Teachings | Awareness
Experience and Presence Download
Retreat format, structure, and materials; what is the view?; error of taking refuge in specific experiences; the mistaken notion of self vs. skillful interactions; the illusion of choice.
Welcome to you all. Ralph can I get some water?
Ken: Many of you’ve come quite far to be here and many of you I’m meeting in the flesh for the first time. Some you have met me innumerable times but I haven’t met you. By that I mean the podcast, which has become quite interesting though. So, you know all my jokes and so you actually know me much better than if you’d just read the book. It’s a little strange. But I’m very glad you’re able to be here and you’re interested in being here.
All of you have considerable experience with practice or you wouldn’t be here. So this is not a beginner’s retreat in any way, shape or form. There’s a pretty wide range of backgrounds but that’s fine. What is most important I’ve found, is that we all have the same intention, and I feel quite confident about that because many of you I’ve talked with one way or another or have looked over why you’re interested in coming to this retreat.
Has everybody here actually met each other? Okay, that’s good.
Student: No, there are lots of people—
Ken: Okay, so at the end of we’ll probably go around and everybody give their name, serial number and so forth.
This is probably going to be one of the more unstructured retreats you’ve participated in. And that’s quite deliberate for several reasons. One, you’re all experienced practitioners and many of the formal practice environments that were developed in Asia were developed for reasons that are not obvious to the naked eye. For instance, in Rinzai, and to the lesser extent in Soto Zen, you have the jukujitsu who walks around waking people up with a few slaps of a stick. Where did this very interesting ritual come from?
Well, in the early days of Zen in Japan—particularly Rinzai, it was very closely associated with the Samurai and the nobility—the monasteries were effectively the prep schools for the sons of the nobility. So, what do you do with teenagers who can’t sit still? But because it was Japanese society, everybody had to be treated exactly the same. So, that’s how it developed. I don’t think we need to treat everybody as the teenagers of the aristocrats—probably not necessary.
Another reason is that some of you will have a chance to explore meditating on your own intensively here. Others of you will prefer group meditation. This is the meditation hall. Here the meditation will be structured. It will be half-hour periods—well between 30 to 40 minute periods basically—adjusting for Qigong, punctuated by periods of Qigong.
I need to go over the Qigong. How many of you do not know the Qigong practices? Okay, so we need to do that this evening and we’ll also have another session on that tomorrow afternoon after [unclear]. So it will be Qigong at about 3:30. Yeah, that will be right, so Qigong in here at 3:30. The reason we use the Qigong is that we found it works much better to balance energy than walking meditation. It’s not the only method, but we found it very useful and it’s a very useful support for people’s practice on their own.
Another practice, which I will encourage you to do, is sky-gazing which is…well the dzogchen boys like to say, “That’s our practice.” But it actually comes up in the Prajnaparamita or perfection of wisdom and the Madhyamaka as well. And I’ll go over instruction for that probably not this evening. Because the way the weather works here the best time to do this is in the morning, either in the early morning or between breakfast and lunch. By 11 o’clock, 11:30 clouds are beginning to form in the sky and by the afternoon there’re usually clouds and then we’ll get intermittent rains. Thundershowers…cells will just form at random and you may have noticed coming here it’s actually quite green. This is the first year they’ve had proper monsoons in about eight or ten years, but they can come up very quickly and they also can be quite violent as Gabe was saying. And then sometimes we’ll get beautiful rainbows afterwards if everything is situated. So it’s very nice.
So, that’s why when you first get up there’s a period of meditation which you can practice with people in here or you can practice in your rooms or you can practice outside as you wish. If you are going to practice outside—this is something that we had last year which we didn’t have to the same extent before—have a large ground sheet because there are these nasty little things called chiggers which burrow into your skin and bite and things like that. Does anybody here have nail polish?
Joan: I do.
Ken: We’re so glad. See Joan if you’ve got chiggers, because what you have to do is—
Joan: It’s not red so—
Ken: Oh, that’s great. You paint it over the place where the chiggers are and it suffocates them. It’s the best way. Otherwise they get in there and it can turn septic and it’s just a mess. Some insect repellents are effective for that, I have a good insect repellent—but I don’t know how it is with chiggers—with me so if anybody wants that they can borrow it. But if you have a large ground sheet then they can’t really get at you. But if you’re sitting in the grass or something it could be a problem. First years we didn’t have that at all. I don’t know what changed but we have that now.
And if you are meditating outside, good to wear headgear because the sun’s extremely strong at this altitude, and also to wear sunblock even if you’re sitting in the shade. Make sure you wear sunblock ’cause the ultraviolet is also quite strong. Do people have sunblock here? Good, okay. And take water with you.
And then we’ll meet at I think it’s 7 o’clock, is that right? Yeah, we’ll meet here for a half-hour of group meditation, followed by the morning ritual and these are the chant booklets, which we can distribute now. There are a limited number of these, if you lose them you’re out of luck, so take good care of them please. Now, in the chant booklets you’ll see…actually there are a lot more here.
Student: We need one more.
Ken: You need one more?
Student: Just one more.
Ken: We have the morning ritual, which is what we’ll be doing at 7:30. In the morning ritual you’ll see one of the things is the Mountain Offering Ritual. This is a burnt offering so we’ll need someone to light the charcoal and take this outside. And I don’t think I have my Bic lighter. Does anybody have a Bic lighter? Good, thank you Nick. We may need it just to light the charcoal each morning. So we need a volunteer to take care of that each day. Forgot to tell you about that one, huh? Claudia didn’t tell you about that one?
Student: What’s that?
Ken: Claudia didn’t tell you about that one?
Student: Yeah she did, and of course she figured I would end up doing it.
Ken: Okay, evening ritual, group of prayers. We won’t be doing all of them. We’ll alternate between the Aspirations for Mahamudra and Ever-Present Good’s Prayer of Intention alternating that each evening.
Then you’ll see there’s a third section called Teachings. And here I put together a number of different prayers and teachings all of which pertain to what we’re doing here. Some of these are from the Kagyu tradition, some of them are from the Dzogchen, some of them from the Manifesting Absolute Reality is Dogen, one of a very famous teaching from Zen tradition. Verses on the Faith Mind is a beautiful poem from the Chinese tradition. And One Sentence Pith Instructions from the Third Karmapa and All The Matter in the World is a pointing out instruction from the Nyingma tradition of Tibet.
All of this is to flesh out and give you different approaches to the kinds of matter that we are going to be dealing with over the next ten days.
And finally you’d see in the supplemental practices or supplementary practices there are three things. One is a guru yoga that I actually wrote, or—that was a little bit of an exaggeration—put together from different pieces. It’s focused on Sukhasiddhi who is the woman that you see on the cover. Sukhasiddhi is one of the principle teachers in the Shangpa tradition in which I was trained, and has been a source of inspiration for many, many people over the centuries. And actually a student of mine who now lives in Las Vegas, New Mexico, asked me to put together because he wanted to use it as a basis of his practice. But many people do this, and since guru yoga is part of mahamudra practice or one approach to mahamudra, I wanted to include at least one guru yoga practice for those of you who wanted to do it in a formal way. I’ll talk more about that later in the retreat.
Then there are verses to keep in mind when you go to sleep and also some offering prayers for offering food, which you can learn and use. We’re not going to be doing that formally together, but I included it for those of you who want something like that.
Another thing is that for tomorrow, I want you to observe silence from this evening up until the end of lunch. Then tomorrow afternoon we have off completely so if you want to talk and socialize a bit that’s fine. And then after the teaching period in the evening we’ll go into silence for basically the next week, eight days. I would like to conduct this retreat in silence. Those of you when you’re doing cleanup duty, there may be some functional talking necessary like, “Please put this here,” or something like that. But keep it to an absolute minimum. After you’ve done the cleanup two or three days, you know, everybody will know the routine so we won’t need that. If you need to talk to Ralph about anything—personal needs, etc.—as much as possible do that through notes. If you’ve been bitten by a rattlesnake then please talk to him.
Of course the interviews and Q and As during teaching sessions, we can talk ordinarily. But when you refrain from speaking you’ll find that you come into much more dynamic connection with your internal material because we dissipate a tremendous amount of energy and are able to distract ourselves a great deal from what is arising inside just by talking. And when we stop talking then somebody does something or says something, now we have to feel all those feelings. It’s very useful. And I would like you to continue that in your rooms. It’s very tempting just to, you know, relax and talk to your roommate. I would ask you not to do that. Ralph’s tried to allocate the rooms in such a way, you know, it can be as simple and is straightforward as possible.
So the quality of the retreat depends a great deal to the extent which you practice silence. It does amplify the intensity of the retreat but again you’re all experienced practitioners so I think it’s fine to provide the additional element to work with. And I think you’ll find that your minds are just quieter because of the silence, and…
Now during the long periods of meditation where you’re on your own—which are the mornings and the afternoons—if you’re meditating in here, then I ask you to observe the timings, and the Qigong, and just…so there’s a sense of practicing together.
If you’re practicing on your own, you do this as you see fit. Some of you may find it best to appear at a practice and then go for a walk for 10 minutes or half-hour or whatever and then do another period of practice. This I’m going to leave entirely up to you. This isn’t about sitting rigidly for hours and hours on end. And I’m going to talk more about that in just a few minutes. But it’s for you to explore really being present in a way that feels natural to you. I’m going to trust you to make your own efforts here. I’m quite deliberately not creating an environment where the structure is something forced or imposed on you, because that’s not how we live. We all have to take responsibility for our own practice in the world, so we take responsibility for our own practice here.
You know what you have to meet inside; you know the internal material. If you have difficulty meeting that, that is what the subject matter of the interviews are. Usually when I’ve done retreats here—because the length of the retreats I’ve seen people every other day—but I’ve chosen this time to see all of you every day. For two reasons: one is so that…well actually I suppose three reasons. The first is so that you have the opportunity to ask questions about challenges, questions that come up in your practice, or insights—your experiences that arise as often people we’ll want to say, “Well, this is happening, does it mean anything, or how do I work with it,” and so forth. So that’s the first thing—to give you a regular opportunity to bring up questions, challenges or insights.
And that includes stuff coming up from internal material. I’ve found consistently that if people have the opportunity to talk about their experience in meditation then things can be fine-tuned progressively rather than building-up into big problems and imbalances. Which then take a lot more work. So, this I’ve found has been quite fruitful in the past.
The second is that we’re going to be working from this book: Clarifying the Natural State. You don’t have to have it, but I think many of you probably do. The reason I’ve chosen this one—and there are many good books on mahamudra—is that it’s set up as a series of pointing out instructions starting with pointing out how to let the mind rest, and then how to look, and then how to join those two together, and so forth. And though it says in the book, well you know, give them this instruction and let them work on it for a few days, etc., well, we’re just going to go through this one thing after another each evening. And so the second reason for the interviews is so that you can bring up any experiences that are coming from your work with the pointing out instructions and that can be clarified. And hopefully your skill and ability in practice develop consistently through the course of the retreat.
And the third reason for the interviews is that it makes you accountable for your practice. ’Cause, “What have you been doing?” “Oh, smelling the flowers.” “Watching the cattle.”
So, now, the next thing I want to talk about is the nature of practice. Basically you have to learn how to work very hard at doing nothing. And this is not very easy. The mahamudra instruction is very simple. One of the mahamudra instructions, one set of mahamudra instructions is,
Doesn’t leave you with a lot to do.
What has become clear to me over the years is that mahamudra and all of the direct awareness practices consist of making lots of relatively subtle effort to bring the mind—or attention, or you, whatever you want to say—into some form of presence and then resting. And the actual power of practice comes through resting, and the more completely you’re able to rest, the deeper and the more powerful your practice becomes. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m setting up a relatively unstructured schedule so that each of you can find, explore your own way of resting deeply.
Now this resting doesn’t mean going to sleep. It means being able to rest and be awake but really rest in being awake.
Now how many of you know the story of The Princess and the Pea? Okay, anybody not familiar with that story? Well, it’s a fairy tale, I can’t remember all the details but a prince is looking for a princess to marry, and he’s told by a wise old woman that the only way to find out who a proper princess is, is to put a pea under a hundred mattresses. And so he invites one woman over after another and they sleep on this bed. Eventually one woman says, “I couldn’t sleep at all last night, just black and blue. That was the lumpiest bed I’ve ever had.” And so, this is the true princess because she can feel a pea under a hundred mattresses.
Now there are additional elements to that story but the main point here that I bring it up, is that when you actually rest then you feel all the stuff that prevents you from resting more deeply. And it just brings you right into connection with it. This is often not comfortable. You’re like the princess. You get black and blue.
Mahamudra practice and the direct awareness practice, in general, consists primarily of learning how to rest deeply at first with and eventually in one’s internal material. And this is found also in the Theravadan tradition in the four foundations of mindfulness and particularly in the Full Awareness of Breathing Sutra in which the breath is used as a way of coming to that deep resting. But one has to be awake in this. That’s very very important. If the mind is drowsy, or dull, or unclear then you’re just sitting in a dull state, and that’s not helpful at all.
So, for this reason often when people are starting this kind of practice they’re encouraged to practice for relatively short periods so that the mind is constantly being woken up—is fresh and awake. So even if you’re practicing in a group you may start doing this, just resting completely for like literally a minute or two and then relaxing and then resting again for a minute or two. [Unclear] so that constantly fresh and awake mind and learning how to rest in that. And you may find that it works better for you to practice for half an hour and then go for a walk for 10 or 15 minutes, come back and practice again for half an hour.
This is what I want you to explore. But the quality that I want you to keep exploring is this quality of resting. When you begin to find that quality of resting in sitting meditation, I want you to take that quality of resting into simple activities such as walking. How can you rest in the same way walking? Eating. We won’t have to worry about conversation but eventually you take it into that. And you actually learn to do everything in this clear awake resting mind. And that provides a very, very good basis for the looking quality, which is also what we’re going into with mahamudra.
So that’s the reason why I’ve setup the schedule the way it is, and as I say for many of you this may be a very unstructured retreat so you may find yourself like, “Where are the boundaries?” But rather than, you know, the tight schedule and rigid meditation and things like that which can be very helpful, this is the way I want you to develop and develop these kinds of abilities. It’s going to involve knowing yourself and coming to know yourself in a different way and in a much deeper way, and that’ll be very helpful.
Any questions on anything I’ve said so far? How many of you are totally intimidated with it? Randy? Say more.
Randy: I don’t know, I’ve been driving all summer. But I don’t know what [unclear].
Ken: Okay but you just reminded me of another component that I’ve forgotten to talk about. Did you have your hand up Ken?
Student Ken: Thank you.
Student Ken: I wanted to ask about reading?
Ken: Yes that’s basically where I was going to go to next. Actually, the less reading you do the better. And the reason for that is that letting the eyes rest allows the mind to rest. And so if you don’t…if you don’t read you’ll find that your eyes rest in a way that you’re really not used to, we’re not used to it in this society. And that can be quite helpful. So if you don’t need to read then—other than prayers and things like that—then I would encourage that.
Student Ken: Okay. Well Mackey said, “I listen, I have recordings.” But do you suggest that it’s better not to bring in well, you know, maybe you have a book, a document, you know, a text that I brought along. [Laughter] Okay?
Student Ken: Late at night like to read before I fall asleep.
Ken: Worst time to read [laughter] for the purposes of this practice. Very definitely the worst time to read because it generates tension in the eyes and what I want you to do is go to sleep awake.
Student Ken: Yeah.
Ken: That would be very good—in fact it will be very unfamiliar to many of you. And people say, “Okay, I don’t read, I got all this spare time—what do I do?” Well you practice doing nothing at all. That’s what you do. And what is that like just doing nothing? And, what’s it Mencken says? You know, “We do our best to avoid reality but there it is calmly licking its chops.” [Laughter]
Student: Mencken, who was that? Who said that?
Ken: I’ve got the quotation in my commentary on the Heart Sutra which I have with me—I’ll dig it up. That’s not precise but yeah you know it’s, “If we avoid believing in things,”— or something like that—“but then there’s reality calmly licking its chops.” But that’s how it is so you’re going to deal with a lot of stuff that you’ve spent all of your life avoiding, and it’s precisely that material which keeps you from really resting and being awake. So in creating this very unstructured environment I’m giving you plenty of opportunity to encounter those monsters. Yes?
Student: If one is lucky enough to rest in attention for a short period, how do you know when the end of the short period is?
Student: When I have this experience of resting in attention it just dissolves after a while and I really don’t have an internal gong like…
Ken: Can you tell when it dissolves?
Ken: Then stop. Start again.
Ken: Or you can just do it for a short period of time, and stop before it dissolves and then start again. I know, it’s really hard, you know, because you have to be…I mean, how much patience do you have? When we started doing this retreat our retreat teacher didn’t let us meditate for more than a minute a time. It just drove us nuts.
Ken: Yeah. “AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!” I’m going to take longer. Nope, sorry Ken.
So the second thing, there are three ways that people are—this is in the Tibetan tradition which is what I’m trained in—are directed into this way of practice. There is developing the view and using the view as the basis of practice. And then there’s developing the practice which brings you into the view. And then there’s developing the view which brings you into the practice. Now, you think didn’t you just say that.
The first developing the view is done by study and analysis. And this is like doing all of the Madhyamaka, dialectics and things like that in which you get an intellectual understanding of the view. And on the basis of that you start practicing. We’re not going to use that approach at all because it’s too intellectual—I don’t like it. I was having dinner with a friend in Santa Fe, brought his girlfriend along who was going to do a retreat. And she said all the analytical… And I said, “What kind of retreat?” “Well it’s actually a mahamudra retreat, and we’re going to be doing the analytical meditation.” At which point I just started banging my head against the side of the booth. I said, “What are you doing that for because this is completely useless.” I mean it’s not completely useless, but 98% useless as close as I can tell.
Then the second method is you practice and through the practice you find the view. This is primarily the approach we’re going to take. It’s the mahamudra approach, or at least the way I was trained. And I will be giving you, to the best of my ability, quite precise practice instructions. And through this you’ll find yourself, hopefully, experiencing things in one way or another, which probably won’t make much sense to your intellectual brain, which you can just quietly put aside and say, “Take a holiday.” But it’s a way of experiencing.
And the third one is using some kind of pointing out instruction so people have some experience of the view and then they use that as a practice. This is primarily the technique used in dzogchen. But I like the mahamudra approach because it does give you a little bit to work with. But I want to emphasize the way that we’re going to be working is not an intellectual or conceptual way. We’ll be using words and concepts in order to communicate, but it isn’t…. When I ask you, if I ask you such questions it’s like, “What is the color of your mind?” I don’t expect you to run a spectrum analysis because it’s not going to be helpful. Again one of my favorite quotes these days is from John Audubon,
When there’s a discrepancy between the book and the bird, believe the bird. [Laughter]
Student: What is the view?
Ken: Oh, that’s there’s no ground to experience. In a nutshell that’s the view. Nothing exists in its own right, there is no ground to experience. I’ll be going through this in more detail around third, fourth day of the retreat. And the way that I’m describing the approach to practice here is…and this is finding the view through practice. So, you’re going to practice having no ground. Which is profoundly disturbing. This is what you been dreading Randy?
Ken: Yeah, he says with great eagerness. And it’s a little disturbing. And so if we begin to relate to actually having no ground and then somewhere along the line we may find out this is actually how things are. And then things are really disturbed.
Now there’s one thing I want to say to put this into a larger context, and I probably should have begun here originally. How many of you’ve have ever heard this word satori? Yeah. How many of you have had satori? How many of you think if you had satori it would solve, if not all of your problems, then an awful lot of them? Yeah, I mean we all believe that, right? It’s cracked up to be this way.
There is an approach in Buddhism, which puts an emphasis on having certain experiences. There is a method, and not only that, there’s a whole—I think probably in Tibet and other Asian countries, but certainly in the West—there’s a large contingent of people who practice in order to have certain experiences. And that’s what they’re aiming for. I think this may have been influenced by acid in the Sixties.
But the underlying thesis here is that the right experience will save you. You know, “If I have the right experience then everything will be clear to me.” Well, if you put this in the Buddhist context, you’re taking refuge in an experience. That’s what you’re doing. This is probably not such a good idea. And yet I see this attitude and approach on a number of websites and writings of a number of people.
The question may arise, “Why, why am I doing this?” It’s almost certainly to arise in some of you over the next 10 days. Well this is where the larger context is very important. When we look at life it’s not at all clear what it is. In fact it’s very confusing because on the one hand, we are subject to the laws of biology and physics. That is if we step off a ledge, gravity takes over, and there’s very little we can do about that. Now, wear a parachute or jetpack or something like that but those are temporary expedients—you know, we fall. We also need food and for nourishment, if we don’t eat or drink we die. And we’re going to die anyway; this has been subject to the workings of biology. And so there’s that aspect to our experience.
And then there’s this other aspect which takes us in a very, very different direction, where, if you’re talking about there’s absolutely no ground in anything, experience seems to arise from nowhere, goes nowhere, isn’t anywhere. We’ll talk about [this] a bit more later. And so it seems like even laws of physics and biology are just experiences which arise, and it all seems very unreal. And we have these two aspects with us all the time. Many people try to avoid this conundrum. And we have on the one hand the materialists who deny any significance to those experiences—no-thing-ness and non-self, etc., etc.—and saying, you know, we’re just creatures of matter and so that’s how we should live. And things actually exist.
And then we have the idealists who say no all of that is simply appearance, and what is true is this emptiness. And this debate has been going on for several thousand years. The fact is that the materialists occasionally have these experiences, and it completely blows their mind, and it upsets their world and the idealists die like everybody else. [Laughter]
So that one could look at this as another opportunity to practice the middle way. It’s neither one nor the other. Or both.
So, then the question is, “Okay, what do I do?” Well, there are various answers to that that have been developed over the ages. My own answer to that comes out of actually two streams of thought, one is bodhicitta and all the teachings connected with that, and the other is Taoism.
On the bodhicitta side—and these aren’t unrelated—those two streams of thought, come together for me. On the bodhicitta side we have to relate to this experience we call life. We can’t ignore the laws of physics and biology, and in particular we encounter other people and we interact with them. Despite our best efforts we seem to have to do that, okay. [Quiet laughter]
Kalu Rinpoche, my own teacher, went off into the mountains to practice and he was quite happy to do that. You know, very occasionally he would come into town and get a bag of tsampa and then leave for another six months or a couple of years or whatever.
But then he got this letter from the head of Palpung Monastery in eastern Tibet saying, “Please come and teach the three-year retreat.” And he said, “Well, I was quite happy in the mountains so I ignored that.” That’s like getting a letter from like the archbishop of the diocese or something like that. Or cardinal, more like a cardinal. And so then he got another letter. This is from someone who had much closer connection with the Palpung Monastery, number two Palpung Monastery saying, “Please come down and teach the three-year retreat.” “I ignored that letter too.” Then he got a letter from his own teacher who was a pretty wrathful guy. And it said, “You’re very welcome to stay in the mountains, but if you do so never darken my doorstep again.” [Laughter] And Rinpoche told me this himself. He said, “So I had to leave.”
So even he couldn’t avoid dealing with people. So you have to deal with people. And the big thing here is that, this is where the ethic of compassion comes in. Compassion…it’s the only way to interact with this experience we call life. But in order to be able to interact in a way that doesn’t cause suffering, either for ourselves or for others, we have to be extremely precise and skillful in our interactions.
And as our understanding of that deepens we begin to see that this notion of self from which most of our actions are based actually prevents us from being skillful in a lot of situations. It says, “No, you can’t do that because you’re you.” And you go, “But that’s the right thing to do.” And that other voice is saying, “No! No! No! This is important. That’s important. That’s important. No.” And so it gets in the way. Sometimes it even gets in the way of being able to see what the right thing to do is, very often.
So learning how to operate without a sense of self, learning how to be in life without a sense of self, a fixed notion, a belief in that, that’s very important. And that’s really what mahamudra and dzogchen and all of these direct awareness practices are about, is coming to know that, not intellectually, because knowing it intellectually is almost useless. If knowing it experientially, what is that actually like? And how do you operate? How does one function from that? So that’s basically why we’re here.
Now, a lot of people do this subtle little twist that I was referring to earlier. They take these experiences of non-self, etc., as being the goal. They aren’t the goal. They are the means by which we come to be able to negotiate life with complete skill and actually negotiate life in a way that we end suffering, which is the purpose of the practice of Buddhism. But it doesn’t come because the experience saved us. The experiences actually, you know, don’t do anything for us except give us a greater range of freedom from which to act. And there’s a very, very important irony, and we’ll go into this in more detail towards the end of the retreat:
The more aware you are, the less choice you have. And as I said earlier,
The illusion of choice is simply an indication of a lack of freedom.
Ken: You like that one don’t you? You’ve heard me say that before.
Student: Yeah [unclear].
Ken: I’ve trotted it out somewhere. And why is this? When you don’t see things clearly you have the idea, “Well, we could do this, we could do that, you know, there are all sorts of ways we could approach the situation.” But when you really see a situation clearly how many options are there? Yeah, one, sometimes two. Very, very rarely are there three. Usually it’s just like if you really see something clearly there, well that’s what has to happen. So the more clearly…when you see things completely clearly you find you have very, very little choice about what you do.
And, I mean, it’s just like a doctor when they really see what a person’s illness is there’s, you know-and all of the different factors surrounding that illness etc.,—there’s only one course of treatment. And you can apply that in any area where there’s skill. And so what we’re doing is learning how to approach life at that level of skill. See things that clearly so we know simply what needs to be done. And whether we are in a position to be able to do it and having the ability to do it. That’s the actual purpose of our engaging these kinds of practices. It isn’t to have experiences.
Does this make sense to you?
Ken: Okay, are you all right with this? Has anybody come here really thirsting after experience? I don’t know.
Any questions so far or on that section, chapter?
Student: What’s the difference between insight and acting with insight and acting with compassion?
Ken: Insight without compassion would leave you the possibility of manipulating situations for your own advantage, because you see deeply into how things work. That’s the insight part. But compassion—you’re not relating to the suffering that may be present in them. So your own agenda can run. Okay?
Compassion without insight can be clumsy and even tyrannical.
Student: Even what?
Ken: Tyrannical. Tyranny. Is that the right…tyrannical? Okay.
Student: Like a man over-punishing their child or something?
Ken: Well, you have an idea what helps and you impose it. So it may not be punishing a child, it may be like the International Monetary Fund hints that the best thing for a country is austerity measures and thus reducing, for in the case of Argentina, a very flourishing economy to poverty in ten years. Which is actually no small achievement. But that’s exactly what the International Monetary Fund was able to do by imposing these austerity measures. You know, “Oh, you go a little trouble then you can borrow the money from us but you have to do X, Y and Z.” And there was almost a complete devastation of the Argentinian economy—thinking that they were doing the right thing so without really seeing what it is. And that’s why you have to be able to see very, very clearly. And the sense of self is one of the things that gets in the way of being able to see clearly is you’re coming from your own perspective and not how things actually are. That answer your question?
Ken: Okay. Other questions? Yes, Karen.
Karen: Are we…are you asking us to completely give up our regular practice during this retreat?
Ken: Ah, good point. If you have a regular practice then use one of the practice sessions, like a half-hour or whatever you need, to do that so you keep that going. Yes, thank you for reminding me about that. Yes, you should definitely keep your regular practice going but don’t make it the main subject matter of the retreat.
Leslie: What about movement practices that we already have?
Ken: You should find time in the schedule to be able to do that. I mean you’ve got all the time in the morning and all the time in the afternoon. What kind of movement practice do you do?
Leslie: Running and yoga.
Ken: Okay, yeah, and that’s fine. See how you do with the running here. Take it easy in the beginning because you’re at altitude here. What altitude is Calgary?
Leslie: I’m not one hundred percent sure but about half I think.
Ken: So and it’s going to be in the 90’s or high 80’s and 90’s, 90 for the next week or so. I don’t know what it is after that, so make sure you drink water. But the area in the guesthouse, the common areas, before you can practice yoga just do it in a way that you aren’t disturbing others, that’s all. Or other movement exercises. In the past we’ve had movement practice as part of the retreat but the person who does that, has done that in the last three or four retreats, isn’t here. So we’re not sure what we’re going to do about that so. And that’s one of the reasons I’m going to be doing the Qigong to help with that but…
Leslie: Are you going to do any Tai Chi?
Ken: I may do Tai Chi like at 4, 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon. I haven’t taught it before but I’ve been practicing like for twenty years now. It’s part of my…that’s movement practice that I do. And it may be helpful to people to do that. So. Peter?
Peter: I have two questions. You said, back to reading, you said not to read much but what about the book?
Ken: Yeah, because there’s not a lot to read there.
Ken: You know, I mean it’s very nice you see. You can read all of this you want [laughter].
Ken: You see, there isn’t that much to read but you know, I’ll be going over this section by section. I suggest you just re-read the sections that I go over because this isn’t really about study. The purpose of this retreat, from my point of view, is to let your mind rest. And so, you know, go for a walk. But as you go for a walk let your mind rest. You know, sit on the deck, look at the scenery, watch the trains, watch the clouds. Rest.
So, I mean, and I’m quite serious about this, this isn’t about learning new stuff intellectually. I’m not the least bit interested in you doing that. And what I am interested in is you making full use of this time that we have together so that you’re actually learning how to rest. Which is kind of different isn’t it?
Peter: I guess the second part, which was about writing…
Ken: Journaling? Ditto for reading.
Peter: I’m sorry?
Ken: Ditto for reading, it’s the same kind of thing.
Ken: Yeah, minimum.
Ken: Because when you’re writing you’re engaging the mind in a certain way.
Ken: And it’s not resting.
Peter: Yeah, but… [Much laughter]
Ken: I’ll tell you what, I’ll make a deal with you. You get three sentences.
Peter: Okay. Long sentences. [Laughter]
Ken: Pardon? Oh, yeah, I mean you see this is where it starts.
Student: [Unclear] you hit a boundary.
Ken: No, no you hit a pea. That’s what you’re doing: this is a pea.
Peter: Oh, yeah.
Ken: This is the pea at the bottom of the mattresses. That’s what you’re running into, and you’re going to run into a lot of them. And you’re going to be very black and blue like the princess in the story. Because this may be the first time you’ve actually considered actually resting this way. Like doing nothing. And it’s a ten-day retreat; I did a three-week retreat, dzogchen, like several years ago, which was like this. It was actually even more unstructured than what we’re doing here—considerably more unstructured. We only had one meditation instruction it consisted of two words: “Do nothing.”
And I lasted about fourteen days. And then I started to get quite itchy. You know, but it was very, very deep, very…it was a very, very good retreat. But really doing nothing. I didn’t read at all, didn’t write at all—didn’t do any of that stuff. Nothing.
Leslie: Well that was sort of my question about the movement…
Leslie: How the yoga practice I do is [unclear] yoga so how honest can I be with myself that I’m resting when it’s moving quite a lot.
Ken: Well I’ll introduce a perspective for you. I don’t want to give you everything tonight, I’ll just give you this much. This will be a good start for you, Leslie: explore how to do your movement yoga without moving. [Laughter] Good start?
Leslie: Not all day.
Leslie: Not the whole time, though. Tomorrow. Okay, I’ll work on it.
Ken: That’s an exploration.
Ken: So you start doing the exercises but how do…you know, what is moving? It’s an exploration.
Leslie: Okay, okay.
Ken: So, how do you do this without anything being in motion? That will be quite interesting exploration. Okay. Other questions?
Student: Were you going to say more about sky-gazing practice?
Ken: Ah, yes, but I don’t want to go into it too much tonight. I mean if you want to practice sky-gazing then just look at the sky, do not look in the direction of the sun. When I first came out here, ’cause I was scouting for a dzogchen retreat, I was very happy because this is on the north side of the mountain. But the sun’s pretty high in the sky so it’s not…not ideal. That’s why I was suggesting in the morning the sun would be over there so there are some slopes over there which are facing to the west then you would be able to just lie back and look at the sky. There are some chairs out on the deck over there. They don’t have good lawn chairs for it. Talk with Gaye about that. But you just look at the sky and you put your mind, your eyes right in the sky and just rest like that. And I’ll go into it in more detail later but that will be left for tomorrow.
Anything else to go over? What time do you got? We’re at 9:15, okay. I think that’s everything. [Unclear] stop here.