Possible directions towards a solution. The world of shared experience and the world we actually experience; money exists in the world of shared experience and of materialism; definition of materialism; comparison of the bases of life in world of materialism and world of well-being; comparison of spiritual ideal and being fully alive; Questions: What would you do with your life if you knew you would die in one year? If you were free from trying to get your emotional needs met? If you weren’t concerned with being somebody?
Are we rolling? Okay.
So this is session three of our workshop today. I didn’t have the time really—actually more the reason I didn’t have the energy last week, because I was ill. There are three books that I recommend. One is Buddhist Economics. If you go on Amazon you’ll find that this is $124. However, if you go to the Then and Now class you’ll find that we have a link to an on-line version. Which is a little cheaper, it’s free. [Chuckles]
This was printed in ’92 so I suppose it’s just relatively rare now. It’s by one of Thailand’s foremost Buddhist scholars, a person called Venerable Payutto. I don’t know whether I’m pronouncing that correctly or not. And it’s just a very straightforward application of Theravadan Buddhist thinking to the subject of economics. And there are some very interesting points. And much of the material I’m going to be using this afternoon is drawn from that.
Second book is Money and the Meaning of Life by Jacob Needleman. Needleman’s an old student of the Gurdjieff work. Very familiar with Buddhism as well.
Student: What’s his name again?
Ken: Needleman. It came out in the late ’80s, early ’90s. It’s available on Amazon. I think actually there’s a link from our site. So if you buy it through us we get a little bit of money from Amazon.
Needleman’s thesis is very simple: people don’t take money seriously enough. And he says, “Whenever I say that, people raise their eyebrows or look at me very quizzically.” But it’s very simple. It has a lot to do with what we were discussing this morning. People feel that money is a solution to lives. They don’t really probe into the actual value of money. That’s what he means when he says people don’t take it seriously enough.
And it’s an exploration of what is the role of money in your life and what’s its relationship to meaning in your life. So as such, it’s somewhat existential. And I think he’s had too much wine to drink in the middle of the book. [Chuckles] But the beginning and the ending are very strong. [Laughter] Well he says he was drinking wine while he wrote it. So he just had a little too much in the middle. He goes into this whole long thing on Solomon, which I didn’t get into anyway.
Third book, which isn’t about money at all, is—and I wish they’d stop changing the name of this. Every time they print it they change the name. I think it’s How to Cook Your Life. But it’s Uchiyama and Dogen. Forget about Bernie Glassman’s version of How to Cook Your Life. And Ed Brown has also got a How to Cook Your Life, which is about how to become a Zen priest by cooking bread. That’s a little unkind, but the Uchiyama and Dogen—what it consists of is Dogen’s instructions to the chief cook in the zendo, the monastery. And Dogen, he’s extremely difficult and very concise, and elusive in a typical Japanese way. You know what I mean? [Chuckle]
Student: I don’t know about that.
Ken: Well, it’s just they never talk about anything directly. Just…exactly. You do know what I’m talking about. Yes.
Ken: But Uchiyama does a very good job of providing commentary. From my sense it’s the best of Uchiyama’s books. But the whole book, his whole commentary—which actually is a very high-level commentary on the four immeasurables—is based on the distinction between two worlds. The world in which we share and interact—and which is the one in which we think we live—versus the world in which we actuallylive, which is the world of our experience, the distinction many of you have heard me talk about.
And I think we’ll start there this afternoon. We have these two worlds. The world which we actually experience, and the world which, when I’m feeling devilish, I call the world in which we think we live, the world in which we interact and share, and exchange things with others.
Now this is not a difficult question; I don’t want anybody to fail this. In which of these two worlds does money exist?
Student: The one in which we interact with others.
Ken: The one in which we interact with others, yes. Does it exist in the world we actually experience?
Ken: No, it doesn’t. That’s something you might keep in mind. It might be important, conceivably. A lot of other things don’t exist in that world either. But since we’re discussing money, we want to make special note that it doesn’t exist.
Now, it’s a little unfortunate that the word materialism has come to mean something, you know, greedy, grasping, etc. Its original meaning—and I want to use it in the context of its original meaning today because it’s an abbreviation for a much longer phrase, which I’m going to get tired of repeating. Materialism is that you take what appears to you to exist in its own right. You believe in matter. That’s what materialism actually means.
Now matter here actually is rather broader. It’s not just concrete things like that. Materialism in this sense means that you believe your thoughts and emotions exist in their own right, and are facts, and have to be acted on. Of course, most of you are quite familiar with the disastrous consequences which come from that little belief.
The world in which we think we live, the world of interaction—sharing, trading, exchange, and so forth—this is the world, created and defined, formed by materialism. Believing in matter. And so, I’m going to use materialism for that way of experiencing things.
Now this third section, we’re going to look at, basically, what’s the solution. First part this morning, we talked about what the problem is. And we had this list of questions that these are the kinds of problems that you brought here.
And the second part of this morning we looked at what generates these problems—and that was what money represents to us. And we have a list of things here, samples, of what money represents. And we probed into this with the guided meditation that we did together. And which, as some of you mentioned to me when we broke for lunch, was a little surprising. Because you found identifications or representations lurking in there that you didn’t know were there. Not all of you were happy about that. That’s another matter. Someone said, “I thought this was going to be an easy workshop!” [Chuckles]
So, now we have an idea of where the difficulties come from. And just putting it very loosely, and perhaps a little overly broadly, it’s our not being clear about what money represents to us. Not being clear about our relationship with that.
So, now we want to look at the solution. How do we become clear about this? And this is very much an experiment, but that’s fine. So you guys have got some heavy-duty work now. So we hand out…I just need to keep one sheet. And I’m going to suggest you do this in—I think groups of three work better than groups of two, don’t they? Yeah. So I suggest you work on this for a few minutes in groups of three. Now this can be both a theoretical and a personal exploration.
Student: Anybody else need one?
Ken: Yeah. When I saw…people kept registering right at the end so I just decided to print a bunch of them. I’m very glad I did.
On the left-hand column you’ve got 10 very common economic terms. Values. Consumption, we all know. You know, it’s a consumer economy—really important. Moderation. Well, that’s not exactly an economic term but it’s related to how one approaches things. Contentment, another one. Work, very definitely one. Productivity, very important. Competition. Cooperation. Choice. Life values.
What I want you to do is to take, not a long time, but jot down how each of these things looks from the point of view of materialism. And we can take that for our purposes to be the way that our experience of American society is currently set up. You know, so how is contentment regarded from the point of view of materialism?
Student: Having enough stuff.
Student: Having enough stuff.
Ken: Yes, well how is contentment regarded?
Ken: It’s a very bad thing.
Ken: It’s a very bad thing from the economic point because if you’re content you’re not going to buy things, and the economy is going to grind to a halt.
Ken: Use a microphone please.
Student: Isn’t it contentment what drives the economy? That people are looking for some form of external contentment—that is the basis of the economy?
Ken: Ah, okay. So we need to define terms here. And that’s a good way. What does contentment look like? So, you just defined what it looks like from a materialist point of view. Seeking something outside to make you feel good.
So, I want you to go through this and really look at it. Each of these.
Now from the point of view of the world we actually experience, what’s your aim in that world? Hmm?
Student: Be happy.
Ken: Yeah. What does being happy mean here?
Student: It’s being satisfied [unclear]…
Ken: Yeah. Well, Venerable Payutto uses the word well-being. In my own work I would probably use the word balance. You look at basic meditation, what are you doing in basic meditation? You’re cultivating a balance between mindfulness and awareness. And when you start hitting that—and so you have mindfulness and awareness and they’re present and in balance, then insight begins to arise. And when you balance the resting quality of shamatha and the seeing quality of insight, then true knowing, natural knowing, becomes accessible.
So we can look at Buddhist practice as a way of progressively refining our ability to be in balance and developing that skill. Now as I say, Payutto used the term well-being, which I think is fine because it carries very similar ideas and has a bit broader context. But I think you may find that when you’re looking at well-being versus looking at materialism things look very, very different.
Another thing that he points out is that we have two worlds. And what you can say, we want to engage, you know, the world in which we think we live. You know this world of exchange. And the word for wanting in Buddhism, usually translated somewhat pejoratively, is craving. There’s a hunger there, we’re trying to feed something. And we tried to feed something by satisfying our senses, which is another link with materialism. You’re taking out there as real. You’re trying to satisfy something by what’s out there.
The approach to well-being is very different. It’s more intention. And you can’t buy well-being. But you can bring about well-being by intending to do so. And it requires a very, very different approach to life.
So what I’d like you to do is to break up into groups of three, quite informally again. It also gives you a chance to get to know each other. And just discuss and compare ideas for the next 10 or 15 minutes. And fill in as much as you can about what do you value in the world of materialism. What do you value in the world of well-being? What does work look like in the world of materialism? What does work look like in terms of well-being? Molly. Microphone, please.
Molly: Can you say more about moderation?
Ken: Well, I probably…maybe should have highlighted moderation and contentment. But what happens if you eat too much?
Molly: You get sick.
Ken: Yeah. And you keep eating too much? You get fat. You get all kinds of things, right? Right?
Ken: What are we encouraged to do in this economy?
Ken: Consume. You know, any sense of moderation?
Ken: Do I need to say more?
Molly: So, you’re asking, what role does moderation play in both of these worlds?
Ken: In both of those worlds, exactly. Anybody see the Doonesbury from last weekend? Zonker’s in the restaurant and he’s serving a couple of people and they say, “Well, what do you suggest?” He says, “Well I suggest our fresh lobster.” They say, “Is it fresh?” “Yeah, it’s shipped in, it’s live in that tank right over there.” The husband and wife look over and say, “We’ll take that one and that one.” “Oh, two nine pounders.” And then the next line is, “Well, that’ll do for starters. What about the main course?” “Well, I’ll show you to the corral next.” [Laughter]
And you know very well you go into certain American restaurants, there’s no way you can eat everything on your plate. I mean, there is absolutely no way. And I mean, where was I—Arizona or somewhere—I ordered the half portion of something because the waitress had warned me that the portions were big. I’m sorry, but the half portion was twice what I was able to eat. So this is not an approach to moderation. Okay. And I’m just using food.
But how many experience moderation in their relationships to their work here? Or how many don’t experience moderation in their work, you know? It used to be that a 40-hour work week was regarded as a full work week. I know when my dad was a full-time industrial accountant in Canada, he worked from nine to five. Absolutely. And occasionally he would have to put in something if there was a strike or if there was some crisis. But it was pretty rare.
How many of you work a 40-hour week? Yeah. Pardon?
Cara: I don’t know, actually.
Ken: Yeah, you’re a yoga teacher?
Cara: No, I’m a baker.
Ken: You’re a baker? I very much doubt you work a 40-hour week.
Ken: Yeah. You count it up. I mean, none of us work a 40-hour week. Usually it’s 50 to 60 hours, right? Okay, Rita, how many hours do you work? You don’t even want to talk about it.
Rita: It depends on [unclear]…
Ken: Yeah. Sooo, where’s the moderation? Right?
Student: Does that include commuting?
Ken: Of course. It’s part of your work, isn’t it?
Student: It’s an extra hour or two…
Student: It’s an extra hour or two a day.
Ken: Yeah. Microphone, yes. There. Behind you.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. I mean this is a…yeah, yeah you ask about commuting.
Student: Commuting will be an extra maybe five hours a week that we don’t factor in because it’s not at work.
Ken: It’s not at work. Yes, but it’s necessary for you to earn money, so what’s a very interesting exercise is to figure out your hourly rate based on how much time you actually spend, and also how much it costs you to work.
Ken: Clothes, whatever.
Ken: Yeah and when you add that all up you may find you’re working for 10 bucks an hour—not exactly what you think you’re earning. But it’s quite frightening.
I didn’t have time to…at least my copy machine was broken, so…but there’s a worksheet I have that invites you [chuckles] to figure out how much you’re actually earning per hour when you add in all the extra time and the expenses of working.
Okay. Randye? Microphone, Cara.
Randye: How do you count the hours when you love what you’re doing?
Student: When you what?
Randye: When you love what you’re doing.
Ken: Well, that’s fine. But here’s another very slippery slope. One of the ideas that has been perpetrated in society in the last twenty years or so is that you should love your work. Now, on the surface that sounds very reasonable. And it’s much better to be doing something that we enjoy. But there’s also a covert message here and a covert exploitation. Because if you love what you’re doing, then I can ask you to do that all the time. And so, now are you living to work or are you working to live? And there’s a basic choice there.
It used to be that most people worked to live. They did their work and what they really wanted to do in their life, they did outside. And that was fine. But more and more we’re being encouraged to live to work. Well, one may want to think about that. If you see what I mean. Because now all your life becomes about work and anything that isn’t work is getting in the way. Such as family and friends and social life and so forth. You follow? Okay.
Cara, last question and then we’re going to break for the exercise.
Cara: But why shouldn’t we love what we’re doing?
Ken: Oh, I’m not saying one shouldn’t. I think it’s very good if you do. But be careful because it opens a wonderful way that you can be exploited.
Cara: But I think this is, you know, a big conflict between your generation and mine because [Ken laughs]…I do! I really do because I, you know, I’m willing to wager I’m the youngest person in the room right now. And I will say that with my parents—because they’re both very industrious people who are good in their fields—that they look at the way that I choose to live my life in many ways as unambitious, and you know, just downright slacky. I mean I’ve done some great things, but you know, they want me to find a job where I’m going to make a bunch of money. But right now, you know, I’m a nanny and I’m a baker. And I love both of my jobs. They’re awesome.
Ken: I mean, with all due respect here…
Ken: But my lifestyle is probably much more similar to yours than generation differences would lead you to consider.
Ken: I’ve never held a regular job. [Laughs] I’ve only done what I wanted to do.
Cara: Which is totally commendable.
Ken: Yes. And within that, I had to learn very, very definitely to draw a boundary between my work and other aspects of my life.
Ken: Because when I started private practice in Buddhism—which was in the early ’90s—I didn’t feel like I was working for three years. I enjoyed it so much, it was so fulfilling. And working with students in that way. Nobody else was doing it back then. It was great. And I literally didn’t take a vacation—any day off for three years. I didn’t feel I needed it.
But I’ve learned since then that, while that’s wonderful, that it also builds up some long-term problems. And that’s why I’m raising it. [Chuckles]
Cara: Well, no. I guess my thinking with that is just that given what we were talking about. I mean, people, in order to continue surviving and, you know, if your goal in my age group is to own a home, you simply have to work 50 to 60 hours a week. Or you have to work that much. You do if you’re in my bracket. And so, why shouldn’t you…
Ken: Well, I’m not saying one shouldn’t.
Cara: …love your work?
Ken: Yeah. I’m not saying one shouldn’t. I’m saying pay attention to what’s going on. That’s very different. I’m not going to prescribe and say this is what you should be doing and this is what you shouldn’t be doing. What I am going to say is, do you know what you’re doing? How does it sit with you? What is your actual experience with it?
And, because many times people find their lives out of balance. I mean, we have this wonderful phenomenon, which has been around for some time, but it’s even more prevalent now, of people who are house-poor. So you have two people working really, really hard in order to maintain a house or have a house because that’s what they really want. And they have no money for anything, you know. There’s something out of balance there.
So. And I’m not saying they shouldn’t have a house. I’m saying each of these things are choices. Make sure they’re the choices you want. You make them with awareness. Okay? Because everybody’s different. I can’t tell anybody what they should or shouldn’t be.
Okay. So break up into groups. Is everybody clear about this exercise?
Student: Could you repeat the instructions?
Ken: Okay. So, there’s going to be one additional instruction, but that’s going to be done individually. Each of these, go through and jot some ideas down. And I think it’ll be good for you to interact. And I’ll walk around and answer any questions. Okay. What kinds of things are valued in a materialistic worldview? What kinds of things are valued from the point of view of well-being? Okay?
Student: For us?
Ken: For you, yeah. How is consumption valued or regarded in each of those worlds? How is productivity regarded in each of those worlds?
Student: For us, or for society?
Ken: Well. Pardon?
Student: In our world or in our…?
Ken: In the world of materialism. I want you to go down—in the world of materialism—how each of these things is regarded. And then if you’re aiming for well-being, how are each of these concepts regarded? And then the scoring at the end—I’ll give you this now—is, if you’re in the well-being you get a 10, if you’re completely in the materialism you get a one. You’re going to get a score on your life. [Laughs]
[Laughter. Students all talking at once]
Student: Aren’t we…I thought we were putting something in both categories?
Ken: Yes, but then which one are you…?
Student: Where are you on the continuum?
Ken: Where are you on this continuum?
Student: We write them all down and then we go back and number which ones really apply to us.
Ken: Yep. Yep. You want to get a general picture of what it looks like first. Pardon?
Student: I think the confusion is we’re not putting numbers in the column, we’re putting…
Ken: Ideas. Yeah. That’s right.
Student: And they’re not our personal ideas, they’re what we think the world of materialism is…?
Ken: Yeah. I mean all of you are intelligent people; you can figure this out. [Laughter]
[Students talking at once]
Ken: Microphone, here. Pat?
Pat: I blame the test.
Ken: It’s not a test. [Laughter]
Pat: I think the confusion is whether we’re doing it as….
Ken: Just a second, Pat, Cara.
Student: I was just going to ask you to differentiate between values and life values.
Ken: Okay. Values here, I think is what is valued in that world. In materialism, what is valued. And there will be some overlap in many of these areas. Life values—what is life about from the materialistic point of view? You know, what’s that bumper sticker? “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Yes. “He who dies with the most toys wins.” [Chuckles]
I mean, it reminds me of a friend of mine who comes to retreats. And actually, there are two guys who come to retreats. One of them—they’re both business people—and one—knowing this would completely screw up the retreat for his friend—he just leaned over and said, “Dave, who’s going to win the retreat?” [Laughter]
Student: Oh my god. [Laughter]
Ken: And Dave spent the rest of the retreat trying to figure out metrics. [Laughter] Okay so, off you go. Let’s take 15 minutes for this so I’ll ring a bell.
Student: Do you want these written or [unclear]?
Student: Do you want these written?
Ken: You’re going to take a permanent record of the scores? [Laughter]
Okay, let’s just start with some general comments. (There’s a person’s glasses there on the ground and we don’t want them to be…okay.)
Ken: Okay. So just general comments on what, what ideas, what issues, what thoughts came up while you were doing this in your groups?
Steve: I tried to score really high. [Laughter]
Ken: Steve. Microphone. So you tried to score really high. We haven’t got the scoring yet. Any insights? Anything rattle the cages. Darren. Could somebody hand the mic, a mic to Darren.
Darren: In our group I think we were kind of every time we would get to the well-being side we would go to balance. And I overheard some other group in the area saying the same thing. And then we said, well that’s the heading of the column so you can’t put that down.
Ken: Yeah. It doesn’t work very well. I agree. [Chuckles] Need to dig a little deeper than that. [Laughter] Okay? Anybody else?
Student: We talked about the six realms.
Student: I think we all shared the experience of being in the six realms when we were talking about the materialism.
Ken: Say a bit more please.
Student: The titan realm of the, you know, filling the coffers and the intense competition and the rising to the top. And the hungry ghost realm, just the amount of…
Ken: There isn’t enough out there. And I’ve got to take all, everything that I can.
Ken: Yeah. And this is exactly right. In the world in which we trade and exchange, it makes sense to grab everything that you can [chuckling], in a certain way. Because there’s a perception there’s only so much. And so if there are more people, then everybody’s going to get less, and so forth. And so this creates immediately some very interesting value questions.
How is egality regarded in the world of materialism?
Ken: A sign of weakness, very often, yes. Okay. Other comments, observations, feelings. Was it you [who] said, Diane, you don’t want to do this exercise or…? [Chuckles]
Student: I still don’t.
Ken: Okay. What did you get out of it? Up to this point? Anything?
Student: Shared misery.
Ken: Pardon? Shared…[chuckles] say a bit…shared misery. Let’s hear something on that, Pat.
Pat: Shared misery. No. We…help me out. No, I think it’s, it’s hard to articulate because we had the same problem when we got to well-being. We kept defining it as…well, if the right way was your inner world and taking care of yourself and taking care of your physical being and trying to live a more balanced life, given that kind of fill-in-the-box for consumption and moderation and contentment and work and all of it—so how could we delineate that?
Ken: Well, I think that’s right, but one can possibly go a bit further, okay? What does contentment mean in the world of well-being versus what it means in the world of materialism? What is the significance of work? What is the relationship with work? How do you approach work in those two worlds?
Pat: Work or contentment?
Ken: Work. Or contentment. Either.
Pat: Well, in contentment we were saying that, for example, with contentment there’s no such thing. Because you think you’re going to be content if you get many things. But you never get there.
Ken: Yeah. So the notion of contentment is that if you have enough things you will be content.
Pat: Right. So that’s the notion.
Ken: That’s the notion.
Pat: So with well-being, it’s that you’re not dependent on…for your contentment, on those things. Or you try not to be.
Pat: Therefore, you’re not constantly thinking, “Well any day now, I’m going to be there.”
Ken: Right. So it’s very different…it becomes something very different. Right?
Pat: Well, or you’re instead thinking, “Any day now I’m not going to be dependent on those things.” [Laughter] Which is more likely the truth.
Ken: Yeah we’re going to get to that part in a minute. Okay. Cara, did you have a comment? Microphone up here, please.
Cara: I think for contentment and well-being it’s really, really, really living in the moment. And like truly in the moment. And recognizing that, you know, I’m content in the moment, you know. Sitting under my cherry tree, watching the blossoms fall and drinking my tea, like I’m totally content. [Laughter] But eventually I’m going to have to like finish my tea and get up and go inside and then I’m going to be in a different moment. And then it’s finding contentment in that moment.
Ken: Okay. Good.
Cara: And seeing that it’s something that’s ever-evolving and changing.
Ken: Okay. Right. Randye.
Randye: Two broad generalizations that I noticed as we went through this. One is that materialism and well-being are virtual opposites.
Randye: There’s almost nothing in which they’re not opposites across the board.
Randye: And the second is that the world of materialism is one that creates boundaries. And the world of well-being is one that dissolves boundaries between people.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Okay. Darren. Then Julia.
Darren: We found a few things that went across both of ’em.
Darren: Because I think that they help the materialist sort of capitalist society, and they may be good for us. But they may be distorted in the material side. But you know we were talking about in moderation and the idea of sleep came up. And you know, sleep isn’t really important. And then we were talking about—well it’s starting to become more of an issue because they’re starting to come up with these medications.
So sleep, exercise—there’s an industry for exercise. Even there’s industry for self-improvement. So there’s…
Ken: There’s a huge industry for self-improvement.
Darren: So there’s some overlap actually in…
Ken: Oh yes, but you have to be very careful here. Because what is the motive for self-improvement in the world of materialism?
Ken: Accumulation. What is the motive for self-improvement in the world of well-being?
Darren: I would say awareness.
Ken: Yeah. In itself. Also, and this takes us into a level that we aren’t able to get into. From the point of view of the general work environment, the more hours you can get people to work the better. And you only limit the hours when it endangers their work or reduces their quality of work.
What people are finding is that as more and more work moves into the knowledge area as opposed to the manufacturing, then much more time and effort has to be spent in allowing people to recover and be awake and creative and alive. And so the actual structure of the work environment, including the structure of the day, has to change because they aren’t just putting a cog on something. They’ve got to come up with ideas, and it requires a whole different thing. So there’s a whole shift taking place. But the thing that’s very important is to keep aware of what’s the underlying intention. The intentions are very, very different.
Julia, you had a comment.
Julia: One thing that struck me and us a couple of times was it’s extremely difficult to transliterate the language in these categories that relate to the world of economics over into the world of well-being at all. Sometimes they’re actually…they’re either antithetical or irrelevant.
Ken: Read this. [Ken holds up book] I think he does a very good job on doing precisely that. The Buddhist Economics, that’s what inspired this. Because he actually goes through many of these categories and discusses them at length as to okay what does it actually look like when you’re intending to live in the world of well-being as opposed to the world of consumption.
And I think it was Schumacher who wrote a book on Buddhist economics. And that’s the title of it. In which he uses Buddhism as a basis for generating an econ…economic system. His aim was to show that it is possible to come up with an alternative system.
I also talked to a student and friend in Seattle, George Draffan, who says that there are whole systems of economy that have been worked out which work very differently from the one that we’re currently engaged in, because they have different assumptions going into them.
So I actually think it is possible to translate these terms. But it requires some deep reflection. Really thinking about it.
Okay. Now, what I would like you to do, and this will be more or less successful. We’ll just see. Is when you look over the list there you got in each of those pairs in the boxes, which one do you actually live by? And if you live totally in the materialistic, then you give yourself a one. And if you live totally by the well-being you give yourself a 10. And if you live, you know, about half in each, then it would be a five. So just give yourself a rating, and this isn’t a test. You do not get a prize for the person with the highest score. This is a way of you just taking a look at your own life, okay? Here I am; what am I actually doing in my life? How much of my life am I taking the values in the way that materialism defines? And how much am I living according to how I want to be in this life? Yes?
Student: Can I ask you a question?
Ken: Can you use the microphone, please? There’s one right behind you.
Student: Again on the subject of things that cross over. Creativity seemed like it works in both categories…
Ken: It does.
Student: So…okay. So it’s okay.
Ken: Yeah. But how does it look in both categories?
Ken: What’s the point of creativity in the materialistic point of view?
Student: Innovation and consumption.
Student: Yeah, to come up with something new so that you can beat your competitors and make more money.
Ken: And what is it from the point of view of well-being?
Student: To satisfy something innate in you.
Ken: Yeah. And do you care what happens to it?
Ken: You may or may not.
Student: Well, you care if it’s something you love. If you write something…
Ken: Yeah. But you may not care whether it becomes a world famous work.
Student: Oh. No, no, yeah, Okay.
Ken: Okay? So different…I mean creativity is important in both I always put creativity down as a category. But it manifests and requires something different in each case.
So, I mean, you take an artist. And this is a discussion I’ve had with actually a number of them. Take someone who likes to draw. Okay? Do they hire on at a graphic studio or start their own studio? Or do they get a job as an accountant so that they can draw whatever they really want to? Two very different things.
And so if the person had decided, “Okay I want to draw and this is how I’m going to earn money,” etc., and use that creativity for that. Well that’s one way of approaching things. And if they said, “Okay no, this is something I want to be free and not have any constraints on me whatsoever.” Then that’s going to look very different in their lives. This is what Rilke said in Letters to a Young Poet. His poem says, “Do not become a poet unless you absolutely have to.” And what he meant was not that it’s the only way of living. He didn’t mean that at all. It means that if you can’t possibly do anything else, then become a poet. Because otherwise it’s a miserable form of existence. [Chuckles]
Okay. So when you look this over how many of you have given yourself some scores here? How many of you are happy with what you see? Okay. Cara, you’re happy with what you see? Good. One person.
Student: [Unclear, laughter]
Ken: I have refrained from saying that to her. [Laughter]
Student: Don’t listen to them.
Student: I’m probably 10 years older than you.
Cara: [Unclear, laughter]
Ken: I have a different…
Student: [Unclear, laughter]
Ken: Yeah…I have a different point of view. Life begins at 40.
Student: I didn’t say I’m turning 30 yet.
Ken: What don’t you like, Agnes? Microphone.
Agnes: Ah, you know, what I thought I am and what emerged is not a pretty picture. I look at the range, you know, is from 10 to 100. And I thought I would veer toward the higher score.
Ken: Like at least over….
Agnes: I was below, below average.
Ken: You’re below 50.
Agnes: Below the mean. Which is, you know…which it says I am a lot more materialistic than I thought. So there’s the ideal self and the reality emerging, which is not a pretty picture.
Ken: Okay. All right. Anybody else? Julia?
Julia: I found myself quite content because I realize how much more I’ve…[laughing], since I’m no longer working I’m selling my house and getting rid of all my stuff. But it’s like I realized how much I had changed from…so there was a sense of…
Ken: Over the last eight years or so?
Julia: Yes. And that, that kind of pleased me. Although I think I’ve still got a long way to go. I recognize that.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. Raquel.
Raquel: Some areas weren’t so bad. But one area that was is productivity. I got a low score. I scored myself low, and it reminded me of a challenge from my roommate about a week ago. She tells me for an entire day to not do anything. Or to only do unconventional…be unconventionally productive. To be productive in an unconventional way.
Ken: Gee, this wouldn’t be a creative type, would it?
Ken: No [laughter]. And?
Raquel: And it was really, really hard to be…she didn’t want to say don’t be productive today, all day.
Raquel: Because that was not exactly it. It was just be productive in a very unconventional way. It was really hard.
Student: What did you do?
Raquel: I took a bath. [Laughter] I watched a movie. And I got big butcher paper and kind of drew out some ideas of things, I’m thinking about.
Ken: Okay. All right. And how did you feel…
Raquel: It was really hard.
Ken: How did you feel at the end of the day?
Raquel: At the end of the day—in the middle of the day when I was having a hard time with it, I was feeling stuff. But at the end of the day, I just felt like I had…I felt good. I felt good. I felt like I had kind of, done different things.
Ken: Okay. Would you do it again?
Raquel: I need to do it again.
Ken: That wasn’t the question.
Raquel: Would I do it again?
Ken: Would you do it again?
Raquel: Will I do it again? I’m going to do it again.
Ken: Okay, so there’s something of value in a different way here. Sounds like it was a good exercise for you. Okay? All right? Karen.
Karen: I have some…a confusion I guess. You know, I feel a little uncertain whether I’ve…I mean we rushed through the well-being so much that I’m relying more on my own interpretation. Which was more like Buddhist principles because that’s what I’m aiming for basically in my life, you know. To be non-reactive, to be you know…to have more compassion, care more about other people…
Ken: Well. This is terrible. This is the most boring thing you can do.
Karen: Yeah, I know.
Ken: I’m absolutely serious. I’ll explain in a minute. Go ahead.
Karen: Well, these are…these are what I put down more in that well-being column. And I found myself coming up short quite a bit in…
Ken: Yeah. Now. I’m very glad this has emerged. I said before that idealism is a problem. You’re being a little idealistic here. At least that’s my impression.
Ken: Okay. An exercise that I sometimes have people do, and I think we could possibly do this here. But I’ll give it to you. You take a piece of paper and you draw a line down the middle. And at the head of one column you write My Spiritual Ideal. Okay? And let’s just take a few minutes and do this exercise, what the hell.
Okay, so write down between 5 and 10 items in that. [Pause] Raquel, I’m going to need your services. I didn’t know we’d go here today. But that’s fine.
Okay. Anybody need more time on this?
Ken: Okay. Take another minute or two. [Pause]
Okay. Carol, what have you got?
Carol: Okay. I have compassion, compassionate, non-reactive, priority on caring about the welfare of others, accepting things as they are including myself where I am, and generosity…developing generosity.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Anybody else want to read their list? Cara.
Cara: Peacefulness, monetary contentment, enlightenment, radiant inner beauty, and unconditional love.
Ken: Okay. Darren.
Darren: I don’t know if I misunderstood your question or your instruction. Mine came out really different. Because my spiritual ideal would be like daily practice, having a student-teacher relationship, going on retreat…
Ken: Okay. That’s fine. All right. Janet.
Janet: I’ll just add ones that aren’t redundant: joyful and friendly and wise.
Student: I volunteer to build homes for the homeless, feed starving children, and administer aid and friendship to the elderly.
Ken: Okay. So these are all powerful instances of forms of generosity.
Ken: Okay. So that’s enough, thanks, okay. Now, second column.
Ken: [Talking to Raquel] Yeah, I know. But it’s fine. You don’t have to write. You can sit down now. Because they haven’t done this part. Okay?
Now, when you look over this list one word to describe this person. Christina.
Ken: Sorry, microphone please.
Christina: Boring. [Laughter]
Ken: Microphone, yeah. Okay, idealist, boring, anybody else? One word.
Ken. Mom. [Laughter]
Student: Can you spell that?
Student: Oh my god.
Ken: Okay. Now. Second column. What am I like when I feel totally alive? Five to 10 items. [Long pause] Or you could say what makes me feel totally alive.
Ken: I know, it’s [unclear].
Student: Now I have to start over?
Ken: No, you could just add. [Pause] It’s a little different, isn’t it?
Ken: Yeah. [Laughs] Okay, Colleen, what you got on your list? You only got two items. Come on you got more work to do. Five.
Ken: No, keep going. Keep going. I want three more on that list. You have 30 seconds. Think of when you felt totally alive. What was going on? [Pause] Okay Colleen, what’s on your list?
Colleen: I don’t like these kinds of moments.
Ken: [Laughing] Just read them.
Colleen: I dance, I paint, I laugh, I cry, I understand. I’m large, I’m love, I’m unconditional love.
Ken: No, now you’re getting into the spiritual thing. But the first parts were good. You paint, dance, sing, okay. Laugh, okay. Anybody else? Chuck. Microphone over there.
Chuck: Awake, enthused, loving, generous and connected.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Katherine. Microphone.
Ken: Okay. You got four more.
Katherine: Powerful, powerful, power…[laughter], spontaneous, fearless, creative, generous, joyful, aware, dangerous?
Ken: Good. Anybody else? Lynea.
Lynea: You asked what makes you feel alive?
Lynea: I had lots of positive things about feeling alive but when you asked that what came up was deaths, not literally ones, loss, groundlessness, broken-heartedness, rupture but with awareness.
Ken: Nature? Okay. So let’s take a look at this person. Read it out. Would you. There. Get a microphone, Raquel. The….
Raquel: Dance, paint, sing, laugh, loving, connected, challenges, nature, powerful, spontaneous, fearless, dangerous.
Ken: How does this person sound?
[Students talking at once] Exuberant. Alive.
Ken: Right. This is what you are aiming at in Buddhism.
Student: Good. You came to the right class. [Laughter]
Ken: Compassion, all of these things—in the first one—are what happen when you can be awake in that. When they become what you aspire to, you become dead. And lifeless. And boring.
Student: That’s what it feels like.
Ken: Yeah. Right. But if you are totally awake and it’s a dangerous situation, and you’re going to take risks, then some very wonderful things are going to happen. But if you just, “Everything’s just really nice,” now then it becomes very boring.
Where we take these risks, most of them, are in our practice meeting with those internal monsters. And I don’t have this with me, it’s up on the website. There’s a poem [unclear], it’s a seventeenth century teacher, maybe an earlier, called Tsulak Trengwa, Pawo Tsulak Trengwa. And in the three-year retreat I happened across his autobiography, which was in verse form. And like most Tibetan autobiographies, it’s completely boring. Like most Tibetan biographies, very boring. It’s just lists of teachings and things like that.
But then he got to this chapter on How I Live the Practice. And I can’t quote it by memory. Oh, I don’t have my computer here. I probably have it on there. And he starts off by saying, “I haven’t traveled very widely and I haven’t gone to the twenty-four cemeteries and hung out in the charnel grounds or done anything exciting like that. But I have ventured into the charnel grounds of the eight ordinary states of consciousness. And I can tell you there’s nothing more terrifying than that.”
And he just goes on describing all of those things he’s done internally. It’s quite wonderful. It’s in the translation section on the website.
Student: What’s it called again?
Ken: How I Live the Practice. And so I copied out the Tibetan because it…from the…into a notebook. And translated it when I was here in Los Angeles. Because I just really liked it.
Number one: Buddhism isn’t about being a nice person. It’s about being awake. Which means experiencing everything that’s arising.
Now, rhetorical question. How many of you have constructed your lives so that you avoid certain kinds of experience? [Laughter] Why?
Student: It’s too painful.
Ken: There you go. It’s too painful.
Student: Like what? Avoiding what?
Ken: Oh, I don’t know. Christina?
Christina: Oh, is it on?
Ken: Is it on? Yep.
Christina: Cold, hunger, any kind of discomfort. Traffic.
Ken: Pain in relationships.
Christina: Pain in relationships. Yeah. Anything unpleasant. Holidays with the family.
Ken: This afternoon after the workshop I’m going to LAX. A friend of mine who’s a Buddhist nun is on her way to Australia and she’s just stopping off for a couple of hours so we’re…now she’s in the Theravadan tradition. She travels with no money. It’s against the vows to handle money. That includes credit cards.
So she gets on a plane and she’s going to get off the plane. What if there’s nobody there to meet her? What happens? Now, how many of you have walked out of LAX? How many of you have ever thought about walking out of LAX? Okay? So if something falls through, there she is stuck in the airport with no money. How many of you would travel that way?
Student: I don’t leave my house like that.
Ken: Okay. So here her practice of Buddhism involves not avoiding any of these things. Of course, she makes arrangements, etc., etc. But she has no idea what’s going to happen. And things have happened. And be without food or without a place to stay or something like that. That’s her form of practice. And, I mean, she’s a great woman. And I met her, well, six or seven years ago at a conference. And we just kept in touch.
But so, yeah, that’s one example of how we structure our lives to avoid certain kinds of exterior experiences. But we also structure our lives to avoid all kinds of interior experiences, too. And we go to sleep. In many ways we structure our lives so that we can go to sleep. And then we do go to sleep. What would it be like to live fully awake? Okay.
So here we are. [Turning pages in a book]
We’re just going to do a short meditation. We’re a little bit over. That’s okay.
This is a short one. But it’s just to open up some ideas. We’re going to work around the three marks again. It’s not really a meditation. I’m just going to throw you some questions here I’d like you to consider. These are not trivial questions.
So let your mind and body settle. The first one is, exactly one year from now you’re going to die. There will be no pain involved. It will just happen on December 2, 2008 at 3:11, Pacific Time. What would you do in the next year? What would you do if exactly one year from now you’re going to die? [Long pause]
Okay. If you want to jot anything down on that one please do so.
And then there’s a second question. Just give you a chance to take any notes that you want to on that one. [Pause]
Second question is, if I were truly happy inside, free from all emotional needs, what would I do with my life? Or slightly differently, if I were truly at peace inside, free from the tugs of emotional needs, what would I do with my life or what would I do in my life?
Feel it in your body and in your emotions. More than just think about it. Feel your way into this. If I were truly at peace inside what would I do in my life? And jot anything down on that one that is of interest to you. [Long pause]
Third question. If I wasn’t concerned with being anybody, or with being someone, what would I do in my life? If I wasn’t concerned with being someone what would I do in my life? [Long pause]
Okay. So jot down something there if you found anything that was worth noting. We’re going to take a 10 minute break and we’ll meet back here at 3:30.