Meditative stability, pt 2 Download
Meditative stability; participants’ experience with meditation on actions with clear and unclear intention; remedies for the following reactive emotions: desire, anger, instinct/blind stupidity/ignoring, jealousy, and pride; experiencing vs acting out or suppressing emotions; remedies are used to develop unfragmented attention; three kinds of stable attention; meditation assignment for upcoming week on exploring the difference between doing routine, simple activities as usual and doing them with a resting mind.The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 16.
Tonight we continue on the Perfection of Meditative Stability. Last week I asked you to look at your experience when you do something with a clear intention and when you do something without a clear intention. So, what was your experience here? Randye, you always have something.
Randye: When I’m clear about my intention, I’m more efficient.
Ken: More efficient or more effective?
Randye: Uh, both.
Randye: Actually. One being input and one being the product.
Ken: That’s an interesting way of looking at them. I usually compare efficiency and effectiveness as two different sorts of output. But you could look at them as one is input and one is output. That’s interesting.
Randye: And there’s a—I won’t say single mindedness—but rather an awareness of the path to which I’m heading, whatever it is, when I was looking at little things during the day, during the week, no, you know, major life issues.
Ken: But when you’re doing things in attention, then what I’m inferring from what you say is that there’s some sense of flow or consistency, or something like that.
Randye: Yeah. But there’s a linear progression that I’m more aware of as I’m in it, as I’m moving along it.
Randye: Maybe not linear, but a progression.
Ken: Yeah. Anybody else? Cara.
Cara: I find when my intentions are set—and I don’t want to say I’m sure (you were saying “not too sure”)—I’m a lot less self-conscious about how I respond to situations or…I don’t judge myself. If I react in a fiery way, perhaps in a given situation, I’m more likely to let it go, if my intentions are set up.
Ken: Yeah, this is something I came across several years ago. Intention is actually a path into non-self, because there is a joining with the task or with the activity, and hence with the world, and so the sense of self as something separate acting actually diminishes. It’s counter-intuitive, but it actually does work that way. Okay. Anybody else?
Helena: Well, I think it’s quite hard to say, but yes, I agree with what they just said. But sometimes when I’m actually meditating on that, and that’s pretty much what I told you last week about emptiness and all that, I have a sense of emptiness arising—meaning that I’m dropping things because, I guess, I’m paying more attention. And that brings actually up many fears. So, It’s kind of complex. And I wasn’t really able to get too much into it. You know, it sort of came up a few times, but…
Ken: Yes. There’s no one there, is there? So who’s talking with me?
Helena: Right. Yeah. It’s usually myself, talking a lot.
Ken: Yeah. It can feel pretty open, right?
Helena: Oh. A little too much, yeah.
Ken: Why too much?
Helena: I don’t know. I guess I’m not used to that. It’s still pretty dark.
Ken: This goes to something which I’ve been formulating, but I don’t have nicely packaged yet. And that is the idea that our sense of self is something we construct in order to feel that we are agents in our lives. What you are experiencing in part is well…all these things you’re able to take care of in your life, but it’s not clear who’s actually doing it. Or if there is any entity doing it. And this is so against our conditioning and how we’re used to relating to the world that it’s a little jarring, little confusing, and possible a little frightening.
What I’m going to suggest is that the fear you find arising is also simply an experience. And it can be described as the mechanism by which the sense of self is maintained. It doesn’t actually serve any other function than that. That’s something for you to explore. Do you find yourself lighter when it’s open?
Helena: Well, you know, fears, from what I understand now, if I live them or if I live into them…whatever. Yes, I guess I feel lighter. They just sort of go, but then they come back, pretty fast. Yeah, you know, yeah, it gets easier.
Ken: Yeah. Good. Keep going in that direction. Chuck.
Chuck: Well, I think, when you don’t have a clear intention, you sort of wander around more aimlessly. And where you do have a clear intention, things start to develop toward your goal of the intention.
Ken: That’s true, because the intention, as I said a few moments ago, needs you to join with the world. And so now you see and experience things differently, not apart from them. Also, you’re paying attention, to use the phrase of Uchiyama Roshi, to the direction of the present.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. Steve.
Steve: Something you said about the “no self in intention” makes me think of something that I think about with these two things, which is: there’s two ways. in a sense, that we can feel that we have lost ourselves. And with no intention there’s a sort of carelessness. All of a sudden an hour went by or you sort of stubbed your toe, because you’re not paying attention. It’s a not paying attention. But with real intense, focused intention, there’s also a losing of oneself—being present with the task. And they’re very different. But in each case, there’s not a self-consciousness.
Ken: Yes. One is—the former one—is the fragmentation of attention. So, it’s a manifestation of ignorance, if you wish. And the other is the sense of self dropping, because of the cohesion of attention. Okay. Right. Anybody else want to say anything before we go on?
Okay. We are in the middle of the perfection of wisdom. I can’t remember exactly where we left off, for some reason. It’s been a long week. I think we went through isolation…sorry, solitude…and we’re starting in Kenchog Gyaltsen’s—
Student: Isolation in body and mind.
Ken: That’s what I thought, too. Distraction. Okay. Section C, right? Yeah, which is on page 224.
Now, I don’t know exactly how things were practiced nine hundred years ago in Tibet, which is about when this book was written. The meditations described in this section are standard practices. One finds the same practices in the Theravadin tradition. In the Theravadin tradition, actually, they’re rather more fully developed. If you want to read about that, get the Path of Purity or the Visuddhimagga, very, very complete treatment of these things, and prescribing various forms of meditation according to which afflictive or reactive emotions are dominant in a person.
And for this, people are divided into three types—they call them greed, hatred, and delusion , which I think are just terrible translations. But, basically, the attraction, aversion and indifference types. And there’s various forms of meditations which are more suitable for one than the other or more effective for one than the other.
Here, they are describing for six combinations of reactive emotions, various forms of meditation. And the big problem here is that most people who practice this will simply end up suppressing that reactive emotion, because there’s a subtlety in doing this which is very important.
I’ve talked about expression and suppression before. Expression is where you act on the reactive emotion. So if you’re feeling attraction and you see somebody then, you know, you ask them out for a date and you get all involved with it. Or if you see something that you really like, you know, you buy it, and you hold onto it and so forth. Suppression is where you just don’t let yourself feel those feelings. In either case, it’s a way of avoiding the actual experience of the emotion.
When you buy something that you really like or are really attracted to, the energy goes out into the world, your wallet is emptied. All of you know what it’s like to be around someone who’s obsessed with something or really attracted to something. There’s an energy “out there.” They’re really not feeling it, they’re living in the story. And suppression is the same thing, except the energy goes into the body.
One of the exercises that I sometimes do with people, and you can try it on your own, is to take something that you like or enjoy that you’re attracted to, and it can be an object or it can be a person, it doesn’t matter, and open to the experience of being attracted, of the attraction running in you, of wanting that thing. And you open to the experience in your body, you open to all of the emotions associated with it, you open to all the stories in it, just right in that experience. And when you do that, if you then bring back the object to your attention, you’ll find that there’s been a change. And that grasping quality has dissipated, and there’s now the possibility of just appreciating that. There’s something in you that let go. That’s experiencing a reactive emotion, as opposed to just acting on it or suppressing it, which is the expression and suppression. And that’s what’s important.
Now, this first one has to do with attraction, and since this was intended for monks, it has primarily to do with sexual attraction. If you want to read about this in all its gory detail, Shantideva is absolutely hilarious! The Bodhicaryavatara or Entering the Way of Awakening says:
Why would this bag of garbage want to make love with another bag of garbage? When all it is, is just all these beautiful things painted on this sack which contains all of these horrible things which I don’t want to have anything to do with. It just goes on and on. It’s quite hilarious. Very different from what we have portrayed to us by the media and advertising, etc. today.
The idea here is: when you see things as they actually are, attraction or that desire falls away. Because you see that what you’re actually attracted to doesn’t exist in fact. That’s just an interpretation or a way of looking at things. And what’s driving the attraction is unsatisfiable anyway. And that’s what these meditations are actually designed to do is to move you into that, not just fill you with horror and disgust and things like that. This meditation’s really about seeing things in a deeper way so that the attraction falls away, and is not suppressed. Now you’re looking a little puzzled, Cara, I want to make sure this makes sense to you.
Cara: I’ve been up since 5 a.m., and I had a final today.
Ken: Did you pass?
Cara: Did you taste?
Ken: If you didn’t pass, we’ll burn the school. Okay. Any questions on this one before we go on? Is what I’ve said, does that make sense?
Cara: It sounds a lot like tantra, I mean honestly.
Ken: I don’t know how you’re using tantra here. Tantra works quite differently.
Cara: Well, I mean, the idea of object focus. And then, like focusing on the object, and then like unfocusing on the object. I don’t mean it in the icky sense, in the truest sense.
Ken: I didn’t think you meant it in the icky sense, but I’m not familiar with that use of the word tantra or what you’re referring to. Excuse my ignorance, please.
Cara: No, no, no, no. I don’t know that I can really articulate it in a proper way so maybe later. Sorry. Thank you.
Ken: Okay. All right.
Here, they have hatred—it’s anger. And we talked about anger before. Many people, when they try to remedy anger, practice loving-kindness. But it’s like putting wallpaper on a cracked wall. You get a nice façade, but it doesn’t really change anything.
When you have an angry temperament, and you start cultivating loving-kindness, that is a feeling of warmth, it’s going to put you right in touch with your anger. And the energy of that warmth, the energy of the warmth, which is characterized as loving-kindness, renders the anger inoperable, which is very, very different from suppressing it. So in order to develop that loving-kindness, you actually have to move into the experience of your anger, and let the warmth permeate that experience. That’s what’s going on in this practice. It’s not about putting on a pleasant smile and just acting as if you love everybody. You really have to let the energy of the loving-kindness penetrate the anger itself.
Lynea: I think I understand what you mean by that exactly, but I’m wondering if you can explain the difference between just practicing loving-kindness and having the loving-kindness penetrate.
Ken: Anybody you’re angry at these days?
Ken: Okay. So, pick a person you are angry at.
Ken: Okay? Now, you know what loving-kindness feels like. Right?
Ken: So, look at this person, and as you experience your anger, also allow the loving-kindness towards this person to arise. And tell me exactly what you experience.
Lynnea: An opening and softening.
Ken: Why is that happening, rather than a suppression of the anger? What’s going on in you? Or more particularly, I could say, what happens to the anger?
Lynea: It’s more that there’s space for the whole thing. It stops being—
Ken: Stops being the dominant feature? Yes. So, that’s one thing that happens. The loving-kindness is a higher level of attention. So you can experience the anger. Now, how important does the anger seem?
Lynea: It’s not concrete, it’s part of…it’s…just dissipated.
Ken: Yeah. It ceases to have the same level of importance. Okay? This is very important, because when we’re angry, we are seeing things in terms of the hell realm; it’s opposition. When you generate the loving-kindness, you’re no longer seeing things in terms of opposition. You actually have a bigger perspective, and you can see more parts to it and more aspects to the thing, so the anger, the narrowness of the anger can’t hold. That’s very, very different from suppressing.
Now, we’re just doing it very quickly here. But you do this over and over again, and anger actually loses its footing in that. And one lets it go because it doesn’t have any place to hold. But that’s a very different process from suppressing the anger. Is that clear now?
Lynea: Yep, that’s clear.
Ken: Good. Okay. Anybody else want to…? Chuck and then Randye.
Chuck: It seems like with the anger, you’re overly-focused, and if you just keep opening your whole vision, then it becomes less important, also.
Ken: That’s true. Yep.
Randye: You use the phrase letting the compassion arise. And I’m not sure what that is. But what I’ve experienced is when I look can straight at the anger, sit with it and stare at it, I find the…I feel sorry for myself. The compassion is arising towards myself, because I can experience what an unpleasant, disgusting feeling it is to be this angry person. And then from that compassion towards myself, it moves outwards towards the other person.
Ken: Umm-hmm. That’s also a path, but I want you to try this, too. Take somebody you’re angry at, and feel what has to happen in you for you to wish them to be happy. What has to happen?
Randye: Well, it’s a little hard to be angry at someone and wish them to be happy at the same time. So you have to let go of the anger.
Ken: Yeah. But that’s a letting go, not a suppressing. Now, tell me more about the letting go. What do you actually do there? Because this is very important. Because I suspect you don’t suppress it. What actually happens with the anger, When you generate that wish that they be happy?
Randye: It gets a lot smaller.
Randye: It gets in perspective.
Randye: The anger comes into perspective and…in that it’s a very small, insignificant thing.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. This is along the same lines as what Lynea experienced. Okay? The thing is that when you actually genuinely generate that wish that they be happy, your relationship with your anger, with the anger changes. And now that’s the shift that you experience. And that’s very different from suppressing.
When you suppress the anger, your relationship with the anger doesn’t change. You just don’t feel it. Okay? All right.
Now, ignorance. This is a very troublesome term. I’ve not really found a satisfactory English term to translate the Tibetan here. The Tibetan is gti mug; It’s not ma rig pa which is big ignorance—ignorance of the nature of being.
Here, it’s kind of blind stupidity. That’s why I often translate this as instinct, because it’s the way animals function. They function very well for what they’re conditioned, what they’ve been conditioned to do. But when they have to do something outside their condition, they can’t function at all. We all know what that’s like for us as people. But—and there certainly is an ignoring quality—it’s not so much ignorance as one ignores things in the world, and ignores things in oneself. So ignoring would be closer than ignorance, if you see what I mean. Does that make sense to you, Lynea? Okay.
Now, so what this is pointing to is the kind of the person who’s rather dull, not terribly intelligent, who isn’t curious about life and the processes of life, or actually what’s going on—certainly not reflective on things. And there’s a natural movement to arrogance from that, because arrogance is characterized by this ignoring quality.
They should contemplate the law of interdependent origination as the remedy. This almost always means the twelve links. You see, he goes on about the twelve links for the next two pages. I’m not going to go through all of this for several reasons. One, it’s quite complex. Two, I don’t find it particularly helpful as a remedy for ignoring.
What I want to suggest here is that the remedy for ignoring is learning or studying how things work. And frankly, I think it may not matter what you study. You can just take something and start figuring out and really learning how it works, and you almost find that you become interested and curious and this ignoring quality diminishes. And I think that’s what is being said here.
Now, what Gampopa’s doing is suggesting very strongly that one investigate how life works and the way life works is through this very complex interdependence of things, which give rise to experience. And the twelve links of interdependent origination is a very old and traditional formulation of that—of the complex interactions out of which the experience of life develops. I’m not sure it’s the most helpful one.
There have been three or four others, at least, in the history of Buddhism, some of them much simpler and more effective. There’s one that’s used in Vajrayana: snag mched thob gsum (appearance, increase, attainment and complete attainment). I’m not going to go into the details of it. But it’s a much simpler process.
I just want to suggest that if you find yourself ignoring things in your life and just doing things automatically, then a way out of that and a way to balance that, is just get curious about something. And start studying it in intricate detail. And you find that everything becomes more interesting.
Jealousy. It’s very interesting, the antidotes or the remedies that Gampopa’s prescribing here, because there are a number of remedies to these.
One of the traditional remedies for jealousy is taking joy and celebrating the success of others because jealousy is the opposite of that. You resent the success of others. Again, if you read the chapter on patience in Shantideva, where he’s going through taking and sending practice and discussing joy, he’s absolutely hilarious on our reluctance to really feel joy in others’ successes. It’s so wonderfully precise about the kind of stuff that Monty Python uses in their humor. You know, this terrible grasping of self and fear of deficiency and so forth.
Here Gampopa suggests a meditation on what I find is actually the outcome of equanimity practice. When you practice equanimity quite deeply, you come to the understanding that you are the same as everybody else, and everybody else is the same as you in that we all want to be happy; none of us actually want to suffer; and that everything we do is—in every moment—an attempt to make our world better right at that moment. Sometimes it’s just horribly wrong. But right at the moment, that’s what we’re trying to do: make our world just a little bit better.
And I have no idea how effective this is as a practice, because I haven’t done it as an antidote or remedy for jealousy. One of the things that I’m not sure that it addresses—I suppose it does but somewhat indirectly—is the basis of jealousy, which is an internal, a sense of internal deficiency: I am not enough. And so, you’re jealous of other people, because you see them in some way as being better than you, or doing things that you can only hope to do, or fearing that you may not be able to do all the time. And so, one seeks to cut them down. But It’s a manifestation of one’s own feeling of being less than.
If you take this sense of equality very, very deeply then it would address that they’re not that different. And certainly—actually, now that I think about it—this does work as a practice. I’m thinking of a retreat that I taught many years ago, and a young actress was at this retreat. It was her first four day retreat, and it was very challenging for her. And she would come in for interviews and say, “I’m having such a miserable time, Ken. Everybody else is sitting so still. Their meditation is so good. And all I could do is sit there, and my mind is just a big jumble with thoughts going all over the place. Everybody here is so much better than me. I really can’t do this.”
And I looked at her and asked her, “Are you squirming a lot in your practice?”
“No, I just sit there.”
“So, when somebody looks at you, they’re probably thinking, ‘Gosh, she meditates so well, She just sits there so still. And my mind is just a jumble of thoughts.’“
And she went, “What?” I said, “Yeah. I can tell you, because I have interviews with everybody who’s meditating in there, and they’re all experiencing exactly the same thing you are.”
And she went, ”Oh.” Then at the end of the retreat, when I asked people what was something they took away from the retreat, she said, “When I learned how miserable everybody else was, then I stopped being miserable at this retreat.”
So, it did effectively address her jealousy.
Okay. Pride. Pride is a direct consequence of ignoring, and in particular, one’s ignoring how one is the same. So, the remedy that Gampopa prescribes here is exchanging—putting yourself in the other person’s position.
Childish sentient beings always cherish themselves and work for their own benefit. The Buddhist cherish others and work for their benefit, so they attain Buddhahood.
When you put others’ needs ahead of yours, then it certainly is a remedy for pride, because you are no longer the focus of what’s most important in your own mind. You are putting the needs of others ahead of your own.
Now, you have to be careful how you do this. One person I worked with many years ago made a point of always being the first in line. So I said, “You know, I think you should do something about always needing to be the first in line. I want you to take a different position.” So, you know what this person did? Made a point of being the last person in line. Very important for this person to be in a privileged position—first, last, just flip it around, it works. Pardon?
Ken: I can’t remember. I can’t even remember who it was now. So then I suggested that they try not to be the first or last. You know what they did then? Right in the middle. So…Pardon?
Cara: When I taught little kids, the same thing would happen. It was always very structured-like.
Ken: Well, this is why it says childish sentient beings. This is the kind of stuff that runs in people all over the place. And you may think this is childish behavior, but I can tell you, when you get a group of people together you will always find some people behaving this way. It doesn’t matter what group of people you take, you know—old, young, middle, it doesn’t matter.
The way that I find that this works for me, and this works very, very deeply for me, is when I’m put off by somebody else’s behavior, you know, what they’re doing about things, then I will put myself in their position with a view of coming to understand how they could be acting the way that they do.
What I will say to myself is, “What state of mind would I have to be in, in order to say or do something like that?” It’s a little shift of position. And when I put myself in that state of mind then I often have an understanding, “Oh, gee, I’d have to be thinking that or I’d have to be feeling that. And that’s pretty horrible.” And now, I’m much more open to interacting with the person without that defensiveness or irritation or whatever because I know where they’re coming from, or I have an idea.
Art: That also seems like a way to handle anger, too.
Ken: Very definitely. Yeah. I mean, one of the things I got out of reading this and looking over this is that there are a number of methods to address reactive emotions. And the same method can actually address a number of different reactive emotions. So the matching of remedy and reactive emotion isn’t absolute. What I encourage you to do is to find methods that work for you, rather than doing the ones that you feel are being prescribed. Because different methods work better for some people than others.
The Dalai Lama was extremely explicit about this in describing his practice of loving-kindness and compassion. He found that none of the traditional methods spoke to him at all. And one of his teachers gave him the method of imagining a group of people over here, like fifteen or twenty (not too large a group, so you can actually relate to as a group), and him over there and weighing the needs of those two things. This is what spoke to him. That’s not a method that speaks to me at all. There are other methods which work much better for me for loving-kindness and compassion, like the ones I put into Wake Up To Your Life. So, there isn’t one right path here. If you read this over and think, “Oh, I can connect with this one,” then really work it and work it on as many emotions as you can, and work it quite deeply.
Yeah. Lynea. Oh…Molly?
Molly: I just wanted to ask you if this is this a good method to use for, like, when you recognize pride in somebody else, as well as when you are feeling it yourself?
Molly: Being with someone else who is in that realm, and you recognize it. Is it the same? Or would you then sort of take a different approach?
Ken: I need a better understanding of what you’re asking here. So, you’re interacting with someone who is, say, acting proud or arrogant. What are you suggesting?
Molly: I thought maybe you were suggesting, me putting myself in their place.
Molly: In their position.
Ken: How would that work for you?
Molly: Well, I’d feel compassion for them, because they’d probably be experiencing, you know, the isolation of that pride.
Ken: Okay. I’m going to push this a little further.
Ken: Would you be experiencing compassion for them, or feeling sorry for them?
Molly: That’s difficult to…I would aim at compassion but…
Molly: Feeling sorry for them could be a by-product.
Ken: Yes, feeling sorry for them is a form of pride.
Molly: So, then I’d be feeling what they’re—
Ken: What’s happened there is that you’ve moved into the same realm as they have except you have a very righteous reason for being there. This is not compassion at all.
Ken: I just want to bring that out. There is that danger. Basically, when we are interacting with someone who is right in one of these reactive emotions, what we have to work on is the emotion that arises in us.
Molly: When we’re with them.
Ken: When we’re with them. Not on the emotion out there, but the emotion that arises in us. When you’re interacting with someone who’s arrogant, what do you feel?
Ken: Anger. So, what’s the most effective way for you to work with anger? That’s the question.
Molly: Okay, it’s all about me, anyway. [Laughing]
Ken: It’s all about you [Laughter] Always. You know.
Ken: Anger is an emotion that arises when we encounter pride or when we encounter ignoring.
There’s a saying from one of the great plays, and I really can’t remember which:
Against stupidity even the gods struggle in vain. It’s also the title of a very, very interesting science fiction book by Asimov. Do you know it? Yeah, it’s quite fascinating what he comes up with in that one. But it’s a good account of what do you do in the face of stupidity. These two different races almost succeed in wrecking the whole universe, because various camps in both of them just don’t want to look at what is actually going on. It’s that ignoring quality.
It can be extremely frustrating and very, very difficult to deal with. And in many cases there’s nothing you can do except to wait until circumstances evolve to the point that people have to begin to recognize they’re on the wrong track. In the meantime, what we have to do is work with the reactive emotions that are arising in us. Always focus on what’s arising in you. Because that’s something you can do something about. Don’t bother focusing on what’s out there because you can’t do anything about that.
Ken: Very good. Randye.
Randye: A pitfall of this exchange of perspectives which I’ve fallen into and, I’m sure, every other women in this room particularly has fallen into…
Ken: Why not the men?
Randye: Because there’s a socio-cultural aspect to this—which is abrogating one’s own needs in favor of another.
Ken: I don’t think women have a monopoly on that, but there may be a socio-cultural thing there.
Randye: You know, minimizing oneself, going too far in the other direction.
Ken: Yeah. This isn’t about abrogating one’s needs. This is about understanding.
If you’re abrogating your needs, you’ve started ignoring something in your experience. It’s like the person who is at the first in line, now goes to the last in line. That’s exactly—it’s analogous to that. And so, whenever you ignore, you’re going to introduce an imbalance.
So I think your point is important here. When you exchange yourself for others, which is one way of working with pride… Let me put it this way. It’s something that Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche said to me; this is my sense of what Gampopa’s talking about. Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche once said to me,
You have a problem, Ken. You’re a little proud. You have to be either completely proud or not proud at all. Anything in between is a problem.
Now this sounds possibly outrageous, but it’s actually true. And what Gampopa is prescribing here is not being proud at all. You know, really putting others’ needs…letting that become the intention of one’s life. Now, when you do that completely, it actually works. But the operative word there is completely, because if you try to hold on to something, then we get exactly the dilemma you’re describing.
Cara: This really plays into a lot of what I feel like I’ve been struggling with lately. Just what you said about, like, a kind of all-or-nothing sense of pride.
I think in personal relationships it’s definitely essential not to be proud and to have some humility in the face of…I have no words today. But then, if in your professional life, if it’s completely in conflict with what you’re supposed to be doing to not be proud, you know, then what? Because that’s where I find I struggle. I really have been trying to rejoice in the accomplishments of others, and really be open and compassionate and empathetic in a field where I’m supposed to be sneaking up behind people and slitting their throats. And it’s been challenging.
Cara: And I feel like over the last week, I’ve had a lot more success with it.
Ken: How so?
Cara: Well, not success. What I mean is I’ve kind of started embracing the bear, instead of going, “Well, it should be this way. It should be that way. If I could just do this, then it would be that.” Instead of listening to that, you know, constant ticker tape, I’ve decided that perhaps if I’m going to be proud, I should go right on ahead and be proud. And not…
Cara: I mean, I told someone to shut up today. And I don’t tell people to shut up, unless they’re like a close, intimate friend, you know? And then it’s, like, done in flirtation. But like, you know, in a classroom setting where someone was being irksome, I actually said that.
Ken: Okay. I think we have to be careful of blanket remedies. Every situation is unique. But going back to what I was saying to Molly, what one works with is what’s arising in yourself. And so, I’m presuming here, that it sounds like when this person just kept talking, the level of discomfort or frustration in you became intolerable. No?
Cara: No, it was a very simple scenario. I was leaning over to take a cake out of a freezer, and there’s this table of people in my class that share the side of the room with us. And, um, they’re pot stirrers, and they’re all like nineteen, and we have absolutely nothing in common. And this girl was like walking up on me, and I almost bumped her cake. And she started to kind of berate me about it. But I was obviously there first, and I was leaning over, etc., etc.
So I stand up and I’m like, “I’m right here. Like, you saw me. Just wait.” So I close the freezer, and I turn around, and she starts telling me how I can’t talk to her that way. I mean, it’s like ten minutes until the clock stops, and she’s just yapping at me. And I didn’t say it like, “SHUT UP.” [Shouting] It was just like, “Shuuut uup.” [Laughter] Like, I don’t care, you know. And for me, instead of engaging it, and listening to it continue as soon as I said that it was more like I was saying it to myself, like just “shut up.” And I went about my business, and it was fine.
Ken: Well. I think you’re hitting on the important point here. You were getting in touch with what you were feeling. As you say in a certain sense you were just telling yourself to let go of this. And it came out, out loud. I mean, in that setting where you have things to do and things like that, you have to take care of your own space and so forth. But again, I’ll repeat, the essential thing was meeting what’s arising inside you and working with that.
Now, I want to go back to this context.
The reason that Gampopa is talking about all of these different reactive emotions and why it’s important to work on them is for one reason, and one reason only. And that is: reactive emotions or emotional reactions fragment attention, so you do not get the consistent meditative stability or stable attention. And that’s why it’s very important to work at these basic emotional reactions so that they aren’t constantly disturbing the operation of attention. These aren’t necessarily particular advice about what to do in day-to-day situations. They’re ways of working quite deeply so that you create the conditions internally for attention to be consistent and uninterrupted.
When you have all kinds of reactive emotions, that’s point six, then you have counting, following, abiding, analyzing, transforming and fully purifying. These are all different aspects of watching the breath. A very good book on this— it’s a little chatty but it covers the points. It’s called Breath by Breath, by Larry Rosenberg in which is his commentary on the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. It’ll give you the sense of how you actually go through all of this stuff because he covers this and more in it.
Now we come to the three kinds of meditation: abiding in bliss, accumulating good qualities, and benefiting sentient beings. And again, I want you to think of this as stable attention, not as meditative concentration.
Now, the phrase that I’m grateful for here comes from Gunaratana Saraha—who’s a Theravadin teacher; I think he’s in Virginia. He’s written a couple of books. The one I know better is Mindfulness in Plain English. And he’s a wonderful meditation teacher. And he summed up this aspect of meditation practice with these words:
When the mind joins with the object of attention, mind and body relax.
It’s said so simply and so clearly, I could even understand it, which is very nice. This is why I emphasize resting in the experience of breathing, because what I’m trying to do is through the instruction create the conditions so that mind joins with the experience of breathing. When that happens mind and body relax. What you’re experiencing, Helena, is you relax and things open, and you just aren’t quite used to that yet. But there’s nothing really wrong in that, it’s just different from what you’re used to experiencing.
And that relaxation, when we allow it, can be quite profound. It can be so profound that any sense of self drops away which gets a little strange. In that resting, then—and this varies a great deal from person to person—you’ll start to experience pleasant sensations, which can be quite explicit or quite subtle, usually first in the body and then in the mind. And people who are really able to rest experience a very, very high degree of pleasure (hence bliss) in body and mind together.
As Dezhung Rinpoche described it when he was teaching this stuff many years ago, he said,
You feel like your spine is made of gold coins stacked one on the other.“ You know, expressions, descriptions like that; so it can be quite dramatic. This isn’t something that I have an intimate connection with, because I have certain physical problems which have made meditation difficult. This kind of stability and just deep, deep resting actually, is the major aspect of meditation that I’ve worked in. I’ve learned a lot from having to work with it.
But the feeling, that quality of pleasure or bliss just permeating mind and body, something that many, many people have described to me. And all that is, is an indication of a quiet mind. It means that your attention is stable. And that’s good because it’s creating the conditions, the internal conditions, for you to be able to practice. It’s not an end in itself. That’s very important. Some people will think, “Oh, this is great.” And there’s many, many stories of people confusing the quiet, blissful mind for enlightenment or being awake. And they aren’t the same at all.
Then the second…this touches on what we said right at the beginning when we were discussing clairvoyance and extra-sensory perception and all those things.
When the mind becomes quiet and peaceful, many good qualities naturally arise. And you’ll see that in Kenchog Gyaltsen’s book, we’re on page 230 here, he’s footnoted all of these…the various qualities that arise. You’ll find a list of these at the back. I’m not going to go into them. All of these are the product of a resting mind. They aren’t particularly special in that way. All this reveals is how confused and how fragmented our attention is most of the time.
Then the third is: meditative stability that benefits sentient beings, that benefits others.
Well, it says things like “one can manifest limitless bodies.” I think we have to understand this as mythic language. Here, he’s leading into the combination of calm abiding and special insight, which is really—that special insight is really the next chapter on the perfection of wisdom. So, once that special insight is introduced, you’re no longer talking about the ordinary subject-object states of mind but something very, very different. And here, there’s zero separation from experience, so that your ability to function and interact with others is qualitatively different, because you don’t experience being separate from what is arising in experience.
As we’ve discussed before, when you join with a problem, then you know how to solve it. So, when you are experiencing no separation, you naturally know what to do and how to do it. It’s because, in a certain sense, the world is telling you in each moment. So, helping others is the natural product or consequence of this union of unfragmented attention. That’s the quiet or the calm mind and this higher form of knowing which knows no separation from experience.
The rest of the chapter is the usual stuff. He just repeats pretty well the same things. Yeah. What I want to emphasize here is that this is not about concentration. It’s about resting, and developing the quality so that in a certain sense your mind is always at rest.
One of the ways this is accomplished through mantra and in the Christian tradition through the centering prayer is that you repeat mantra—and it can me a mantra like Om Mani Padme Hum or the centering prayer or whatever. You repeat it literally all of the time. And when you’ve practiced this long enough, you first begin to experience that the mantra just says itself. You’ve said it so often that it’s just saying itself all the time. And then, when it becomes completely continuous, and it’s always saying itself, you’ve reached a very deep state of mind, a deep state of calm mind, because what you’ve done is replace all of the discursive thoughts, even the ones that operate beneath the surface with the mantra.
And that’s one of the powerful aspects of mantra practice is that you say it so much that it replaces the subconscious gossip, it replaces the discursive mind completely. And now you experience being quiet. That’s why it’s regarded as a very powerful practice. That takes a lot of work. Dezhung Rimpoche, who’s one of my teachers, was so inspired by Kalu Rinpoche being able to teach Chenrezig meditation to Westerners in the early seventies that he resolved to say 100 million mantras before he died. Well, why do you have these very large numbers? It’s so that you’re creating the conditions so that that mantra replaces the subconscious gossip. And that’s very powerful.
Questions? Yes, Chuck.
Chuck: Is the subconscious gossip you’re talking about like when…like when I’m meditating and in sort of in a dull state and almost fall asleep I sort of hear something sort of like another conversation going on in my head that I don’t even know about…
Ken: That’s exactly what I’m referring to as subconscious gossip. This phrase is actually Trungpa’s. I think it’s a very reasonable translation of the Tibetan. The Tibetan is og gyu which literally means “movement underneath.”
Chuck: I see.
Ken: So, it’s that little chattering that’s going on all the time. When you experience the mind resting so that that little chattering and the constant way in the background commentary on practice, etc. stops, then you go like, “Whoa.” It’s a very different experience. The mind’s actually quiet. And that’s what many people confuse as being awake. That’s just a quiet mind, now you have to develop the insight side of it. But that’s exactly what it’s referring to.
Chuck: I see. Okay. Thank you.
Lynea: So, when you said, “That’s when you have to develop the insight side of it,” the first thought that came to mind is—What is insight if the conceptual mind has dropped away?
Ken: No, the conceptual mind has stopped.
Ken: That’s different from dropping away.
Ken: And that’s important. Okay.
Ken: I can be technical?
Ken: Okay. I thought you might prefer that. Remember the Eight Consciousnesses?
Ken: Oh, dear.
Ken: You asked for it. We have the consciousnesses associated with each of the six senses, including thinking as a sense. Okay, that’s consciousness of sight, consciousness of sound, etc. Or consciousness of sight, consciousness of hearing—including consciousness of thinking. That’s all the gross stuff.
So, when that settles, then you experience the mind resting. But there’s still a sense of “I.” You know, like “I am resting.” When the mind rests more completely, that “I” drops—or it’s no longer there. And now what you’re—sorry—just that sense of I’m resting, that’s basically the seventh consciousness, which is called the emotional mind. That’s it’s technical name. It’s because you’re resting in the experience of “I” at that point, which is the basis of all of the emotional reactions. That’s why the phrase I’ve started to use now: the “I” is an experience, not a fact. Okay?
As the mind quiets even more, it becomes so quiet that that experience drops—ceases to arise. And now you’re experiencing what’s called the eighth consciousness, which is known as the store consciousness, the alayavijnana, etc., etc. Basis of everything consciousness is what I usually translate it as. It’s got a number of names.
This is what’s often mistaken for being awake, because at this point what you’re experience is mind being empty and clear. But it’s static. And as soon as there is any movement, you’re back into “I” and “other”. What happens is that you that have the eighth consciousness, but it’s the nature of mind to move. And as soon as there is any movement, the movement is experienced either as an experience as “I” or as an experience as other. Okay? This is why I say “I” and “other” are not facts, they’re experiences. Okay?
Now when you experience…when mind arises as clear, empty and unrestricted, it’s that third quality, then there is no sense of separation, and even when movement arises, it doesn’t move into “I” or “other”, it’s just experienced as movement. And that’s when I say you join completely so you know what to do. There’s no separation. And that’s qualitatively different from just the temporary stopping of the sense of “I” which comes about through resting meditation. In addition to the resting, you have to raise the level of attention, so there’s a seeing into the nature of things. And when that seeing into is completely stabilized, that’s when you experience no separation. Is that sufficiently straightforward?
Lynea: Conceptually, yes.
Ken: Conceptually, yes, I know. If I were a better teacher, I would have done it another way.
Student: Is that insight?
Ken: That’s insight. That’s the subject matter of the next chapter: is the perfection of wisdom.
This is what everybody’s been waiting for, right? [Sound of Ken paging through the book.] Oh, all kinds of wonderful arguments here. Oh, it’s so long. Hmmm…We may have to spend two weeks on this. This is going to ruin my schedule, because we’ve got to wrap this up. Oh, no, we’ve got all of July, so we’ll be all right.
Okay. This may seem like a very elementary assignment, but I think you may be in a position to appreciate it a little differently.
Earlier in this chapter we talked about distraction and isolation, you know, the agitated mind and seclusion and getting away. One of the things I’d like you to explore a little bit over the next week is to take—this will be easier with simple tasks such as washing dishes, most forms of cleaning actually—anything which is routine and doesn’t require a lot of thought. Walking is another activity, or most forms of working out. And what I want you to explore is the difference between doing those activities as you ordinarily do them (or doing any of these activities as you ordinarily do them) and doing them consciously—letting your mind rest in the activity itself.
So you might try this if you go for a walk to get some exercise or whatever. Make a conscious effort to let the mind rest while you walk. And feel how that is compared to how you walk ordinarily. We’re usually thinking about something, and just letting thoughts come and go.
Now, you let the mind rest in exactly the same way as you do in meditation. That is, you just let the mind rest in the experience of walking, in this case. And whenever you find yourself distracted, you come back to the experience of walking. And just the way I explained it in the beginning with respect to meditation.
Do the same thing sometimes with something a little more complicated, such as washing dishes or cleaning or some other routine task. Sweeping is a great thing to do this way, raking, except we’re not in the fall so we don’t have any leaves right now. Many of you will be able to think up or have other routine tasks. I’d like you to explore what is it like actually to do this task letting the mind rest.
You may be quite surprised that it’s more possible to do this than you originally might have suspected. And if you find that, then I encourage you to do this…to start making it part of your practice so this way you are practicing doing things in the resting mind. And this is a very, very good way to bring more of your life into practice.
And remember the distinction I made, I think it was last summer, between most people are trying to take their practice into their lives. I’m more concerned about bringing your life into your practice. And what I’m trying to address here is the way that we have to—in the circumstances in which we live—have to address this distinction between agitation and unfragmented attention. We have to make an effort in how we actually live.
To live with unfragmented attention not depend on removing ourself from the complexities of life so that unfragmented attention can develop. The basic difference in the way that we have to work. And meditation practice is still very important, because it builds up muscle and creates—and gives us a familiarity with the experience but then in this case bringing our life into that practice. Is this clear? Okay. Chuck.
Chuck: The walking would be more like a natural just like stroll than like a walking meditation?
Ken: Well, it’s one form of walking meditation, but yes, I am suggesting you walk quite naturally here. It’s not one breath, one step, or anything like that—which is a very good practice. But no, this is natural walking. But it’s a form of walking—it is a different form of walking meditation, if you wish.
Student: Correct me if I’m wrong. You mentioned the six emotional remedies for six emotional reactions for today. The sole intent of it is basically going back to unfragmented attention.
Ken: Yes, to stop attention from fragmenting. Yeah.
Student: Okay. So, in that case, why do I, in case of anger, why can I just not feel it like, “shut up” and be done with it? I feel it that sense, why do I have to embrace resolving it. In a good way, why can’t I just be present with it?
Ken: It depends on your capability. If you actually have the capability of dropping anger, then you drop it, and that’s all you need to do.
Student: No, what I mean is all of the remedies were in positive direction in social life, sort of. The remedies were—
Student: Why can’t I, when you look at it from like their view, perspective, why can’t I just be a Cara saying “shut up?”
Ken: Okay. Because it usually doesn’t work. That is, when we put anger out into the world, we get anger coming back at us, and then we get angry, and we actually create a vicious cycle for ourselves.
What Cara was describing, I think an important piece of it was, what she was dropping was her own reactivity. As she said, when she said “shut up,” it was more…it was directed as much to herself as it was to the other person. At least that was my understanding.
Cara: Yeah. I mean it was really interesting, because as soon as I said it I couldn’t hear what she was saying anymore. I mean, not that she was standing very close to me, but it was just kind of like I can stand here and be like, “No, you’re rude.” “No, you’re rude.” Or, I could just say “shut up”.
Ken: Yeah. Which is, from what I’m understanding, Cara stopped engaging the vicious cycle. So, that’s why we generally find it’s important to—it’s more beneficial and more effective—to address the arising of reactive emotions, which is the fragmenting of attention in ourselves. When we develop a certain capability then it becomes possible simply to drop it. I’ve run into several situations where that’s worked for me.
One of the first where I did it very deliberately was when I was in the three year retreat where we were being put… this was in the beginning of the second retreat, and there was a person outside who was making more and more demands on us. And actually making life more and more uncomfortable in the retreat. And one of the people in the retreat was really, really angry at this guy. And I would talk with him, and I would start to feel the anger, and after about a month of this I thought, “This isn’t doing me any good.” So, I just dropped it. It’s not that I particularly liked the guy, but I could feel the harm that the anger was doing to me. It was…pardon?
Ken: Yeah. It was disturbing. It was creating more and more disturbance in me. So, just telling someone to shut up usually sets in motion a whole cycle of reaction that we don’t want to engage, but if we can just let something drop in ourselves then we’ll find a different way of relating to things.
Student: Let me put it this way. The sole purpose of it, based on what you said—it wasn’t not you getting disturbed. It was you focusing in that—your intention, right? I’m assuming we’re in the learning process. So in the learning process—like earlier when I was meditating, I had an itch on my nose, and I scratched it. Right? I also cheated and looked at everyone to see how their face looked. So, after I get back the second time, I realize the more the itch I have in my face, and I ignore it. You mention that the most important part is going back to the awareness of “I’m going back.” That increased my learning process. The more I itch, actually, that was sort of like a reward in some way: I was more aware.
Ken: I understand.
Student: So my question is at this point why should I have to drop it. The more noise I make, the more aware I get.
Ken: [Laughter] There is in Buddhism an approach which is based entirely on that. Or not entirely on that, but it is based on that principle. There is a caveat. There is one thing one has to be able to do: you have to be able to stay in attention through that whole process, because if you ever lose it then all of the energy that’s built up goes straight into the reactivity, and that’s really not a good thing. So, it’s a high risk path. [Laughing]
Student: Thank you.
Ken: You’re welcome. Pardon?
Ken: Yeah. At a certain point in your practice, you go into a bar and you pick a fight. And you see whether you get angry when somebody hits you. If you get angry, then you go back to your cave and you continue meditating.
Student: It’s like The Fight Club.
Ken: Not exactly. You love that movie, I know.
Anyway. If you can stay present, as you described in the experience that’s arising, that’s very good. So, as you say, you started to stay present in the experience of the itch, and that increases one’s capability. Absolutely. And that’s what I’m talking about with these emotions. You stay present in them. By staying present in them, you develop the capacity to experience them without acting on them. And that’s how you develop unfragmented attention. That make sense? Good.
Okay. Any other questions before we close? Lynea, please.