Buddhism And How You Actually Live Download
Satori, enlightenment, and laypeople; parallels with martial arts training; what compassion is really like; commentary on Aspirations for Mahamudra.
In all honesty I’m not quite sure what to talk about this evening. Chances are I’ll find something. My main concern in this retreat is—I think some of you have come to suspect—is to show you to the best I can a way into experience, not learning more things about mahamudra, coming to know it experientially. This is not an altogether easy matter.
Trungpa used to speak of the zap approach, which is one of the more common methods of teaching. Teachers go around and they zap everybody with energy or what have you, and people have these experiences. And he also said that someone needs to be there to change the diapers. [Laughter]
So, far more my personal feeling is that while experience is important—you know, I’m thinking of the zap approach here—developing the capability within oneself is actually more important. There are a large number of teachers and students who take the approach that the right experience will save you. This attitude—or perspective—was significantly enhanced or reinforced by Philip Kapleau’s Three Pillars of Zen. How many of you are familiar with that? Yeah. In which it’s basically all about satori.
An anecdote is told of Suzuki Roshi the author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and the founder of Zen Center in San Francisco. It’s found in the introduction to the second edition of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind where Huston Smith was talking to Suzuki Roshi and he says, “Your book has become a classic but you never mention the word satori.” and Suzuki’s wife says, “That’s because he hasn’t had it.” [Laughter]
I remember Bob Aitken saying to Maezumi Roshi, “I never got past mu.” and Maezumi Roshi saying, “Oh thank goodness, I didn’t either.” [Laughter]
But you look at the way some people write, some people teach, and it’s all about having the right experience [unclear]. Now, certain experiences change our understanding of the world and of ourselves and of experience. But what happens afterwards is very important. The research into near death experiences—where people have often quite profound and very powerful experiences of one sort or another—show that those experiences have no significant or measurable effect in their lives three months later, except for one class of people. Any guesses?
Ken: No. No there’s only one…
Student: The people that took up the message of the experience.
Ken: No, that’s what they were trying to see, how many people took up the message of their experience. Only one class.
Student: What were the different classes?
Ken: Well, they only found one factor in peoples’ backgrounds which was significant here. Any guesses? It’s rather disturbing: the experience of childhood trauma.
Student: Childhood trauma?
Ken: Childhood trauma.
Student: How bad did the trauma have to be?
Ken: The article I read didn’t say. [Laughter]
Student: So you’re saying that the experience that they moved past that in some way?
Ken: Yeah, something happened, and they really took the message and started to [unclear], which is interesting.
Student: It is interesting.
Ken: Now, Seung Sahn wrote an article about what kind of effort lay people should make. And he starts off the article saying very firmly, almost categorically, if you’re a lay person forget about getting enlightened. Leave that to the professionals, the full time monks and nuns. That’s their job, to get enlightened. That’s why they became monks and nuns. You’re lay people; it’s not your job. You’ve got too many other things to think about. You’ve got a career; you’ve got a job; you’ve got responsibilities; you’ve got family; you’ve got this; you’ve got that. You know, leave that heavy duty stuff to the professionals.
Your job as lay people is to function properly, so that as a parent you’re a good parent. In your job you do a good job. In your relationships you’re there. So everything should be directed at learning how to function properly. And then at the end of the article he slips in the sentence, “Of course it’s good to remember that the purpose of getting enlightened is so you can function properly.” [Laughter]
Miyamoto Musashi was probably the greatest of the Japanese swordsman. He must have been quite a person. Apparently he wanted to understand sex so badly that he slept with a thousand women, much to the chagrin of his wife who finally had enough and said, “Stop it.” And so he did. I think that’s the same person. [Laughter]
Student: Didn’t he understand anything?
Ken: It was a mystery to him. [Laughter] He had sixty duels, which is an extraordinary number. These are life and death affairs. He stopped killing his opponents after the thirtieth and he dueled the man not the weapon, so the way he won was often very interesting. Well worth reading some of the accounts.
But by the time he was thirty or so he found that he didn’t need to kill his opponents anymore. They couldn’t kill him. He often fought duels with a wooden sword. The other opponent’s sword would get stuck when it struck the wood. [Laughter]
Later in his life he studied Zen. Takuan, it seems, was one of his teachers, and there’s one book that he wrote—it was The Five Rings—which he wrote by climbing an extremely long flight of steps, and you can find pictures of this, stone steps up to a chapel where he would meditate with a paper and ink beside him. And he would sit there and meditate, and when he knew what the next sentence was he’d write it down. Then he’d go back to his meditation.
This is how he wrote The Five Rings—it took several months. There weren’t any revisions, just that’s the next sentence. So a quotation from his work about martial arts, which I haven’t written down and I haven’t memorized so I will repeat it as best I can. But I’ve adopted this quotation and just substituted the word Buddhism for martial arts, and it’s to the effect that when you engage this practice, or the view that many people have of this practice, is that it’s not really practical. But that the real purpose of this practice is to develop skill so that in every situation that you meet, you can meet it and employ that skill in that situation. That’s very rough; he says it much better than that.
So tonight we’re going to talk a little more generally than we have up to this point. Much of Buddhism focuses on meditation and it’s very easy—when you study and practice Buddhism—to get the feeling that you’re only truly alive when you’re meditating. Everything else is kind of a waste of time. Anybody come across this notion? And the only real form of life is retreat. This of course is nonsense, and there are many reasons why that attitude and that perspective has developed, but we don’t need to go into those. One of the consequences of this is that how you actually live is, for many people who practice Buddhism, a bit of a puzzle.
Student: Say that again.
Ken: How you actually live is, for many people who practice Buddhism, a bit of a puzzle. Because you have these very high perspectives, you know, non-duality, the great completion, even the middle way, interdependent origination, I mean you have the six perfections, four immeasurables—any of you heard of any of these? Oh yes, of course, an old favorite, the noble eightfold path. But how you actually live any of these is not talked about all that much; at least that’s been my experience. Anybody else in the same boat here? No? I mean this has been explained to you? Good, you can come up here and I’ll sit [Laughter]
I’ll give you an example. I had a student many years ago who was a private banker. You know, a private banker is a person who works for one of the major banks like Bank of America, or something like that. And this person’s job is to cater to the people who bank with the Bank of America who have more than a million dollars in deposit. They get their own private banker. Well, she drove a Mercedes and she remembers being at a practice group discussion, in which the topic of discussion that evening was, if you’re practicing the noble eightfold path what kind of car should you drive? [Laughter] She was very, very glad that she’d parked her Mercedes several blocks away. [Laughter]
And I give you this as an example of the kind of confusion that is present in a lot of people’s minds. And the confusion arises for many, many different factors. To name just a few, there is the importation of what is essentially a monastic discipline from a medieval agriculturally based society into a postmodern multicultural society, where Buddhism, actually up until the twentieth century, was pretty well practiced only in monocultural societies.
So there are a few little adjustments in there, but in addition, we also import—in ways that are not at all obvious—a lot of Christian ideas that have come to permeate Western thinking. One of them—and I mention this because I’ve been reading about this recently, and I find it very interesting, and I say this is not at all obvious. One of the biggest influences of Christianity in Western thinking is that history has meaning. You know, and that’s the line of thought that developed out of Christian influence on Western thought and was unknown before then.
And it’s become one of the central characteristics of Modernism, that history has meaning and thus we have to make progress. So the whole notion of progress comes from here as well. One should take note that it was an obsession with progress that was behind Nazism and Communism and all of the totalitarian regimes, and is also what is actually behind radical Islamic fundamentalism. That you can create a perfect society by force.
So, in my own practice—partially because I think I’m so bad at it—what Musashi talks about, what Seung Sahn talks about, becoming skilled in life, makes a great deal of sense to me. And we spoke about this I think right at the beginning of this retreat. To truly meet the situations that arise in our life appropriately or effectively or skilfully, to put it in Buddhist terminology, in a way that does not create suffering. Or if you want to put it in Mahayana terminology, to meet what arises in the union of compassion and emptiness, or express that. There’s one small prerequisite: you have to be able to be nobody so you can be anybody.
Martial arts. Traditionally there are three steps in training. The first is to learn the technique, you learn the various moves, how to make them, train the body so that it can make those moves. That’s not so bad. The second is to train so that those moves are second nature; they just happen.
I studied some martial arts for a short period of time with a couple—they’re very, very good. They’re very good people and they were extremely good martial artists. They’re also quite good teachers. They slept with a board between them because if one flopped an arm over on the other it wasn’t clear what was going to happen. [Laughter] This is the price they paid for their training. That’s not actually unusual.
I had another friend who’s trained in martial art—he advises his girlfriends, “Never approach me from behind, just don’t do that,” because he’s trained. This is what training means. We apply this in our practice so that when somebody says something you don’t have to think about responding with compassion—it just happens. If you have to think about it you’re already too late. You’re not going to wipe them out or kill them but it needs to have the same level of training. The third step in martial arts is that you remove everything in you that would prevent that from manifesting when it needs to.
Student: Can you say that again?
Ken: You remove everything inside which would prevent the technique from manifesting when it is needed. That gets fairly serious. This is about becoming no one. In the context of our training it’s the same thing. You remove everything, all of those habituations, all of those idealizations, all of those values, all of that stuff which prevents you from responding to the struggles of others. This is somewhat non-trivial. This is what is actually involved in the training. But it’s often not talked about in these terms. People think “Oh, it’s so wonderful to be in compassion.” This is complete nonsense.
Many years ago I was doing a retreat in Washington—this is early 90s I guess—it was on the four immeasurables, compassion in particular. It was very interesting. There was a huge gender difference in the response to the cultivation of compassion. For the men it was by and large, “I’ve never felt anything like this. I didn’t know this world existed.” What are all the women thinking now? [Laughter]
Student: We already know that. [Laughter]
Ken: For the women the response was a little different, “Now how do I say no?” Yeah, something I took note of and I’ve always tuned my teaching of compassion to. It’s very, very different experiences, particularly in this culture.
What is compassion like? Anybody? What is it actually like? Ken?
Student Ken: I wouldn’t know myself but Trungpa Rinpoche used to define it as environmental generosity that didn’t require feedback to a reference point.
Ken: Yes, that may be a definition but I asked what is compassion like? What is it like to experience compassion? Alan, then Ralph. Alan first.
Alan: I heard a podcast maybe [unclear].
Ken: Oh, you’re going to quote from me. That doesn’t count. Ralph, are you quoting the podcast too?
Ralph: Probably. I think it’s putting yourself aside so you can be with someone so that they can…
Ken: Yeah, that’s a description—what is it like? Leslie?
Leslie: Well, it’s like your chest really feels a lot of openness, and sometimes there’s some discomfort.
Student: Can you speak up a little bit?
Leslie: Well your chest feels a lot of openness, and sometimes it’s a little bit painful, but it can also be pretty relieving to feel it…feel you’re not all caught up in yourself anymore. I’m a physician and I can be having a rough time myself and go to work and feel better when someone tells me their rotten story because it opens my heart.
Ken: Yeah, okay. Alan?
Alan: It’s like having no skin.
Ken: Yeah, it’s not a little bit painful. It’s like having no skin. Now, imagine having no skin and somebody touches you. What does that feel like? Ken?
Student: I would think it would be excruciating.
Ken: Yes. But as Leslie pointed out there is another quality to it. In that compassion you know you are touching what is true. But whoever thinks it’s a wonderful state is some misguided poet somewhere. Now, how many of you want to live like that? I will hold you to it. I’ve got your names. [Laughter] As you will see in the interviews tomorrow.
Student: I have a question. Can I ask?
Student: If, if there’s a true realization of emptiness, would that pain become suffering, or would it just be pain?
Ken: If there is a true realization of emptiness would the pain become suffering?
Student: Yeah. For the person struggling with compassion.
Ken: Why would it become suffering?
Student: Well, if there’s no…
Ken: If there is a realization of emptiness, or if there is no realization of emptiness?
Student: No, if there is a realization of emptiness, would that pain then not become suffering for the person that is the…
Ken: Oh, then it wouldn’t be suffering, you’re saying?
Ken: One taste, right?
Ken: You shouldn’t believe all the fairy tales, and the reason is that if you take that approach you form an idea of how things will be. That really mucks up your practice now. You have an idea, “Oh, it will be like this.” It’s irrelevant whether it is or isn’t. You have to deal with how things are now.
Student: Yeah, yeah. When I think about this issue with compassion I remember one time I was…my girlfriend’s daughter and I were rough housing, playing around, and I ended up with a strange swollen blood vessel in my scrotum and it was painful. I had to go to the doctor and he squeezed it and it was so painful I passed out. And the next thing I remember I opened my eyes and I was looking up at him and he was bent over me with absolutely no expression of fear or anxiety in his face. And when I saw that I just completely relaxed and you know, recovered very easily.
But I reflect back on that and I attribute that to his skill that he didn’t get bent out of shape by the fact that all of a sudden I passed out and landed on his floor. And that was so reassuring to me and that if I were in the process of helping somebody that…well I actually do this quite a bit I should say, in my work as a social worker, in that a real…a place that people went to die. And when I first worked there I used to get very anxiety-ridden when somebody was talking about their death and they would obviously be very, very anxiety-ridden and I started sort of peddling these platitudes and realized how phony and superficial the whole thing was. It took me a few months to relax with the whole thing and it completely changed my relationship with these people who were dying.
Student: So I’m saying this to suggest that, okay, if somebody is in agony because they’re helping you, I wouldn’t be consoled by that I would, you know as the receiver…[unclear].
Ken: Yes, I quite understand your point. It’s not quite what I was saying. With these people who were dying did you feel the pain?
Student: Ah, I felt…
Ken: Were you able to stay present in the pain of the situation?
Student: Not at first.
Ken: Not at first, exactly, but you developed that ability.
Ken: That’s what I’m talking about.
Student: Yeah, yeah.
Ken: And it was your ability to stay present in the pain of the situation that enabled you to be helpful to them.
Student: Yeah, that and also I think the honesty that I was able to establish with them so I wasn’t bullshitting them into…
Ken: Yeah, you weren’t trying to be anybody.
Student: And I wasn’t dealing with my own anxiety because I was relaxed. I wasn’t trying to cover up my own anxiety by these platitudes.
Ken: Yeah, this is exactly what I’m talking about.
Ken: And compassion is being able to be present in the pain and letting go of all the ideas about what we should be doing. Now, this is the motivation for this practice. It is to develop the ability to be no one in any situation so that you can respond, in the phrase that Uchiyami uses,
To the direction of the present. Question?
Student: Well, I just want to say something about what I’ve noticed with men and women in my practice. That when I tell a couple bad news it’s always the woman who cries, and it’s always the man who puts his arm around her, and that doesn’t mean a man doesn’t feel it—it’s just that he’s structured to stay together until later. I just think that’s the way men are made.
Ken: Yeah, okay, yeah.
Student: I was reading a book that I got at the airport on the way here called The Female Brain and there’s a huge difference between men and women physiologically.
Ken: Yes, the male brain is the screwed up one [Laughter].
Student: Oh no, someone has to stay together.
Ken: Yeah, it’s the male brain that develops from the female brain.
Student: Yes, yeah but the man still somewhere feels it—he’s made to be able to stay more distant from it.
Ken: But a lot of men just learn the staying distant part.
Student: Yeah, it’s sort of on the same note when I was like I mentioned I had spent some time at Gampo Abbey which is, you know, a monastic community and it’s men and women. And what happens the way they set up the shrine room is they have the men on the left and the women on the right facing the shrine. That’s how they go in kind of…everybody sits in these two like rectangles…
Ken: Men on the left, women on the right?
Ken: Interesting. Okay.
Student: It was, yeah yeah, that was how it went. So, I…my knees were never that good, you know it was like three to four hours of sitting a day a lot of times I would be in the back in a chair. What I noticed always—this was really weird—well, not that weird, based on what we’re saying, but if you looked at the men’s side of the room the other men would be like slumped over, asleep, or like this, or scratching themselves, or like you know, whatever. Or, or looking out the window, and the women there was always like two or three that were crying.
And I was always really admiring of that because I felt like…I mean, I don’t know if I was right but I always felt like at least they were doing something directly whereas like I spent all the time I was there trying to get to certain meditation states. [Laughter] You know, like, at least they were in touch with something real, not just like [laughter] you know in a certain pose.
Ken: That’s reflecting what Leslie was saying. Okay. So I’m not saying that when you’re exercising compassion that you’re writhing in agony, but you’re feeling something, feeling something quite intensely. And many people put up barriers to that—both men and women.
Those barriers are put up because there’s the notion that there is something to protect. So all of you have been investigating mind over the last few days. Several of you have told me, through your own experience, that there is nothing there, right? So, I have a question: “What is there to protect?”
Ken: Well, we have to bear in mind Yogi Berra’s saying, “In theory there’s no difference between practice and theory. In practice there is.”
Mahamudra Prayer, page 26.
While the nature of beings has always been full enlightenment,
Not knowing this, they wander in endless samsara.
For the boundless suffering of sentient beings
May overwhelming compassion be born in my being.
So, when you know how to do something and you see someone struggling with the same thing, but they don’t know how to do it, what do you feel?
Student: You want to help them do it.
Ken: You want to help them do it. It’s really difficult to watch them struggle, isn’t it? You just want to get in there and say [unclear]. Okay. What’s the discomfort?
Student: Seeing them suffering.
Student: Seeing them in difficulty.
Ken: Yeah, but what’s the discomfort in you?
Student: It’s a defense.
Student: I would say it’s a defense against empathy or compassion because quite often when you help someone who’s struggling you do them a disservice. It’s very situational.
Ken: I agree. Anybody else?
Student: I guess what you’re saying is you don’t want to experience feeling their difficulty.
Student: Yeah, you don’t want…[unclear]. You might think “I’m better than you, I can do this faster [unclear].”
Student: Or you could just say the discomfort of watching somebody in trouble.
Student: Yeah, yeah, it’s uncomfortable.
Randy: I think you don’t want to get involved. You don’t want to piece of yourself out there.
Ken: Actually, most people do want to put themselves out there so they don’t have to feel [unclear].
Randy: They do but there’s that struggle.
Ken: Okay. Nancy?
Nancy: I think it’s that if you fix it for them then you don’t have to open your heart because it’s fixed.
Peter: Well [unclear] I think people I don’t like would do this. People would fix it for you and not show you how to fix it or not take the time to be with you, take you each step of the way, you know but I do. Because in my teaching that’s what I find really helps the students the most. It empowers them to learn on their own. When you can be patient enough to do that.
Ken: Yeah, say what you said again Nancy.
Nancy: That if you fix it for them, whatever they’re struggling with, then it’s resolved and you don’t have to open yourself to compassion which you would have to if you’re just watching them struggle with it.
Ken: Yeah. The only way to stay present in this situation is to feel the pain in the situation.
Nancy: Or the heave.
Ken: Or, no, then you’re not still in the situation [laughter]. And sometimes, you know, you get, “This is too painful, I’ve got to get out of here.” Okay. This is what is being referred to in these lines,
While the nature of beings has always been full enlightenment,
Not knowing this, they wander in endless samsara.
For the boundless suffering of sentient beings
Here, coming to the end of this prayer, you understand, or you know mahamudra directly, you know you’re not a thing, and you see all these sentient beings floundering around in their lives believing that they’re things, making a mess of everything, trying to get what they want, never succeeding and you just go, “Ah.” You know, right? Alan?
Alan: Don’t you think a lot of people’s struggle and anxiety is because they’re afraid they’re nobody? They’re afraid, you know, a lot of people search for who am I or…?
Ken: There’s all kinds of things but we’re not talking about them. We’re talking about watching these, you know. And the people who think that they’re nobody have a very well-defined identity. It’s formed around the belief that they’re nobody. They don’t count so there’s a very well-defined sense of self there. I’m a self that doesn’t count in this world.
Alan: But there are a lot of people who develop a whole personality of the…kind of like an oyster covering a pearl.
Ken: That’s what the personality is. Layers and layers and layers of protective mechanisms defending against these deeply held beliefs, and which are usually associated with experiences that weren’t able to be experienced. Nancy?
Nancy: Well, I would say that that kind of person is the most difficult for me to feel compassionate with.
Student: Which kind of person?
Nancy: What he just described. You know, the person that is struggling really in the world but makes the same struggle all the time just putting one more layer on top of another and always feeling that no one is paying attention or being compassionate. And it’s very difficult. For me it’s very difficult.
Ken: Okay. Well, you know where your work is. [Laughter] Okay, so the compassion that arises here is an emotion. As such it’s subject to corruption and decay as all emotions are. The next verse,
While such compassion is active and immediate,
In the moment of compassion, its essential emptiness is nakedly clear.
Even though the way this is written in Tibetan and the same word is used, they’re really talking about two completely different things. Compassion is the natural expression of awareness. Compassion at this level is non-referential. It doesn’t depend on a framework. It is how awareness manifests. It is, to be precise, the expression of the clarity aspect of mind. And it is not an emotion. It’s not subject to corruption or decay. It’s a very different beast. In that union of emptiness and compassion.
In the moment of compassion, it’s essential emptiness is nakedly clear.
Student: What does the “its” refer to there? “Its” essential emptiness.
Ken: The compassion.
Ken: In the moment of compassion, compassion’s essential emptiness is nakedly clear. This is the union of compassion and emptiness. But this is not an emotion joining with emptiness. This is mind itself, which is simultaneously empty and clear, and that’s how it manifests in experience. The reason this is important—or one of the reasons—is that you don’t have to do anything at this point. It just arises. And referring to the remarks I made earlier, that level of compassion—non-referential compassion—arises because you’ve eliminated everything that gets in the way. Third step in training; you become empty, and the way emptiness expresses itself is as compassion. Now there were a couple of questions around. Larry.
Larry: Can you explain the discrimination between the compassion that is that raw quality and the compassion that functions as the clarity of awareness?
Ken: Yeah, I would say that even at the level of compassion in awareness there’s still a very raw quality because you’re directly in touch with the pain of the world. So don’t see that as…
Ken: And don’t see that as going away in that sense. But it’s not an emotional reaction to it, but most people will experience it as a very powerful emotion. That is people who are on the receiving end will experience it as a very powerful emotion.
Larry: It’s the totality…
Ken: Yeah, but it becomes completely natural. Another thing; I think I said this earlier in this retreat but I’ll repeat it here because it’s appropriate,
The illusion of choice is an indication of the lack of freedom.
Larry: You did say that earlier; sounds good.
Ken: Yes. Is it making any more sense now? Tom?
Tom: Ken, you’re using the word compassion in a certain context here, this Buddhist, you know I mean it’s…what about the word love? How do they relate? Or do they?
Ken: Well, that’s a very interesting question. In Buddhism, as you well know, we have loving kindness and compassion—four immeasurables. And the way that love is used in other religious traditions, it often partakes of something of the qualities of compassion. I think it’s more a difference in emphasis, and I would put it, perhaps erroneously in these terms, that with love the emphasis is on the quality of opening and receiving. And in compassion the emphasis is on being present with what is. Now I say there’s a fair degree of overlap there but if I were to make a distinction I would say that the emphasis was something like that. Does that make sense to you? Okay. Vladimir.
Vladimir: Ken to turn the tables on you a little bit here if you don’t mind. What you’re describing really talking about compassion sounds so much [unclear] so distant from my experience really.
Vladimir: Fantastic. But really sounds fantastic. It’s even more fantastic than what Ken he was talking about the realization. This is a state of mind that’s way higher than the realization of emptiness state of mind. But aren’t you saying…are we setting up an ideal we expect this kind of experience [unclear]. This is not our experience of compassion. It’s nothing to do with what we experience more, we’re talking about compassion, so are we kind of way up there somewhere far away?
Ken: How far away is your mind Vladimir? How far away is it?
Vladimir: From my mind?
Ken: How far away is your mind? How far is it from you?
Vladimir: I’m my mind, there is no difference. [Laughter]
Vladimir: Not a hair…nothing but a hair tip.
Student: Not a hair tip.
Ken: Not a hair tip. Okay. I understand where your question’s coming from. The reason I’m talking about this at all is that you can go there in any moment. And it is like jumping or stepping off into that bottomless abyss in the same way that we talked about emptiness the other night. Most people I find have actually experienced this and Ken and Leslie have described situations where they encounter it in their work. And the circumstances in which I find most frequent is when Person A has a friend or a close relative or someone that’s close to them come and tell them about something that’s tragic or devastating in their life.
And what happens not infrequently is that Person A ceases to be a person at that point, and they find themselves present with their friend. They don’t know where the words are coming from. They don’t have any experience of being apart or a distinct entity. And looking back on it, it feels magical. That is the unity of emptiness and compassion.
So I don’t think it is remote as you were expressing a few moments ago. When people look back on such occasions they often can’t really take in that they were capable of it, you know, and they discount it, or discount themselves in that way, if you see what I mean.
With the training that we’re undertaking here, creating the conditions and the know-how actually, which makes it possible for you to do this whenever you wish. So, somebody comes and tells you they have a problem. What happens now if you drop into the empty mind that you have some experience with? You just go there. What happens?
Vladimir: Well, I respond without concept for all the blockages that would be identified by myself and someone else would be gone and would respond appropriately.
Ken: Yeah. That’s the connection.
Randy, you had a question?
Randy: How did you know?
Ken: Because your hand was up before Vladimir. [Laughter] I also read minds. You have a neon sign above you flashing question, question, question! [Laughter]
Randy: [Unclear] Take it off. [Laughter] Well, given what you said earlier about different levels of spiritual talent and different, different abilities to develop [unclear] which I appreciate—I was kind of relieved to hear someone say that—but I guess I have to ask given that is insight the only way?
Ken: No, not at all. Kyergongpa was a twelfth century teacher, Shangpa tradition, had a kind of interesting life. You see the tulku system originally developed to keep real estate in the family. [Laughter] Well, when you have a celibate order keeping real estate in the family’s a bit of a problem.
Ken: How do you do it? Well, if you’re the abbot of a monastery, your brother has a son, he takes over the abbot. His brother has a son so it goes from uncle to nephew. You follow? This is how the transmission takes place in the Sakya tradition to this day. This is the origin of the tulku system because the nephew was regarded as the incarnation of the uncle when he took over. He continued the mindstream. This is how you keep real estate in the family in a celibate order. So Kyergongpa was one such nephew and it was his responsibility to take over the administration of the local monastery. There was a problem. He wanted to practice. He didn’t want to run the monastery at all.
He told this to the monks and they wouldn’t hear of it. Don’t forget these are basically tribal structures, so this is like the head of the tribe saying, “Nah, I don’t want to do it.” You don’t have that kind of choice. Well, Kyergongpa was pretty insistent about this, and so he just walked out, went to a cave some distance from the monastery and practiced. The monks were very angry. They stationed people outside and they took shifts and whenever Kyergongpa tried to leave his cave in order to go begging for alms they threw stones at him. So he had to stay there for a long time without any food. So he was kind of an interesting guy.
Student: Do the monasteries own most of the land in Tibet?
Ken: It was split. So in a small snippet of his writings that Kongtrul included in one of the texts I studied in retreat Kyergongpa says there are three doors: impermanence, compassion, and devotion. Impermanence is a door for many people; it’s why there’s always been a very important practice in Buddhism.
Compassion we’ve already talked about and devotion also. And devotion is another way of opening one’s heart, opening one’s mind, and it’s why it is actually the central practice in Vajrayana. Vajrayana is in essence a devotional tradition, a devotional form of practice, because your way into all of the other practices is through devotion. Kagyu tradition is as a specialty in devotion.
We find the same thing in Japan. There’s the Zen school which is basically an insight school, you have the Pure Land school which is basically a devotional school. Thousands more people have been liberated through the Pure Land school than through Zen. Zen just has better press. [Laughter]
So, one of the principal methods of coming to experience mahamudra is through the practice of devotion. It’s what guru yoga is about. You pray…was it in this one or is it…what time is it?
Student: I thought you were looking at it.
Ken: 8:00 what already? Good grief. Yeah, you see you have Devotion Pierces My Heart as the title of that prayer, and another prayer that Kongtrul wrote on the mind training lineage is Soothing the Pain of Faith. This tells you how you pray and the line that I read the other night from fire offering, or the burnt offering,
uprooting patterned existence from its depths I pray.
I talked about feeling compassion and the intensity with which true compassion is experienced. The same applies to devotion, you know you let your heart open that much and it feels like it’s being torn out of your chest when you pray. Or if you feel that then you’re probably in very good shape in terms of your practice. Not many people actually want to practice that way. They like things to be a little more comfortable, but that’s…
Gotsangpa was one of the Drukpa Kagyu patriarchs. He went to an island and he practiced guru yoga for thirty days like this. At the end of that time he had stable attention around the clock. So yeah, it’s a path. Dana?
Dana: Well, you mentioned three doors—the first was impermanence…
Ken: Compassion and devotion.
Dana: Okay, well, and you kind of correlated with certain schools. What is the impermanence? Is that part of…how does that fit?
Ken: There isn’t…I don’t know of any tradition that…
Student: The impermanence schools never stayed around. [Laughter] Good one!
Ken: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know of any school that has taken impermanence as their path, their door but for many individuals, this has been their door. But I don’t think any one tradition has [unclear].
We’re the death school. [Laughter] I remember in one of my first small groups starting in the late 80s, you know what eventually became the curriculum in Wake Up To Your Life, where there was just a very small group of people—five or six—and John was part of that, but there was a fairly well-known psychiatrist who called me up and said “I’d like to study this with you Ken. What are you going to do?” I described this is on death and impermanence, and his response was, “This is very interesting. Please signify your interest in joining this group by banging your head with this hammer.” [Laughter] But it was very fruitful. So it’s not a popular subject. Okay?
But there it is. Okay, some of you probably will have heard this if you’ve been listening to podcasts, but we’ll conclude here. I should have the page numbers memorized by now but I don’t. Here we are—I think this is it. No, that’s not the one. Okay. let’s see if it’s this one. Yes. The Golden Fortune.
Once upon a time there was a merchant named Abdul Malik. He was known as the Good Man of Khorasan, because from his immense fortune he used to give to charity and hold feasts for the poor.
But one day it occurred to him that he was simply giving away some of what he had; and that the pleasure which he obtained through his generosity was far in excess of what it really cost him to sacrifice what was after all such a small proportion of his wealth. As soon as this thought entered his mind, he decided to give away every penny for the good of mankind. And he did so.
No sooner had he divested himself of all his possessions, resigned to face whatever events life might have in store for him, Abdul Malik saw, during his meditation-hour, a strange figure seem to rise from the floor of his room. A man was taking shape before his very eyes, dressed in patchwork robe of the mysterious dervish.
’O Abdul Malik, generous man of Khorasan!’ intoned the apparition. ’I am your self, which has now become almost real to you because you have done something charitable measured against which your previous record of goodness is as nothing. Because of this, and because you were able to part with your fortune without feeling personal satisfaction, I am rewarding you from the real source of reward.
’In future, I will appear before you in this way every day. You will strike me; and I will turn into gold. You will be able to take from this golden image as much as you may wish. Do not fear that you will harm me, because whatever you take will be replaced from the source of all endowments.’
So saying, he disappeared.
The very next morning a friend named Bay-Akal was sitting with Abdul Malik when the dervish spectre began to manifest itself. Abdul Malik struck it with a stick, and the figure fell to the ground, transformed into gold. He took part of it for himself and gave some of the gold to his guest.
Now Bay-Akal, not knowing what had gone before, started to think how he could perform a similar wonder. He knew that dervishes had strange powers and concluded that it was necessary only to beat them to obtain gold.
So he arranged for a feast to be held to which every dervish who heard of it could come and eat his fill. When they had all eaten well, Bay-Akal took up an iron bar and thrashed every dervish within reach until they lay battered and broken on the ground.
Those dervishes who were unharmed seized Bay-Akal and took him to the judge. They stated their case and produced the wounded dervishes as evidence. Bay-Akal related what had happened at Abdul Malik’s house and explained his reasons for trying to reproduce the trick.
Abdul Malik was called, and on the way to court his golden self whispered to him what to say.
’May it please the court,’ he said, ’this man seems to me to be insane, or to be trying to cover up some penchant for assaulting people without cause. I do know him, but his story does not correspond with my own experiences in my house.’
Bay-Akal was therefore placed for a time in a lunatic asylum, until he became more calm. The dervishes recovered almost at once, through some science known to themselves. And nobody believed that such an astonishing thing as a man becomes a golden statue—and daily at that—could ever take place.
For many another year, until he was gathered to his forefathers, Abdul Malik continued to break the image which was himself, and so distribute its treasure, which was himself, to those whom he could not help in any other way than materially.
Okay, take a break here.