Bring attention to all activities; learn to use a few tools very deeply; whatever happens, it is not necessarily about you; use intention to die to life of conditioned existence; be in what you are experiencing right now; how to interact completely with your teacher/experience; engage the three faculties: body, speech and mind. The audio for this series of podcasts was originally recorded on audio cassette. As such you may find the sound to be of a lower quality.
Okay. Guidelines. Does anybody else have the sense that time sort of stopped for the last ten days? It’s like, you know, just here. Reminds me of the three-year retreat where you just did the same thing every day. And one day you’d look out your window, and it’s spring. And another day you’d look out your window, and it’s summer. And a little while later you’d look out, what are those leaves doing? Oh, I guess it’s fall. You know, it’s just a certain timelessness.
Use one practice to do everything. Now, at an advanced stage you can say practice is about doing nothing. Or doing nothing is a practice. But I’m not going to let him get away with that one at this point. So, even though we’re talking about being present, that’s actually the result of an effort. So a practice is something you do. And in many cases, I’ve observed, that when people say, you know, “My practice is presence” or just, “That’s what I do,” or even if I ask people for an intention, they say, “My intention is to be present,” that can be a way of avoiding internal material. Or actually, sometimes, external material—stuff that’s around.
So, in the technique that I introduced yesterday—focus, field, and internal material—out of that, one moves into presence. Both the field, which is the whole sensory field, and the internal material—all the thoughts and feelings—one really has to include both of those.
So, in the classical approach to this, whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it with the intention of training the mind or helping sentient beings. What does this mean in terms of something like sweeping the floor? Well, by sweeping the floor in attention, if you put this in the context of bodhisattva vow, you are fulfilling the bodhisattva vow. Remember that the bodhisattva vow says,
Just as the sugatas of former times aroused awakening mind and progressively followed the training of an awakening being, I, too, for the benefit of beings, arouse awakening mind and progressively follow that training.
What is the training? Training in attention.
Student: What is a sugata?
Ken: A sugata? It’s an epithet for buddha. Literally it means thus gone. Yeah, thus gone or thus come. It’s a strange epithet and it’s explained in many ways. The full one is,
One gone (or come, depending on your point of view) to thatness, or suchness. You have that one. And then you have tathagata, which means,
One who’s gone to the nature. There’s another one which means,
One gone to bliss. I can’t remember the Sanskrit. But they’re all epithets for buddha, for being fully awake.
So, when you are sweeping the floor, you sweep the floor in attention. That is following the training of the buddhas and bodhisattvas that have come before. And it is how you do the activity that fulfills the working for the benefit of sentient beings. Because through that, you are training your mind to be in attention, so that you can be present in every situation.
There’s a woman who was a well-known Zen teacher, I think in nineteenth century Japan. Her son died, and of course, she was quite upset. At the funeral, when the son was being buried, she was crying. And her students were very confused by this, you know, and said to her, “You’ve always said, ‘Don’t form attachments, and everything is impermanent, and everything is illusion.’ Why are you crying?” And she looked at them very fiercely and said, “Every one of my tears saves countless sentient beings.” Okay?
Many people feel that when you do this practice enough, you’re not meant to feel anything. I’ll let you sit with that one for a while.
What we are doing by making our practice our lives is—one formulation I use—is tending to the world of complete experience. I’ve already suggested some ways you do that by opening to that world, and wherever we sense imbalance, bringing attention to that and dissolving the sense of subject-object that arises with imbalance. And things move back into balance. It’s that we do the same thing during our life, when we’re walking around interacting with other people. Wherever imbalances arise, we work right there. We tend to that. That actually is the expression of compassion.
Now, the next line
Use one remedy for everything. In Buddhism we have many, many tools. And in the Tibetan tradition we have too many tools. Learn to use a few tools very, very deeply.
Now, there are a number of tools which have overall applicability. For that, I offer for your consideration doing what’s next: faith or loving-kindness, impermanence, and compassion. Now any one of those tools is actually all you need.
What I’m trying to do here is make these explicit. In each of these four tools, you can choose any one of them. And what we’ve been working with in the course of this retreat is primarily the fourth one—compassion. But with every one of those tools, you have to be so deeply trained in it that you can actually make four different kinds of efforts. Which are again the four ways of working. That is, you have to know how to restore balance—which is about power; make connection—which is about ecstasy; come to understanding—which is about insight; and serve—which is about compassion.
So loving-kindness, for instance, isn’t all just mushy and everything’s soft and nice. Because when you really train deeply in loving-kindness, you know what’s yours, you know what’s the other person’s, and you can be very open to that, but you don’t take care of stuff for them. There’s a maintenance of appropriate boundaries and balance. And there’s an understanding that comes from really being open.
And the same thing with compassion. Compassion can require one to be very, very clear in situations. And clear.can feel like cutting right through all of the confusion.
Student: What was the phrase?
Ken: I didn’t use a…
Student: To restore balance?
Ken: Service. To serve. Balance, connection, understanding, service.
Two things to do, one at the beginning, one at the end. As you may recall, this is setting an intention at the beginning of the day. And reviewing the day, how you did, at the end of the day. This is just a very effective way of keeping your intention in mind. And that way, it’s a support for practice.
Whatever happens, good or bad, be patient. Another way of looking at this is that whatever happens, it’s not necessarily about you. You know, everything starts going great in your life. Well, that happens. It may not be because you did certain things. Everything starts going bad in your life—may or may not be about what you’ve done. And the point here is just to open to the experience. Work with taking and sending. And everything that arises, approach it as just experience. If it’s a pleasant experience, use it to develop loving-kindness and sense of giving. And if it’s an unpleasant experience, use it to develop compassion in the sense of taking.
Now, you may recall last night that I was explaining how at a certain stage, when you’re practicing chö—and this is not limited to chö by any means—you develop very intense states of faith, compassion, loving-kindness, and mix them with emptiness. And you do that very deliberately to undo the idea that these things themselves are real, or solid, or whatever. All experience is simply an arising in the mind. Not just the negative stuff.
Keep these two even if your life is at risk. The two being your vows and mind training, in the classical commentary. Again, you can see this as another injunction to constantly strengthen and reinforce one’s intention and the framework of one’s practice.
On a more internal level, yesterday I talked about dying as part of practice. You can use your intention to help you die to the worlds created and maintained by your projections. And if you consider one’s life here, the life of presence, then you die to all other worlds. This is the one life you hold onto. Of course, it’s no life to speak of but…[Laughter]
I just love Buddhist logic that way, you know, you’re holding on desperately to nothing at all. The amazing thing is it works!
Train in the three problems. We discussed this in detail earlier. Recognition of a reactive pattern. Developing a practice to work on it—and cutting through. One method of recognizing reactive patterns is observing what you don’t notice, observing what you don’t question, and observing what you don’t laugh about—that’s important. I found those immensely helpful.
There are other methods. Another one, which I think I may have mentioned, is to observe where there’s a consistent discrepancy between your intention and the results. This is very reliable.
You want another one? Okay. This is a tough one. Anything you do, which you suspect may have some reactive components in it, make a practice of doing that very precisely one day, and behaving exactly opposite the next day. And you alternate the two. If there’s a reactive process in there, it will start to scream after a very short period of time.
Student: Can you give us an example?
Ken: Sure. If you think there’s any reactive component about the way you present yourself to the world, one day you dress absolutely impeccably. You know, everything is just so precise—the way you’re groomed, what you’re wearing, how colors match, appropriateness in the situation, etc. It’s just perfect. Next day, it’s a complete mess. Good enough?
Another example—and I’ve done this. I had a couple of students doing this at various points. I suspected that there was an element of pride in one student that he was not acknowledging. So his assignment was, one day he was to act as if he was the lowest scum of the earth. And he was in a business situation. He was the vice-president of a dot-com company when he was doing this. He was just to act like he was the lowest scum of the earth. And, you know, if anybody asked him to do something, even if it was a subordinate, he would just do it. And so, no pride whatsoever. Then the next day he was act as if he was lord of the universe.
Things got really interesting quickly. He was quite comfortable acting as if he was the scum of the earth, because that was his internal image. It built up a certain amount of resentment. It took him a little while to be able to act like he was lord of the universe. But he got to it. And then much to his dismay, he realized this is what he actually wanted. So it was a whole level of unacknowledged pride, which was the basis for the other side of the pattern. So things became a lot more open after that.
So this is a tough practice, but it’s really effective.
Work with the three primary factors. The three primary factors again are your teacher, your practice, and the conditions for your practice. And in the classical interpretation, it was the saying, you know, “If you have those, great, give them away. And if you don’t have those, great, take them on, take on that deficiency from all sentient beings.”
The underlying point here is, whatever you are experiencing, be right in that. Don’t wish it were something else. And don’t take what you do have for granted. It’s what you happen to be experiencing right now. You form a relationship. It can be an intimate relationship, a social relationship, a business relationship, you know, whatever. What’s the one thing you know about that relationship?
Student: It’ll end.
Ken: Yes. It’s going to end. Okay? Maybe it’ll end with the death of one of you and last a long time. Maybe it’ll end tomorrow. So what is the appropriate thing to do, effort to make, with something that you know is going to end?
Student: Experience it.
Ken: Yeah. Experience it fully. Or as a friend of mine puts it, savor it. That’s it. That’s it. What it is right now. And this gets very interesting when your troubles come up in a relationship. Move right into the experience of that, those difficulties. That’s what the relationship is, right then.
So, it’s an idea that’s implicit in this work with the three primary factors. Whatever your experience is, that’s it. It’s what you wanted it to be? Fine—give it away. In taking and sending terms. If it’s not what you want it to be—experience that. And take in all that feeling of deficiency, and resentment, and unhappiness from all sentient beings. These are tools by which you relate to exactly what is arising for you.
Don’t allow three things to weaken. Again, the three things were confidence or faith in your teacher, enthusiasm for practice, and your ethical code—your behavior. Each of these is important. If you consider what the three responsibilities of a teacher are, there’s an interesting correspondence here.
The first responsibility of a teacher is to show you presence, or what it means to be awake. I think I discussed this earlier, did I? It can be done in two ways, usually a combination of both. One is the teacher is modeling that—not in the sense of acting it out—but doing it. So you observe by being around him or her. You think, “Oh.” And that, incidentally, is the traditional way in which Buddhism has spread. You just watch a person and go, “There’s something different about him or her, you know. What is it?”
And the other way is the teacher elicits an experience, through your interactions elicits an experience of being awake in you. So you are shown what it is, very directly. Having faith and confidence in one’s guru corresponds to that responsibility of the teacher.
The second responsibility of the teacher is they give you the tools with which to train and develop the capabilities, so that you can become present, can wake up. So, the willingness, the enthusiasm to use the tools, or the willingness to make use of what the teacher gives you, corresponds to that second responsibility of the teacher.
And then the third responsibility of the teacher is to point out to you the internal material in you that gets in the way of your being present. This is what makes interacting with your teacher somewhat like interacting with a dentist. “This won’t hurt a bit.” [Laughter]
I had a group in Orange County many years ago and one of the people in the group was a dentist. And we were discussing the topic of lying. And one of the other people in the group said, “Dentists always lie.” And the dentist took umbrage and, “What do you mean?” And the other person just said, “This is only going to hurt a little.” [Laughter] And everybody broke up.
So, when the teacher points out your internal material, another way of looking at what he or she is doing at that moment or in exercising that responsibility, fulfilling it, is they’re pointing out when your internal process, or how you’re acting in your life, is coming out of reactive material. Right? Coming out of a reactive pattern. That’s what they’re pointing out. In effect, they’re pointing out where you are deviating or not fulfilling the ethics of presence.
Don’t allow three things to weaken. One way of looking at it is, how do you relate in this interaction with your teacher in a way that is complete and whole? You know, you open to—or you try to pick up—what they’re pointing out to you in terms of presence. You have enthusiasm for the tools and you practice them with enthusiasm, the tools that you’re being given. And you receive what they’re pointing out to you in terms of reactive patterns as a way of refining your own ethics, in how you live your life.
In one case, there was a CEO who negotiated the sale of a non-profit hospital to a for-profit company. He had run into a fair amount of resistance from various stakeholders in the hospital community. But he successfully guided it through. And after about six or eight months under the new management, he didn’t feel very good at all about what he had brought about, because he saw that the whole character of the hospital now was changed and it could not serve the community in the way that it had. It was very painful for him to see how his reactive pattern had blinded him to what the real consequences of this transaction were going to be. This kind of thing happens all over the place.
Keep the three essentials. The three essentials are engagement of your body, speech, and mind in the practice. Now, I don’t know how this developed historically. I have some ideas, but I really don’t know. But at least in the Tibetan tradition—maybe this has something to do with Tibetan culture—body awareness is really not very strong. An awful lot of practice goes on in the head. It’s really in the head. It’s not even in the heart, much less in the body. And I know that even though Zen comes from a body-based culture, there are similar problems there. Theravadan, it’s less so because there’s the emphasis on mindfulness in the body. It’s one of the first foundations of mindfulness. So there seems to be more connection there.
But body, speech, and mind all must be engaged in the practice. And one of the most reliable ways for you to become present and to work deeply in your practice, whether in formal meditation or in your daily life, is to pay attention to what your body is experiencing. I think you’ve heard me say this a couple of times during the retreat, and I’ve certainly brought it up in interviews. For every emotion that arises, there is an emotional sensation and a physical sensation. And for many people, becoming aware of how that emotion manifests in the body, so they become aware of the physical sensation connected to that emotion, is the most effective way of learning how to be present in the emotion.