Prayers and Practice Download
Overview of rituals and prayers used in retreat; the ‘primary’ practice described, related guided meditation, and participants’ experience with this meditation; relaxing and resting.
Okay. On page 5, the Intention on Waking, which actually pairs with the Intention on Sleeping, on page 55, are ways to frame your day. One could use any variety of intentions, but here these are both formulated in terms of bodhicitta or awakening mind. That’s a way of just setting your intention at the beginning of the day and concluding the day setting your intention for when you sleep, and so forth. Setting intention is a very powerful way of creating momentum in your practice.
The next section: the four reminders. The infamous four thoughts to turn the mind. Everybody in the Tibetan tradition hates to hear this, they hear it so often. This particular formulation comes from the Shangpa ngöndro which we did in retreat. It’s a little bit fuller than some of the others. But Rinpoche had me translate this way back in the seventies for one center, so. Every time I’d revise the translation, the center rebelled, because they were used to chanting them every morning.
Page 7 is refuge, followed by the bodhisattva vow. Those of you who want to do the bodhisattva vow on a daily basis on your own, this is the traditional form. Most of it is taken from Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara. Just lifted straight out of that. But it’s the short, the relatively short form of the bodhisattva vow that’s used as daily practice. And which some teachers will use to give the bodhisattva vow if they don’t have much time. If they don’t have two weeks to give it in the long version or two days or whatever.
Mountain offering ritual. In the retreat environment, all kinds of things are uncovered. One way to look at this is this is how we take care of the little nasties. And this is a Nyingma ritual. Pema Tötreng Tsal is one of the forms of Guru Padmasambhava. As far as I know, this particular ceremony is part of the Dudjom Tara cycle. Which is a very new Tara cycle but parts of it became very popular in Tibet just shortly before the exodus. And this is used pretty widely in the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions as a morning ritual. The refuge, awakening mind, and the seven-section prayer are all in the context of dzogchen vocabulary.
So, a couple of notes on my translation. Wherever you see “all experience,” as in the third line of the refuge, that’s usually translated as “all phenomena.” Which I think is a completely inaccurate translation because it goes to the objective pole of experience. Whereas the term “all dharmas” refers to experience, not the objective pole of experience. I particularly like the seven-section prayer phrased in this way. It’s very simple on one hand, and very deep on the other.
Generation of self: you simply imagine yourself as Guru Padmasambhava in the form of Tötreng Tsal, which means he holds a vajra at his heart and skull cup filled with elixir in the meditation posture, and I think he holds the vajra here. It’s probably here, that’s how it usually is. It’s one or the other.
And then just imagine yourself as Guru Padmasambhava. You recite the seven-syllable mantra: om ah hung vajra guru padma siddhi hung. Then the offerings are consecrated: ram yam kham are the seed syllables for fire, air, and water. Which are the three forms of purification. And you imagine the offerings, which is a bit of powdered juniper, and sandalwood, and so forth, which we drop onto charcoal. This becomes huge clouds of offerings, of everything that’s just enjoyable, pleasurable in the senses. And that’s blessed with the three syllables om ah hung.
Then the namo sarwa thathagate bhyay mantra. I think actually we dug up a translation of the mantra which should be footnote 3. It’s not an actual translation, but it is the meaning is that you just imagine that these offerings fill the sky. It’s called a magnifying mantra.
Then the outer offering is what follows. And you just do the visualization as is. In particular, what you’re offering is everything wonderful and beautiful. And very pleasurable to everybody…everybody and everything where you have any kind of karmic debt. One can interpret this in a number of ways. But one way is all of those emotions which you never wanted to feel. You know how those unpleasant feelings from the past chase after you? And you keep ignoring and keep suppressing them and they keep disturbing your mind. Anybody have that? Does anybody besides me?
So, that’s one way of looking at karmic debts: things that you are unable to, unwilling to, don’t want to deal with. And it just chases after you and hassles you and creates misery in your life. And you keep suppressing it and it just keeps going on. So this is a way of not suppressing it. You welcome it and say, “Okay. Here you are. Just, whatever you want. Just take it. Be happy.”
There’s an exercise which I think some of you have experienced with me. Sort of the mahamudra version of this is, think of something irritating, something that irritated you in the last week or so. We bring it to mind and you say, “I’m angry and I’m glad.” And it just goes poof! And most people just end up laughing. But here’s this thing that they were that was being irritated by for so long, you know a few days, a week, it can go longer than that. And when you say, “I’m glad.” It’s just like, “Okay, this is how I feel. That’s how I feel.” And now the whole thing just dissolves. And life goes on more quietly.
So, that’s essentially what’s going on here. You know, but there are the things that are buried deep within us,
[Ken reads from the prayer, Mountain Offering Ritual.]
The forces of darkness and madness, the shades of men and women dead and gone,
Ghosts of the murdered, monastery ghosts, house ghosts, ghouls and vampires.
All the stuff that’s buried in the basement, buried in concrete, we don’t ever want to dig up. But as long we don’t dig it up, it makes a mess of our lives. So, we offer that.
And when you are saying the mantra, om ah hung, you just imagine that all of this stuff is coming from above the sky, or out of the sky, and all over the place. Just out of the totality of your experience, and you’re just getting totally blissed out on all these things you’re giving them. And so, they’re happy. They leave you alone. You imagine this huge fire which is giving off rays of light of all of the five colors which condenses into beautiful offerings, wonderful food, and fragrance, and beautiful clothes, and silk. You know. Yes?
Student: What if some of these beings want to harm people other than me? Take the vampires, for instance. If I want them to get exactly what they want, do they get to drink human blood?
Ken: No, no, you’re offering everything beautiful and it’s so wonderful that they’re completely okay with it, yeah.
Then the next four verses are the inner offering. And if you skip into the middle of the second verse, you’ll see,
The essences of this pure liquid, drawn from all experience, patterned and free. That’s my translation. Everybody want to guess what that’s a translation of?
Student: Samsara and nirvana?
Student: What is it?
Ken: Samsara and nirvana. I feel like putting things into English now and then, you know.
And then the verse starting with the fire offering of groups and elements. Groups here is the skandhas, the elements are the eighteen elements of experience, all the standard Sarvastivadan stuff. This is the secret offering. Because here’s the transformation of one’s own experience into aspects of awakening.
And you present all of these: the outer, inner and secret offerings.
Past karmic debts—may they be cleared away.
Current breaches—I confess now so that they don’t continue.
Future clouding—may I not be caught in that cycle.
So as usual, you just take care of everything. The Tibetan rituals are very good at taking care of absolutely everything, every time you do them.
And then, when it comes down to barbarian attacks on the homeland, you imagine you have the sun in your left hand, moon in your right hand. And you—[Ken claps his hand together loudly.] Bring them together. Which is the union of emptiness and compassion, which is awakening. And that’s what stops the barbarian attacks, and the interruptions, and the bad portents, and so forth. That clear?
Student: The moon is in the left?
Ken: No, moon’s in the right. Emptiness is always in your left hand.
Student: Okay. Emptiness…
Ken: The moon is compassion. You didn’t know it? [Laughter] What do they teach in school these days? [Laughter]
Student: You have no idea.
Ken: The moon symbolizes compassion; the sun symbolizes emptiness.
Ken: So, what follows then is the dedication prayers.
Then you have The Sutra of the Heart of Lady Perfection of Wisdom often known as the Heart Sutra. Everybody understands that. No need for any explanation. [Laughter] And if you don’t understand it, then you should read this book [Ken’s book. An Arrow to the Heart].
If you don’t understand it after that, then you’ll have to go to Red Pine. Who explains it all very nicely.
Evening rituals. The long one is an example of a genre of prayers called Far-Reaching Cries to the Guru. Often translated as Crying to the Guru From Afar, which I’ve never really understood as a translation, but that’s why I like to translate it as Far-Reaching Cry to the Guru. In this, it was written by Jamgon Kongtrul the Great in the nineteenth century. And he goes through all of the sources, or all of the great traditions in the Tibetan tradition.
So, after Buddha Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara, then he goes into the Nyingma tradition, which is Padmakara, that’s Guru Padmasambhava. His consort is Yeshe Tsogyal, and the karma and terma lineages.
And then Trimé Özer, I believe is one of the names for Longchenpa, who codified all of the Nyingma teachings. And then Lord Atisha who is the founder of what became the Kadampa school, and that’s the New Translation school.
Then the next three verses are for the Kagyu tradition. The Marpa, Mila, and Dakpo Kagyu traditions. And the Karma Kagyu tradition, and then last of those three, all of the other Kagyu traditions which there are a total of twelve.
Then the Sakya, Shangpa, Tongtong Gyalpo’s part of the Shangpa tradition, actually. Padampa Sangye and Lapchi Dröma. Lapchi Dröma was a Tibetan woman who became extraordinarily proficient in the perfection of wisdom. And Padampa Sangye was an Indian master who came to Tibet. And the two of them hung out together in the, I guess twelfth century, last part, yeah, it would be the twelfth century. And out of that two new traditions emerged: Padampa Sangye’s Shi Je, which is taken from the Heart Sutra, the mantra which calms all suffering. So his tradition is called “calming.” And Lapchi Dröma came up with what is known as chö, cutting, which comes from the Diamond Cutter Sutra, or the Diamond Sutra, which is another of the perfection of wisdom sutras. Chö became extremely popular, and Shi Je less so, though there are still practice traditions of it.
Dolpo Sangye was a guy from the part of Tibet called Dolpo. But he’s responsible and is regarded as bringing one of the Kalachakra transmissions to Tibet, or the main Kalachakra transmission. Taranatha continues that, but is also a holder of the Shangpa tradition.
Then, yeah, the next three verses are all to Jamyang Khyentse Wongpo who is one of the great nineteenth century teachers, and one of Kongtrul’s teachers. They were student and teacher to each other. And in the Tibetan tradition you end up with all kinds names if you hang around long enough, so that these are three of his names, I can’t remember which names they were.
And then the next five verses—one, two, three, four, five—are all to Jamgon Kongtrul. These are five of his names. Yonten Gyatso was his monk’s name, Lodrö Tayé was his bodhisattva name, Padma Kargyi Wangchook, I think, was his vajra name, Yung-drung Lingpa was his Bon name—he was also a Bon priest. So, those are all to him.
And then these wonderful verses which tell us—because you’re all too professionally honest [unclear] how we actually practice dharma. If you have any questions about anything in those verses, let me know, but for the most part they’re very straightforward. Now, there’s this teaching and I’m screwing it up this way, so please help me with that.
Aspirations for Mahamudra is a prayer written by Rangjung Dorje, the Third Karmapa, around 1300 I believe. And this has been a teaching prayer in the Kagyu tradition for the last 700, 800 years. There’s two or three commentaries published in English. The only one worth getting is the one by the tenth Situ Rinpoche, which was translated by She Dorje. His translation’s okay, but the tenth Situ Rinpoche’s commentary is very good. The one by the eleventh Situ Rinpoche, the current Situ Rinpoche, is just not good at all. Now that’s on tape, it will be very bad. [Laughter] I mean, I was asked to review it, and I sent it back saying, “I won’t.” The tenth Situ’s is a really, really good commentary. If we have time, we may go through that, because it describes the traditional approach to mahamudra very succinctly, very clearly.
The next: Ever-present Good’s Prayer of Intention. This is a Nyingma prayer. It’s been translated and published under the title Penetrating Wisdom, I think. Someone sent me that, and I recognized the prayer from one we did in the three-year retreat. And the translation is completely incomprehensible, which made me so angry that I re-translated it as the re-translation. I’m sorry. I get angry about these things. And so several people who knew that one said, “Oh, now I can understand this prayer.” It was really not well done.
Dedication and good fortune is before. Then we come to A Shower of Energy. This, oh, sorry, page 34 first. This is the guru yoga prayer which is often used in the Kagyu tradition for doing a 100,000, as part of accumulations, as part of ngöndro. It’s just a really, really good prayer and I’ll be talking a little bit about guru yoga this evening because it’s important in the context of mahamudra. And so this is a prayer you can use for that. And I’ve memorized it in Tibetan back when I was doing ngöndro in the early 70s. And it’s always stayed with me. And I just think it’s a wonderful prayer. It was written by Jampal Bengyé [Bengar Jampal Zangpo], I think, who’s somewhere in the Kagyu lineage. But it’s just a very nice prayer.
A Shower of Energy is a song that Kalu Rinpoche wrote I think in Bhutan—I’m not sure—after he left Tibet. He was somewhere around there. I included it because it describes how one experiences the world coming to the understanding of or the experience of mahamudra. And so it’s something you can repeat and read, or memorize, sing, whatever you want, for inspiration. But it’s very deep. One of my colleagues, a student of Rinpoche’s, went to a Gelugpa teacher with this and said, “Could you explain this one?” The Gelugpa teacher said, “This is very deep.” and handed it back to her.
Starting on page 37. [Wisdom Experience of Ever-present Good.] This is a text by Jigme Lingpa, who was a seventeenth century terma often regarded as a reincarnation of Longchenpa. At the end of the three-week retreat, dzogchen retreat that I did with Kilung Rinpoche, he handed me this text and asked me to translate it. And it’s just great. So, you can read and enjoy it. It’s very, very deep. And you know, like most of the other things in this book, it’s all you need.
Manifesting Absolute Reality. This is better known as the Genjokoan, which was a short writing by Dogen which summarized Dogen’s instructions for Soto Zen practice. I included it so that you had that flavor. It occupies a very central role in Soto Zen. And teachers will teach it just the way that in the Tibetan tradition they teach something like the mahamudra prayer or whatever. Dogen lived in the twelfth century I think. And it’s a similarly timeless, yeah, sorry, thirteenth century. It’s a timeless text. There are several translations up on the web, and I looked them over and this is the one I liked best.
In the same vein, on page 44 there’s Verses on the Faith Mind. Just so that people who are listening to this, the translation of the Genjokoan is the one by Francis Cook.
And then the Verses on the Faith Mind. This is another very famous song or whatever you want to call it. The Hsin Hsin Ming, if you’ll excuse my mispronunciation of Chinese. Trust in the Mind. Or Faith in the Heart. It goes by a number of different names. This translation is by a person called Richard Clark. And again, of the various translations up on the web, it seemed to be the most readable. It’s not the most famous translation. There’s another one which is better-known, but this one, I think, is a little bit better.
And page 48 is the One Sentence Pith Instruction. It should be instruction rather than instructions. This is from Rangjung Dorje. They call it one sentence, but obviously, it’s more than one sentence. The phrase, the word in Tibetan, tshig gcig, is, you could say, “one phrase.” The one and actual instruction to practice is,
Do not cultivate anything whatsoever. Let awareness rest free from all elaborations, vividly awake, just as it is. That’s all you need to know. We can go home now. Then it goes on to elaborate it a little bit. This is highly revered and has been passed down through the centuries in the Kagyu tradition.
And then All the Matter in the World is from a text called the Seven Chapters, which is a collection of prayers, a fairly big collection of prayers, that’s used in the Nyingma tradition and which many people recite every day. They go like crazy reciting it. But this particular verse is from one of those prayers, I can’t remember which one. I can’t remember the name of the other one. But this is often used as a pointing out instruction in and of itself.
Any of you seen the movie, All the Mornings of the World? Tous les Matins du Monde. That’s where I took the title of this because there’s the phrase in Tibetan which is so clumsy in English and it is such a beautiful prayer. We’ve got to get away from those clumsy phrases. So that’s why I said, and I don’t know I was thinking, “Tous les Matins du Monde. All the mornings of the world. Oh, why don t we just call this, All the Matter of the World?” But then everything just flowed in the translation. All the sounds of the world, etc. I couldn’t quite keep it up in the final stanza. But, and there’s also some freedom in the translation. You’ll see in the second verse,
Silence and sound without beginning or end is the speech of the awakened. That’s where I’m translating “emptiness of sound.” But I think this speaks better in English, at least to me anyway.
Supplementary practices: This is the, the first one, the main one, is the guru yoga based on Sukhasiddhi which I mentioned last night. And if those of you who want a formal practice of guru yoga in this retreat, then you can use this. “Supreme Bliss” is Chakrasamvara. And so that’s the form of the yidam that you’re using. If you want a picture of Sukhasiddhi, this is her on the cover. So that’s what she looks like. She’s pointing her finger at the sky.
And if you look at page 53, three-quarters of the way down the page, in italics, these are the pointing out instructions from Sukhasiddhi. Again, these are highly revered:
In space, empty, and free from concept, plant the root of aware mind. Plant the root, and relax.
They all make it sound so easy.
And then verses for meals. You know, it’s very interesting the way Buddhist vocabulary is shaping up in English. We have to do a bit of a clean-up job on this. One of my students who’s a very good educator—he’s founded a number of schools—was very taken with this. So he started using this for, basically, in place of grace—he has a Quaker background—with his family. So he said,
This food which comes to me through the efforts of countless beings, may it nourish and sustain me in my practice so that I open to the compassion and wisdom of original mind.
His children who were teenagers at this point, were fine right up to this point. Until he said, “original mind” and then they went, “Dad!” They would have been fine. And when you look at it, “of original mind” is completely unnecessary. It’s just that we get used to thinking this way, in Buddhism.
This is what I say about cleaning up our vocabulary. So we open to compassion and wisdom. But it would be perfectly all right. I have to take responsibility for this, because I wrote this verse myself. Somebody requested me to do so. And I put in the “original mind.” But in retrospect, we could just leave it out. “And in turn, become a source of nourishment for all beings.” Anyway, he related that to me, and I got such a kick out of it.
I can just see two teenagers—“Original mind! Come on, Dad!”
Okay. Any questions? I know this is a very quick overview, but I think it covers the essential points. Any questions on any of it? I mean, you don’t, it’s not, “Speak now or forever hold your peace.” You can ask questions later too. Yes, Peter.
Peter: You recommend taking out the “original mind” part?
Ken: Well, I’ll leave it up to you. All I’m aware is that we have certain ways of talking in Buddhist circles which aren’t actually English. And I like to stay alert to these. And that’s my example. I mean, it’s still English, but it adds a twist, you know. It could mean because you could with the compassion and wisdom of God. Or compassion and wisdom of this. But you don’t need any of that stuff, actually. So you can just take it out. But I leave it up to you. I’m just pointing it out. Okay. Anything else? Yes.
Student: Are you going to tell us how to use this in these nine days? Can we read this stuff during these ten days?
Ken: No, you’re to take these books, and put them under your pillow, and do absolutely nothing else. [Laughter] And then you will get the blessings, and everything will be fine.
Student: I can do that.
Ken: We’re going to use these with the morning and evening rituals, everyday just as we did today. And the rest of it is there to…as resources, really, for your practice. So read it over. Read anything you wish in here. And you may find that certain things really speak to you and resonate with your practice. And so that gives you some support for your practice. And that’s what this is really intended to support.
One time I made the mistake of asking Rinpoche, you know, if he’d give me a dzogchen teaching. Rinpoche always seemed to have something about dzogchen, one could never figure it out. And so—this is between the two retreats, and he had a stack of texts about this high on his table. And I recognized the stack because they’d been written by one of the retreatants, Richard Barron actually, some of you may know of Chökyi Nyima. Because they were all different pointing out instructions so…
The next half hour with Rinpoche consisted of this—he just read them in Tibetan. I’m listening to them. “That mahamudra? Or that dzogchen?” Hmmm. “D-d-d-d-d-d-d.” That sounds like mahamudra to me. “D-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d.” “That dzogchen or mahamudra?” This went on for half an hour. I said, “Okay. I got the point.”
So, but there are thousands of pointing out instructions. And some people will read a couple of lines and just click with their practice. So I thought I’d put together a number of things which I found very helpful and useful in the hope that you might too. So I’m not asking you to study this. And there won’t be tests at the end or anything like that. I’ll get you in the interviews, don’t worry. Okay. Leslie, did you have a question?
Leslie: Well, in the context of the retreat, you gave the instruction that we were resting. We’re [unclear] the resting.
Leslie: So when we are introduced to all of these prayers, and we’re chanting at great speed…
Leslie: Rest. So you may not get the full meaning.
Ken: Oh, it doesn’t matter. The best way to chant these prayers is to chant them without thinking about them. Yeah. You just read them with your mind open and clear. When you read them that way, you’ll find that whole blocks will go in because you aren’t thinking about them. Okay?
We did the mahamudra prayer every night in retreat, like, for seven years. And it’s recited in most Kagyu monasteries every evening. And so at one point I knew it by heart. Many lines I’ve translated and gone over my translation many times. So there’s some of the verses for the translation have stuck in my mind. And it’s great, because when you internalize things that way, then they’re just [Ken snaps fingers twice] there for you whenever you need them. So, one time I was giving a talk on the six perfections. And if you turn to the mahamudra prayer. If you go down to the fourth last verse on page 24:
The basic ground consists of the two truths, free from the extremes of order and chaos,
The excellent path, the two accumulations, free from the extremes of assumption and denial,
The result obtained, the two benefits free from the extremes of existence and peace.
May I meet teaching which is free from error.
Well, the two accumulations, which are goodness and awareness, provide a framework for talking about the six perfections. So you can just use that in giving a talk on the six perfections. It would be complete because everything’s there.
This is the advantage of practicing and using these kinds of prayers in one’s practice. You find prayers that speak to you. And you just read them or learn them and recite them every day. And you’ll find that the articulations present in the prayer just become available to you in practice. It would be very helpful. Okay.
Student: Thank you.
Ken: Yes, Janet.
Janet: You say, if a prayer speaks to you then you might want to pursue it. In this retreat, we’re talking about, you know, finding relaxation or opening to experience. But if what happens when you read the prayer is that all hell breaks loose inside. Is that a prayer that speaks to you? I mean….
Ken: Sounds like it.
Janet: It’s sounds like it but it certainly isn’t relaxation. It’s not like.
Ken: So what prayer did you read where all hell breaks loose? Just out of curiosity.
Janet: Aspirations for Mahamudra. I have no idea why.
Ken: Well, good. Yeah. Did it start you thinking a lot or…?
Janet: No, but all sorts of emotion [unclear].
Ken: Well, yeah, that sounds like it’s speaking to you. You look discombobulated.
Ken: Well, remember what I said about resting. You know, you’re going to get black and blue. You remember the princess and the pea? You see, you know you have to understand these fairy tales. Okay.
Wisdom in Buddhism is always embodied in the feminine. Okay? And perfection of wisdom was actually more of a kind of intelligence. And the definition of intelligence is to be able to make distinctions. To be able to discern differences.
Now, most of us go blithely through our lives without being able to discern the difference between our reactions and what is real. Right? And this creates a certain amount of suffering for ourselves and others. Here’s this princess, and her discernment is so fine that she can tell that pea is at the bottom of a hundred mattresses.
So when you really rest, completely, you know, in the beginning, all hell is going to break loose. This isn’t a bad sign. A friend of mine would be saying, “Congratulations!” Whenever I call him up and tell him I’m miserable, he says, “Congratulations.” Students come in to see him in tears and he says, “Your practice is going so well.” He has them frisked for sharp objects before they come in. [Laughter] Okay. So, any other questions on this? Yes, Tom.
Tom: What’s your definition of the pointing out instruction?
Ken: I’m sure this is how Kalu Rinpoche would have answered your question. It’s not how I would answer it. I’m just going to channel Kalu Rinpoche for a moment.
Suppose you and I were walking along and we run into somebody that I know. And I say, “Tom, this is Jim.” And so now I’ve introduced you to Jim. So what a pointing out instruction is is, “Tom, this is your mind. Say hi to your mind.” So that’s what a pointing out instruction is. It’s pointing out your mind. Now, most pointing out instructions require that one have a certain level of attention because otherwise you look and you don’t see anything. So, it’s as if I said, “Tom, this is Jim,” and you go, “Jim? Who are you talking to?” Which is what a lot of people experience with pointing out instructions. “What are you pointing to? I don’t see anything?” Okay? Anything else? All right.
A couple of things for this evening. Let me introduce you to a practice which is a complete practice in its own right and performs many functions. And some of you will have run into this before. It goes by various names: one name—this is from a friend of mine—is the primary practice. And what this consists of is progressively opening to all aspects of experience.
Now, the first aspect of experience which we are most familiar with is sensory experience. And one can start this process, usually it’s started with opening to visual experience, but one can start it with the kinesthetic experience or breathing or auditory experience, taste and smell are a bit fleeting, they aren’t usually the best places to start. And you just open to all of that. And eventually you open to all five senses simultaneously.
And then the next step is to include the sensations of thought and emotion. Ordinarily, when thoughts and emotion arise, we don’t experience them as sensations. We experience them as facts and fall into confusion. But in this, you raise the level of energy in the attention so that you just have the sensation of thought. But the thought comes and goes, it’s fine, emotions come and go. They’re just there. So we start opening to the sensations associated with all the internal material.
Student: Do you mean by the sensations of what thoughts and emotions arise, do you mean that the bodily sensations that arise concomitantly?
Ken: You’ll be opening to those too. But there’s also the visual or auditory component of a thought, you know. That’s also a sensation. Right?
Ken: Thoughts come up and sometimes we experience them as voices.
Ken: Sometimes as just thought…
Student: Or images, mental images.
Ken: Yeah, images. But it’s a sensation, it’s a mental sensation not a physical sensation. And the same with anger. Like, you know, certainly we’ll have the contractions of the stomach, gripping in the throat, the tensing of our hands, the urge to kill, and all of that stuff. But there’s an actual sensation of anger, too. Okay? So, you open to that. And this is progressive. You keep adding. You don’t move your attention from one to another, you just keep including. We’ll do this together. I’m just describing it first.
Then when you can rest in that field, you find yourself resting in a field of experience. Normally we say, “This is inside, and that’s outside.” But actually, it’s just experience. When you open to it as just experience, then inside and outside get a little dubious.
Then the next step is to open your heart. We may be able to open to all of that, but we still keep something a little closed in here. You open the heart, that allows another whole level of emotional opening to experience to arise. And then finally, you open to awareness. And you do that, as you are sitting in this whole field, by asking, “What experiences this?” Not with an intention of answering that question. But when you ask that question, there is a shift in you, and so now you become, in a certain sense, aware of awareness.
Now you’re in the totality of experience: sensations, thoughts, feelings, open heart and awareness. All of it. You know, that’s what life is.
Needless to say, you may not be able to do that straight through. Often people work at this progressively, building up their capacity to be open to everything. When you can stay in the totality of your experience, then you’re done. Very simple. Yes?
Student: Could you say a little more about opening the heart?
Ken: What’s your question, Ralph?
Ralph: How do you do it?
Ken: So, have you ever opened your heart to a person?
Ken: So, how do you do it?
Ralph: Being with them, where they are, in connection.
Ken: And there’s a certain gesture that takes place in you, right?
Ken: Okay. So, yeah, there’s that zafu, right? Open your heart to the zafu. Now, it’s something that we don’t ordinarily do, but is there any problem?
Ken: Good. [Laughter]
Ralph: Thank you.
Ken: It shifts, doesn’t it?
Ralph: It does; there is a shift.
Ken: Yeah, that’s all. Any other questions before we do this together? I’ll do this in the form of a guided meditation.
So you do this with your eyes open.
I think we’ll do it with the experience of breathing tonight. That’s where we’ll start. So just settle into your body. And bring your attention to the experience of breathing. Don’t look at the experience, but rather rest in the experience of breathing. And as you do this, you will notice that there are certain body sensations and body movements. So just open to that—to all of those.
There’s sensations of air at the back of the throat, movement of the chest, movement of the diaphragm, movement of the stomach. You may find that there are all kinds of parts of your body that move very subtly in connection with the movement of the breath. As you breathe in, your back may straighten up a little bit. Breathe out, it bends forward a little bit. Your chin may move a little bit. So open to all of those body sensations.
And as you rest in the experience of breathing, you may become aware of the play of light and color and shadow that constitutes your visual experience; the play of different sounds that constitute our auditory experience; the sensation of the clothes on our body; resting on our seat—the tactile experience. There may also be tastes and smells. So you rest in all those sensations.
Now, your attention may go to one or another. Whenever it does, just expand from whatever you find yourself focusing on back to the whole field of sensory experience. So you keep including. You include until you can see everything in this room that’s in your field of vision; hear every sound; feel every sensation in your body, all at the same time.
And then include any thoughts, any feelings, any emotions, beliefs, values, ideals, whatever is up, whatever is, you are experiencing right now. Don’t move from the sensory sensations to the internal material, just include the internal material in addition to the sensations. So you’re completely in your body with all its sensations; you’re in the totality of all the sensory sensations. You include all the thinking and all of the stories as mental sensations, and all of the emotions, reactive, responsive, higher, lower. Doesn’t matter. Just include everything. And you find that you’re in a field of experience. Now, just rest in that field. And then let your heart open to everything that you’re experiencing. And as you rest in that, ask—but don’t try to answer, but just include the shift—ask the question, “What experiences all this?” Okay. Relax, look around the room.
Randy: As you move through that active process, do all or should all of the sensations and experiences kind of retain their clarity? Or do the ones behind it get a little hazy?
Ken: We just moved through this in a very short period of time. This is something you can work at until you can stay totally clear in everything.
Student: Wouldn’t that be millions of things?
Ken: Only if you count. [Laughter] They’re there; they are being registered. We’re usually narrowing our focus so that we aren’t aware of them. That’s all. A very good place to practice this is a shopping mall at Christmas time. Go into a glass store. You know, all of those reflections. Everyone of them.
Here, take a tree. Sit in front of that tree until you can see every leaf, or if it’s a pine tree, every needle. Guess what? You can’t think your way through this.
Student: Well, I am hoping like if I was just focusing on a single needle, there would be a very precise focus.
Student: Would it be like that times a million?
Ken: See? I told you, you can’t think through this. You do it.
Student: I have a feeling I’m lost.
Ken: You want to figure out what it’s going to be like so you know whether you’re going to be doing it correctly. You know? Hopeless. Just do it. Sit down in front of a pile of gravel until you can see every stone and every shadow cast by every stone. You have a carpet here. See every thread of the carpet. It’s all part of your life; you just aren’t usually paying any attention to it. But I guarantee, you won’t be able to get at this by thinking. And trying to understand this practice will not help you to do it. That I can also assure you. Okay? What next? What next? You have another question?
Student: No, that’s it.
Ken: You sure?
Student: Well it would just be more of the same.
Ken: That’s what I thought. [Laughter]
Student: I don’t need any more.
Ken: Just wanted to make sure. Okay. Allen? No? Yes, Peter.
Peter: I have something, you know, going off somewhere.
Ken: Ah, you took a thought as a fact.
Peter: Well, I don’t know what I did.
Ken: You collapsed down onto a thought. That’s what happens.
Peter: Yeah. Yeah.
Ken: Yeah. So, as soon as you recognize that, expand from that thought to include everything again. Now, if you get totally lost and things like that then you just let everything go and start again with the sensations. It’s best to start with the body sensations. It grounds us. It gets us out of the stories.
But you’ll find that something will grab you and you come back five minutes, five hours later—that was nice. But it’s not meditation, okay? And you’re quite right, we get grabbed by these things. Other questions?
So, you can do this as your practice, or you can do this as part of your practice. You can use it to generate a level of attention, which it does. Or you can use it to practice resting, which I’m going to talk about now.
Don’t have much time, but we’ll go a little longer.
The base of attention is very important for mahamudra practice. I’ve described one way of developing a base of attention. It does a lot of other things. Now I’m going to give you another approach to practice, which is a more traditional mahamudra practice. This is from Gampopa:
Don’t chase after the past. Don’t invite the future. Don’t dwell on the present. Relax and rest.
These are known as the Four Words of Gampopa.
Don’t chase after the past. Don’t invite the future. Don’t dwell on the present. Relax and rest. Now, what happens when you hear these words? Anybody? What happens? What do you experience?
Student: You relax.
Ken: You relax. Okay. Anybody else?
Ralph: You want to figure them out with your rational mind.
Ralph: You want to figure them out with your rational mind.
Ken: So you experience thinking.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else?
Student: I get some nausea.
Ken: You get nauseous.
Student: Just a little bit….
Student: I feel like I’m falling.
Ken: You feel like you’re falling.
Student: I’m grabbing at things.
Student: Grabbing at things.
Ken: Well, this is very helpful. Let’s start somewhere else.
I want you to breathe in and breathe out calmly and smoothly without any strain or effort. At a certain point, the out-breath will finish. When the out-breath finishes, I just want you to hang there, to use a modern expression. Let the in-breath come, if it does. But you just rest exactly where the out-breath, the end of the out-breath, leaves you. Let’s just do that now. Breathe in, and then breathe out.
Okay, look around the room. Move your body a little bit. Then settle and we’ll do it again. So breathe in a little bit, and breathe out gently, smoothly until the out-breath naturally finishes. And then rest right where it leaves you.
Okay. Look around the room. Move your body and do it one more time. Breathe in and then breathe out smoothly, gently, naturally. And then just rest wherever the out-breath leaves you. Okay. What was your experience with this? Chuck.
Chuck: It was like an ending. Almost like a dying meditation.
Ken: What did you experience?
Chuck: A complete letting go.
Ken: What was that like? Describe it to the best of your ability.
Chuck: Well, at one point, there’s not a need even to take a breath. You just sort of—after it’s all over, you just, it’s just finished.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Nancy.
Nancy: After a few breaths, then I had this, like, body sensation of sort of a release or relaxation at the end.
Ken: Where did the out-breath leave you? Or, how did the out-breath leave you? How was that?
Nancy: How did it?
Ken: Yeah. What were you experiencing? At the end of the out-breath.
Nancy: That release. That…
Ken: So describe it, as best you can.
Nancy: It’s an inner sensation of, I guess, just letting go.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Ken.
Student Ken: I felt at one point as though I were being breathed rather than that I was breathing.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Charles.
Charles: At first, there was a fear: Is the next in-breath going to come? Then there was this bizarre feeling of both groundedness and falling at the same time.
Charles: And then the third time we did it, there was a very vivid awareness of certain sensations around the abdomen.
Ken: One more. Janet.
Janet: I also had a feeling that my breath was being taken care of outside of me.
Ken: Ah, we do love to project, don’t we?
Janet: And that initially the feeling of, “Is my breath going to happen?” Which I had early on, went away. And it felt like, “Doesn’t matter.”
Ken: Okay. Now, at the end of the out-breath, what were you aware of? Joan?
Joan: I was going to say [unclear].
Ken: Anybody else go along with that? How many? Yeah, you are aware of nothing. To be a little more precise, you are aware of no thing.
Student: It felt like things went empty.
Ken: Yeah. But I was avoiding that vocabulary.
Ken: You are aware of no thing. Now, was this like empty space?
Ken: Was it like nothing was there? What was it like? Randy.
Randy: Real calmness.
Ken: Yeah. Larry.
Larry: A quality of coming into a clearing, open.
Ken: Yes, but there’s no thing there. So, this is how you practice shamatha in mahamudra. This is how you practice resting the mind in mahamudra. There’s no object on which you’re resting the mind. You’re resting the mind on no object. You are resting the mind on nothing. But that’s meant quite literally: you’re resting the mind on nothing.
Now, initially you’re only going to be able to do this for very short periods. Probably one to two seconds. That’s where you start. And you can do it in exactly the way that I talked you through. Breathe out. And just rest where the out-breath leaves you. The in-breath will take care of itself, as several of you observed. Don’t get fascinated with that. Because as soon as you become fascinated with that, now you are not resting on nothing. You are involved in being fascinated. It’ll happen. So it’ll take a little practice.
All kinds of sensations and thoughts and feelings are likely to arise. As long as you have that quality of resting, it doesn’t matter. But you’ll find that the quality of resting moves in one of two directions. The sense of knowing disappears. It becomes dull. Know what I mean? You sort of dull out. And so you’re still resting, but it doesn’t have that lively, awake quality. That’s one direction it goes. The other direction is that we start thinking about something. There are all kinds of candidates like, you know, “Oh, I am being breathed.” Now we’ve started thinking about something. And this happens to all of us. Or some thought comes out of nowhere, and we just go with it.
So you either move into dullness, or you move into activity. As soon as you recognize that, let everything go—just relax completely—and then start again. The better way to practice however is to let the mind rest that way and then stop before you’ve degenerated into either of those directions. There’s a…
Student: Stopping the movement toward dullness or—
Ken: No, not stopping the movement toward dullness or stopping the movement into activity. Stopping while you’re still clear and present.
Student: Okay. Right.
Ken: You notice that I said “Okay, rest.” And then I said “Stop,” after a relatively short time. I said, “Now look around the room, move your body.” This is known as “destroying your meditation.” Or “breaking the meditation.” You break it while you’re still clear and present. And then you start again. In this way, you start experiencing—at first, very short periods—where you’re completely awake and present. You’re clear and empty.
Now you’ll do this, and after five minutes for some, ten minutes, maybe as long as half an hour, you’ll run out of juice. And you just won’t be able to do it. It’ll just be jumble, jumble, jumble.
Then relax, get up. Go for a walk. Do some Qigong. Or do a different practice. And then come back to it sometime later.
This is what is meant by, Short periods, many of them. Because in the beginning it’s just going to be a second or two. You can move from that, and then do the Primary Practice, that progressive opening. That often will rejuvenate things a bit. Then you can come to this way of resting. That’s why I gave you both of these techniques. If you really run out of juice and you’re just a mass of thoughts, or a mass of dullness, just stop. Go for a walk. As you walk, coordinate your breath, and the walking, that is, notice how many steps you take with each breath. And then just keep it. So you are keeping some sense of mindfulness going. Don’t look down at the ground—well I suppose you need to a little bit here, because of the snakes. Rattlesnakes. But if you’re walking on the road or something like that, you know, you can walk down here and walk on a flat road, it’s very good for this. A flat surface is better for this. And so, in just walking quietly and naturally in that way, body and mind will be refreshed.
Another way that you can walk which is probably my favorite way of doing walking meditation. How many of you have done any log-rolling?
Student: Any what?
Ken: Log rolling. Ah, what do they teach in school these days? [Laughter] Well, you stand on a log, and you know you start walking and the log turns under it. And you’ve got to stay right in touch with the log. Otherwise, you get wet. So, as you walk, you’re rolling the Earth under your feet. That’s how you walk. You feel that you’re rolling the Earth under your feet. You’re not going anywhere. You’re just spinning the Earth under your feet. So you can try that as your walking meditation. Works very well, I’ve found.
Okay. Had enough for tonight? Know what your practice is in the morning? Or actually this evening, we’ll do it right now. It’s 8:22? Okay, let’s take a ten minute break, we’ll start at 8:30. Okay.