over and over again, and got very familiar. I’m sorry I cannot remember all of the eight hot hells and all of the eight cold hells now, but you know, there’s the black line hell and the crushing hell and the spearing hell and the so forth and so forth.
All of that cosmology is actually a psychological map. And it’s a way of working through all of these different aspects of various reactive emotions. So you can use a framework such as that. Now I’ve elaborated on that probably more than most of you want to work with, but just taking the six realms, working with anger and…hot anger or cold anger which is hate, various expressions of greed and so forth…all of this suffering out in the world.
And then I was doing taking and sending in connection with another practice last year in order to prepare. I was teaching a retreat on that practice. And there I was sitting in Los Angeles and I went, “Hummm, well let’s say we have all the gangs, and that’s pretty close to the hell realm. And then we have all the attorneys…”
Student: That is the hell realm.
Ken: No, that’s the hungry ghost realm.
And then we have all of those people who just get in their cars and drive on the freeways, and they get out of their cars, and they go to work, and then they get back in their cars, and they drive home. That’s like the animal realm.
And then we have the human realm. People who are just struggling to enjoy life a little bit. And then we have all of the people in Hollywood who are trying to claw their way to the top, but there’s always someone who’s more beautiful than they are. That’s the titan realm.
Ken: No, that’s jealousy.
And then you have the stars. There that’s pride. That’s the god realm. And you know, that’s L.A. Well, wherever you’re from, you have the same thing going on around you.
So there’s a great deal to work with here. And what a lot of people have trouble with is, “Well what do I have to give?” Well, yeah, we all have a great deal, as I was saying a few moments ago. And this practice requires that we actually take stock of what is good in my life. And we begin to appreciate it in a way that we may not have. Not for long, of course, because as soon as we appreciate it we give it away. And then it’s everybody else’s.
Now what’s very important in this is you really feel that this is happening. And this may take a little while to develop, but you feel, “I’m taking in this.” I mean—I may get myself into trouble for this but, what the hell—how many are satisfied with the current administration in America? Okay. How many of you would be doing what they’re doing? What state of mind would you have to be in to be doing what they’re doing? Take in that state of mind so that they’re free of it. There’s Melissa, “No way!”
Student: That’s horrid!
Ken: That’s the practice.
Ken: I got myself into a great deal of trouble in the second three-year retreat, which was in the early Eighties. And it’s when the Iran-Iraq War…and at that point the U. S. was heavily funding Iraq for that war, as was Saudi Arabia. And I was doing the retreat in France, and France had a very close connection with Iraq so Iraq was kind of the hero in that war. And people said, “Well we should do suffering for all of the people who are being killed.”
And I said, “Yeah, we should also do it for all of the people who are losing, etc.” And everybody got very angry with me, but in a war, everybody’s suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh expresses this very beautifully in a poem called Remember Me by My True Names. And the stanza which stands out in this is…and the ten-year-old girl who jumps into the sea after being raped by a sea pirate, and then the sea pirate who is “So blind that I cannot see the suffering I’m causing.”
And so we’ve talked about equanimity. Equanimity means just that: we work with everyone, because it’s all suffering. And our sympathy goes to the people who are experiencing being the victims of cruelty and torture and so forth. But in a certain sense, our sympathy is slightly misplaced, because from a karmic point of view, when you’re experiencing actual suffering, that’s the end of the karmic process. The torturers, the people who are inflicting, are right at the beginning of the karmic process. It’s something to keep in mind.
Student: At the end isn’t that a cycle? I mean…?
Ken: Can you use the microphone, please?
Student: And also at the end, I see that as a cycle. I mean, take a pedophile, almost a hundred percent of them were victims themselves as children. And their perpetrators weren’t caught. They….
Student: Their suffering wasn’t known. They were not treated.
Ken: You’re quite right. That’s the way that these dysfunctions are passed on from generation to generation, so that when a person is the victim of cruelty or abuse or torture or what have you, what I’m saying is they’re at the end of the karmic process. They’re experiencing that. Now, how they react to that determines whether the cycle turns once more. It is possible, they say, “Okay, this happened to me, and because this happened to me, this will never happen to anybody else again.” And so they, through their own understanding of their own suffering, they step out of it.
Student: [unclear] requiring some intervention.
Ken: Well yes, but….
Student: Or help.
Ken: No doubt. But essentially what we’re doing here is training that kind of ability in ourselves because Buddhism is about ending suffering. It’s not about minimizing suffering; it’s about ending suffering. And ending suffering requires being able to experience whatever is arising and not reacting. And that’s the ability that we’re cultivating in ourselves. Okay?
Ken: Any other questions? Any questions about practice before you go off and do it?
Student: Just one question. The animal realm would be desire?
Ken: No, the animal realm is functioning by blind instinct. Anybody see a movie called Thank You For Smoking? I really recommend it. It’s great. It’s all about mind-killing. But there’s a wonderful line in it, because one person does something horrible to someone who’s very close to them, and she says, “How could you do this to me?”
And he says, “Well, I’m just trying to pay my mortgage.”
And so later on in the movie, she does something equally horrible to him, and he turns to her, and he says, “How could you do this to me?”
And she says, “I’m just trying to pay my mortgage.”
Now that’s perfect animal realm mentality, just trying to survive. You do whatever you have to to survive. So there’s a very limited awareness of possibility, and you tend to do just the same thing in the same situation. You look at a dog trying to open a door; you know, they don’t know how to do it. They don’t have the equipment. They just will scratch at it. Scratching doesn’t produce any good, but they’ll just keep scratching at it.
And that kind of limited response to new circumstances characterizes the animal realm. So we have a limited framework in which to understand the world, and so we do things automatically. And it’s all about just trying to get by.
Student: And just regarding desire, because of its kind of two-toned nature: it’s really great but then there’s this other level to it.
Ken: What are you referring to?
Student: Desire. Just thinking of something that you want can be a really great thought. But below that there’s sadness and anger and pain and suffering. So when you take in desire. Say that’s one of your thoughts that arises.
Ken: You take it all in.
Student: Even the good…I mean you’re taking in the pain of others’ desire…experiencing desire, even the…
Ken: Well, when you see someone in the grip of desire, what do you feel for them?
Ken: There you go. Because there their desire is causing them suffering. Right?
Student: Okay. There’s no realm associated with desire?
Ken: Yeah, that’s the human realm.
Ken: Yeah. Carolyn?
Carolyn: Did you just say it was the first technique to start out by imagining taking in suffering…
Ken: Yeah, just to get a sense of it…
Student: Do the Tibetans look at these realms the way we do metaphorically or are they real to them?
Ken: Certainly this was their cosmology. For many of them there was a cosmology, and that’s how they understood the world to be, and there’re long passages in some of the encyclopedias debating minute points of this cosmology in the same way that we did with the Ptolemaic universe and now they’re doing with Galactic super-clusters and so forth. At the same time people who trained deeply also understood them metaphorically.
I remember Rinpoche would present them: “This is what life after the human…after this can look like.” And that was the way it was presented.
And here we go into the difference between a traditional society and a modern society. In a traditional society, there is one overarching worldview, which everybody accepts. And this was the worldview in Indian and Tibetan societies. Cause this cosmology comes originally from India.
They may have felt that that was how the world actually was, but it also induced psychological processes in the same way that reading a fairy tale to a child does, like Hansel and Gretel, or Cinderella, any of these old tales, the child often really enjoys these and relaxes, because, for instance with Hansel and Gretel, here you have this figure that looks like a loving mother who’s actually going to bake and eat them. And that’s exactly how the child feels about his or her mother sometimes. So when they hear the fairy tale, they know that they aren’t crazy, because somebody else…so even though they may not be thinking, “Oh, this is a metaphor; this is a symbol,” it has that effect inside in the same way that this cosmology worked in Tibetan culture, in the same way that it put people in touch with their reactive emotions and the problems with them.
For us it’s a little more difficult, because we’re used to seeing things in terms of symbol, and so it’s a little more difficult for us to get right into that very visceral, you know, “Oh, I’ve really got to practice this way, because otherwise I’m going to end up in the hell realms.” I mean, there’s real impetus here! And it’s a little difficult for us to take that approach. So we have to come at it a slightly different way, I don’t think it’s terribly helpful just to regard it as pure metaphor.
What I’ve found in working with the realms is they are very accurate descriptions of what these emotions are actually like, the subjective experience. But we usually don’t want to go there and experience what they’re like, because if we did, our relationship with them would change very, very quickly. Do you follow? Okay. Alex?
Alex: You seem to have at least one kidney and a couple of liters of blood, so have you completely taken the practice to heart?
Ken: What’s your question? I like the way you’ve presented it, but I want you to get at the actual question.
Alex: How do the attitudes that this practice is encouraging play out practically?
Ken: Ever get in a fight with your girlfriend?
Ken: Do you ever lose intentionally?
Ken: I don’t mean lose because there wasn’t any choice.
Alex: Well. I lost, but I couldn’t see the point.
Alex: I lost because I couldn’t see the point.
Ken: Ah yes, but that’s not exactly intentionally…where you just say, “You’re right.” What would that feel like? For most of us it’s like, “Uuurrrrr.” It’s really hard to do. Why is that? Do you know what I mean?
Student: Yeah, a strong sense of “I”.
Student: A strong sense of “I”.
Ken: Yeah. Why is it so hard? Here’s a person we care about very deeply, and we can’t just say, “Yeah, you’re right.” Do you understand what I mean, Alex?
Alex: I’ll think about it.
Ken: That’s what it looks like. It doesn’t have to be big dramatic gestures. Most of the suffering in the world comes about from the accumulated effect of very, very small things. When we start being able to catch them and change them, then we stop creating suffering in the world right around us, for ourselves and for others. I can feel the wheels turning so?
Alex: Yeah, there’s some stuff I don’t really want to go out on the internet, so I’ll ask you about it later.
Ken: Fair enough. Carolyn?
Carolyn: What about about sincerity in this issue? What about sincerity? I mean Don’t you have to mean it when you say, “You’re right,” or be willing to…I mean to me there’s a problem if I’m not sincere when I say, “You’re right,” then that person’s gonna know it somehow. I…it’s…what is this about?
Ken: What prevents you from being sincere?
Carolyn: Well, if I were sincere, I wouldn’t say, “You’re right,” I’d say, “Well, you know what? It looks like we just see this differently, so that’s okay with me.” You know? That would be my sincere response.
Ken: Okay, let’s take this just a step further.
Ken: Is there validity in their point of view?
Carolyn: Sure. Probably. Well, that probably….
Ken: I rest my case.
Carolyn: Now wait a minute; wait a minute. When I said, “Probably,” I was thinking, “Unless they’re being purposeful in…in just wanting to disagree,” you know. But…
Ken: Now, let’s take that case.
Ken: Because I had this many years ago. Suppose they’re just going to disagree with anything you say?
Carolyn: Well then it makes sense to say, “You’re right,” because, you know…
Carolyn: Who’s going to go there?
Ken: So either there’s some validity in their point of view, or there’s no point in engaging the argument.
Carolyn: So I just need to make sure that I see their point. You know, that’s…
Ken: Now, what difference would that make?
Carolyn: Well, you said that either there’s some validity, I mean I want to see that validity, I want to just see it, you know. Don’t I?
Ken: Yes, but I meant that. Now, if you saw the validity in their point of view, what difference would that make?
Carolyn: I would feel really good about being able to stop arguing.
Ken: It might move things in a different direction?
Ken: Yeah. It would make a difference, right?
Ken: So these are the practical applications. Okay. Last questions, Chuck then Agnes.
Chuck: One of my clients, the woman got a divorce just before her fiftieth anniversary, and she said…she told me…I asked, “Why after fifty years?”
She said, “I just can’t stand one more year of it.”
Ken: She didn’t want to say, “I’ve been married to this guy for fifty years.” Okay. Agnes.
Agnes: I’ve got a problem vis-a-vis Carol thing, like the current administration, I do not see they have a legitimate point, to have a view point to say, “Ah, what you have been doing, all this policy and everything else, you’re right.” I can’t…I cannot do that.
Ken: But that’s not what I suggested vis-a-vis the administration when I brought that example up. The question I asked you is, “What state of mind would you have to be in to do some of the things that they’re doing?”
Ken: That’s what you take. Yes, that’s right. It’s very unpleasant. Yeah.
Agnes: So I would try to experience that.
Ken: Yeah, you’re just going to take that frame of mind and you can feel how unpleasant it is and how self-centered it is, how limited its scope is in terms of what it can see and what its priorities are. And most of us would not want to be in that state of mind. And we don’t want to be in that state of mind, because we recognize that that is suffering, that state of mind. So you’re taking that suffering. It’s not about having an argument with the administration. It’s a very different point from Carol’s. This is actually taking in the suffering that is there.
Agnes: There’s a little trick to it, meaning I am projecting. That must be what they are feeling, therefore they’re doing what they’re doing.
Ken: Sure. But we gotta start somewhere.
Student: Maybe they can’t admit they’re wrong.
Ken: Yeah, but…certainly you’re going to project that, but that gives you something to work with in the taking and sending. You see, this practice is about undoing our own tendency to protect ourselves. It’s not about changing the world.
Agnes: I guess my problem is…basically I have a problem to put myself in their shoes.
Agnes: Because I rationalize, you know, everything is so irrational, in denial, in everything else. So then I got problem there.
Ken: Right. And I find it very helpful when I’m interacting with someone who is doing things that I can’t understand at all, I put myself in their shoes and say, “Okay, I’m going to be doing these things, where would I have to be in order to do that, to do the things they’re doing?” And it often gives me a great deal of insight into what’s actually going on in them. And then I’m able to establish some form of communication. Okay.
We close here, and we’ll start meditation at ten-thirty. Okay?