A Trackless Path 13
Teachings | Training
How do you go deeper into body, beyond words, and rest? Once there, what’s next? Recorded in Des Moines, NM, 2010.





Rely on the Principal Witness Download

Learning to sit in the mess; discussion of the mind-training principle: “Rely on the principal witness;” avoiding institutional mindsets; path as a process of growth; importance of sangha; more discussion of “The Wisdom Experience of Ever-present Good.”




Section 1

Tuesday, September the first, A Trackless Path, morning session.

Well, I’ll just speak from my own experience. It’s very important to learn how to sit in the mess.

Student: To sit in what?

Ken: It’s very important to learn how to sit in the mess. Now, because of what we read and often what we are told about meditation, we have this idea that when we meditate the mind should be quiet, calm, stable, clear, etc., and that sometimes happens.

But probably just as often, our experience in practice is a little different—that favorite tunes play in the background incessantly. Something pops up from another lifetime, you know, when you were a teenager or in college and something we did or something that somebody said to us, and we just can’t get it off our mind. Maybe if we’re concerned about something, it’s coming up in our lives, we start to strategize and think about it. Conversation, a decision, whatever. For me, it’s usually all three of those going on at the same time. And the more we try to get rid of it, the less successful we become.

All of that activity is an indication of tension in the system. And one usually doesn’t get rid of tension by generating more tension. So this is why it’s very important to sit in the mess. We let things be as they are and learn how to relax and rest in that.

Now, I’m asked time and time again, “How do I stop discursive thoughts?” Well, as somebody said, “Thoughts are to mind what sweat is to the body.” What do you do? You can’t stop discursive thoughts. And it’s not like you can turn a switch and go “click”—they stop. Or you can pull a plug and they stop. Because as I said a moment ago, they arise from tension in the system. And of course, having said that now everybody’s going to go and hunt around for that tension and develop lots of tension by hunting around for the tension. Right? So it goes.

The way that you work is when you notice that you’re thinking about this and that and all of this stuff’s going on, you come into your body experience. And part of the body experience is the motion of the breath. So you come into that experience. And you may feel tightness or discomfort in other parts of your body. And as long as your posture is straight and the body’s relatively relaxed, then you just open to those experiences of discomfort, all of the body sensations.

A great deal of thinking has the function of dissipating attention so we don’t experience those physical sensations. There’s a Tibetan expression—Body on the cushion, mind in the body, relaxation in the mind. And as always we should remember that we can substitute heart for this which, in English, often gives a very different flavor. Body on the cushion, heart in the body, relaxation in the heart. Now this gives a very different flavor to our practice.

Mind in the body means we’re aware. We’re experiencing the body as we sit. And people say, “Well, aren’t I meant to be experiencing loving-kindness or compassion or emptiness or clear light or all of this stuff.” Well, maybe. But right now it’s the body.

And as you rest in the body that way you notice how the mind bounces around. We bounce around from one thing to another. In fact, we probably should drop the word mind here, and just say attention bounces around. So we keep bringing the attention back into the experience of breathing, into the experience of the body until attention begins to settle in that experience. And when it begins to settle, there is a significant decrease or shift from discursive thinking. And this doesn’t come about by trying to stop the discursive thinking. It comes about by opening to our experience more completely.

And as we begin to rest in the experience of the body we become far more aware of all of the different thoughts and feelings that are actually going on. But our relationship with them has changed slightly. So we’re less likely to be caught by them. But in some respects it seems like it’s even…where we thought it was just a mess now it seems like an infinite mess.

Well, that’s kind of a good thing actually because if we thought it was a mess there’s something we could do about it. But if it’s an infinite mess then it’s hopeless. So we have no choice but to experience it all. And giving up that hope of really quiet meditation is probably a good place to start.

So maybe that’s something that’s useful to you today.


Section 2

And now we’ll take one or two questions, if there are any. Yes, JP. Behind you is the mic. Larry.

JP: So in practice if you reach a state of clarity and then it just goes horribly awry [laughter] and you find yourself wanting that back do you just rest in the wanting it back?

Ken: “Wanting it back” is a thought.

JP: Okay.

Ken: Right?

JP: Sort of, maybe a feeling or a longing.

Ken: Yeah. You need to hold the microphone like this otherwise nothing—

JP: There’s a longing as well I think.

Ken: Yeah. Longing is a feeling, right? And what’s the body experience associated with that?

JP: Well, there’s discomfort and wishing to return, I think.

Ken: Yeah. Well, wishing to return turns up in the story and the feeling level. But there are body sensations associated with that. That’s where you come back to. That experience. Like “Ooo. I want that back so much! That was nice. I could rest there for a long time.” Now it’s just the usual mess, right?

JP: Yeah.

Ken: Well, that’s what it is. And when you have experiences of clarity or non-thought or bliss or any of these things that can arise, they come and they go. And the tendency is to try to hold onto them or try to go back to them. Neither is possible—ever. And so instead you just come back to the practice.

And, as I said last night, understanding is relatively easy here. What practice consists of is doing. And it’s by doing things again and again and again that other ways of experiencing the world become possible.


Section 3

Many years ago I visited a retreat center here in New Mexico called Vallecitos. Absolutely gorgeous place. It’s an inholding in the Carson National Forest. Just stunning. I would go for walks, and there is nobody except for—what used to be a hunting lodge, but it’s now a retreat center—this cabin. There’s absolutely nothing around for miles and miles and miles. You go into the woods and there are all these paths. What are these paths? Where’d they come from? They’re elk paths. And so, you know, elk come through and one elk walks through. And walking through, breaks down a little bit of brush and kicks a few stones out of the way. And another elk comes behind, does the same thing. And another one comes behind. And after a while all the elk go down this path because it’s easier than going through the bush.

And what we’re doing in our practice is forging new paths for experience to arise. And sometimes something arises. We can’t hold onto that. We go back and now we do the same thing again. And that path consists of resting in the mess, and developing skill and capacity so that we can actually relax in the mess. And as we relax in the mess the tension in the system releases, and now the mind becomes quiet and clear quite naturally. It’s not something that we make happen. It’s something that we create, potentials that we create through doing this over and over again. You follow? Okay.


Section 4

One question from Randy and then close ’cause breakfast is waiting.

Randy: What is the correlation or non-correlation between mind and experience?

Ken: As we use them in Buddhism they’re pretty much the same thing. Mind emphasizes the what experiences side; experience emphasizes what is experienced side. But you can’t separate really, the experiencing from what is experienced. So they’re really just different ways of talking about the same thing. That’s why in the refuge prayer instead of saying “Take refuge in mind itself, empty clear without restriction,” I changed it to experience because it’s actually more accurate. We open to our experience and we discover, oh, there’s nothing to it. Rises vividly, very clear and vivid.

The way that Rinpoche used to say “What is mind?” it was the Tibetan phrase mi dren dgu dren [pron. mi tren gu tren]. mi is the negative and dren means activity—remembering, recollecting, that’s the word there. And then dgu means many. And then it’s the same dren.

Now what you have to know about Tibetan is that they form abstract ideas by juxtaposing opposites. So the two opposites here is no experience, much experience. And so you get the whole range of experience. So that’s a way of understanding mind. It’s not something inside us that knows. It’s the act of experiencing and the experience itself.

Randy: Is that why you use the phrase “mind does not exist”?

Ken: It doesn’t exist as an entity. Exactly. Yeah. Okay.


Section 5

Okay. Tuesday, September first, A Trackless Path, evening session.

Many possible directions to go this evening so if this is a bit scattered or if you feel like you’re being led down the garden path across a desert through the forest under the sea over the mountains, so be it.

One of the first things which Bill just reminded me of before we started—and this has come up in many of the interviews I’ve been having with you. Let’s start with a simple question: how many of you have expectations about your practice, of what it should be like—

Student: [Unclear] And used for—

Ken: And how you should be in the world as a result of this practice? Well actually I was going to say one of the more troubling but that’s not really fair. One of the more relieving and one of the more troubling instructions in A Great Path of Awakening is “Rely on the principal witness.”

Student: Can you repeat the last word that you said?

Ken: Witness. It could be judge, too. And the commentary says, as you practice mind training, people may come to you and say, “Oh, you’re such a nicer person than you used to be. You know, you’re much easier to get along with. You must be making great progress in your practice.” And so you think, “Oh, I’m getting somewhere.”

But that’s regarded in mind training as an unreliable witness because people don’t know what’s actually going on inside you. All they’re doing is basing it on behavior. And this certainly has happened to me. I mean in the first three-year retreat I got a note from my wife who was in the woman’s retreat saying, “From what the other guys are saying you’re making great progress in your practice because you’re much easier to live with now.” [Laughter]

And this was further confirmed many years later when I was in Vancouver. And I was in Vancouver in the early ’70s, you know, helping to establish a center there. I was visiting with some old friends and I was staying with them, and the wife of the husband, we were chatting in the kitchen. She came up, put her arm around me and said, “I think I can say this now, Ken, you really were an asshole.” [Laughter]

So, you know. What do you do with that? So that’s the unreliable witness.

And Kongtrul goes on in his commentary to say—I’m going to experiment with getting rid of the word mind for a while and see what that’s like—“When you are clear inside and not experiencing regrets or shames about your actions, that’s the reliable witness.”

Student: Could you repeat that?

Ken: “When you are clear inside and have no regrets about or shame about your actions, that’s the reliable witness.” What he’s saying is the reliable witness is mind itself.


Section 6

Now this links to the way that I like to regard morality. And you may recall in Wake Up To Your Life that in the Chapter 3 in the section on the six supports for meditation practice, one of the supports is ethical conduct. And rather than give long lists of rules and things like that—do this, don’t do that, do this, don’t do that, all of that stuff—what I suggest is when you come into a situation you know what the right thing to do is and it’s gonna cost you something. Maybe it costs you a bit of money, maybe it costs you some time or inconvenience, maybe it costs you a relationship, maybe it costs you a friendship, maybe it costs you your job. But you know what the right thing to do is and you do it. How long do you think about it afterwards? Most people I ask say, “Mmm, not long.” And then I ask, “Well, what if you come into the situation, you know what the right thing to do is, it may cost you something and you don’t do it. How long do you think about it afterwards?” “A long time.”

So what this points to is that when we act ethically, mind is clear and untroubled. When we don’t we feel agitated and disturbed and regretful and so forth. And this is what Kongtrul’s pointing to in this instruction about the two witnesses—of the two witnesses, rely on the principal one, which is how you experience being you in the world. That’s the principal witness.

That’s a nice way to avoid “mind.” I’ve got to work on this.

Now what does this have to do with practice? Well, I should have brought…does anybody have a copy of Arrow To the Heart here?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Arrow To the Heart?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, I should have brought it.

Well, this is where we have to draw on Trungpa’s description of practice: “One insult after another.”

Now as we become clearer and are able to relate to situations more clearly and hence more appropriately, less reactively, more responsibly, all of that stuff, people who are around us go, “How did he do that? That was very skillful.” Or “She has extraordinary patience.” That’s their experience.

But that’s not our subjective experience. Our subjective experience may be all kinds of reactivity and stuff going off inside like fireworks and pulled this way and that. But because of our practice we’ve become very skilled and have a significant capacity to experience all of that stuff and not be confused by it. And thus be able to do what’s appropriate in the situation.

So there’s potentially a very significant difference between what appears and what’s going on inside. And as we deepen our practice we come into situations and we see, “Oh, that’s the only thing that can be done.” So we just do it, you know, working through the fear or whatever required because we see…we’re seeing more clearly. And we see it’s no big deal. And other people are going, “Well, that was interesting. How did they do that?”

And then we hit a situation where it brings up something in us. So we don’t notice when we are acting smoothly, going with the bow of things and so forth because it feels just like walking or, you know, breathing or something like that. And we only notice when we are caught by something and it brings up some kind of reactivity in us. So our subjective experiences we never experience our actual abilities. We only experience the problems.


Section 7

So which brings us to the story that Bill reminded me that I want to talk about. Because the fact that you never feel like you’re getting anywhere is a subjective interpretation of your subjective experience. You’re the worst judges of that. Because whenever attention goes into a new level it always feels like, you know, we’re experiencing all the confusion there. So we never feel like we’re getting anywhere. And every time we feel like we’re getting somewhere then something else comes along and we’re back in the soup.

And the story goes that this group of villagers came to the Sufi master and said, “We’d like to study with you.” And the Sufi master looked at them and said, “How many of you are prepared to put up with hardship and forego comfort?” And they all said, “We are.” “And how many of you are willing to serve and be humble, rather than be served and praised?” And all the villagers went, “We are!” “And how many of you are willing to face the challenges of learning and not knowing and rather than be secure and solid in your understanding?” And all the villagers said, “We are!”

So he looked at them again and said, “Okay, next Tuesday I’m meeting with a group of students who’ve studied with me for three years. So, why don’t you come at that time.” So they’re very happy about this. And that Tuesday evening they went where the Sufi master met with his longer-term students. And he showed the new people in. He sat down and turned to his old students and said, “How many of you would rather be comfortable than face difficulty?” And all of them stood up. “And how many of you would rather be served than serve?” And they all stood up. “And how many of you would rather be secure in your understanding rather than face the challenges and uncertainties of learning?” And they all stood up.

So he turned to the new group and said, “So you see the results of studying with me is that you’ll be worse off than you are now.”

And what it’s pointing to, or one of the things it’s pointing to, is that as we come to know ourselves more intimately we become aware of much more that’s going on inside. And so this is one of the reasons why it’s not a very good idea to try and gauge progress in this path.


Section 8

I’ll give you one other example. This is from an old student of mine who’s become a good friend over the years. He’s been very helpful to me, and way back then he was a businessman. And he’s retired now. And a very driven guy. I mean, I told him to practice, he never missed a day. He just, “I’ll do that” and that was it.

So I introduced him at some point to the six realms—hell realm, hungry ghost realm, animal realm, human, titan, and god. He looked these over. He said, “Mmm.” And he knew he had a lot of anger and say, “Yeah, I can see I’ve got some connection with the hell realm and the titan realm. So that’d be good to do the work. But the others, nah.”

Three months later he comes into my office, sits down, says, “They’re all there. Every last one of them. I can’t believe it!” [Laughter]

So, this is possibly one of the meanings in the phrase, “A bodhisattva will joyfully jump into the depths of hell to save a single human being,” or single sentient being. You know, as we practice we come to see more and more of what’s going on inside us, and there is a decision at every stage. Do I engage this? Or do I turn away? And there’s only one person who can make that decision, of course.

Any questions about that? Does that answer what we were talking about, Bill?

Bill: I’ll have to think about it.


Section 9

Ken: Okay. Any questions? Yes. Microphone, please. Now with the microphone, please hold it like this, because if you do this with it or this or something like that it’s fairly directional. And otherwise I get e-mails from people saying that was so great but I couldn’t hear that person’s comments. So, like that. Yes.


Section 10

Student: Okay. So you’re saying that rely on the principal judge or witness but also that we’re the worst to gauge our own progress?

Ken: Yep. I just wanted to make your life easy.

Student: Okay. I was just checking.

Ken: It’s a bit of a paradox. Yeah. But you’ll see how it shapes out.

Okay. Anything else? Okay.


Section 11

Topic number two.

The other evening we talked a bit about institutions and I talked about this in the first part of the retreat as well. I want to make a couple of distinctions which are important. I made these earlier but it would be good to mention them again.

Organizations, institutions are a fact of life. Functioning in our society depends on them. The institution of the sangha in Buddhism, one of its functions has been to provide the security of transmission of teachings from generation to generation, which it has done very faithfully over 2,500 years.

So it would be incorrect, really, to regard institutions as the problem. That’s a bit like regarding thunderstorms as a problem. I mean, they come, they go, they provide rain and they also flash lightning, cause fires and do things like that. And it’s the same with institutions. They serve very, very important functions, and there are other things that happen in connection with them.

I think it is better to focus our attention on the institutional mindset, that is, the way people come to think within the context of institutions. And it’s fair to call that a conditioned set of reactions. Because very, very frequently—and I’ve seen this time and time again—one loses perspective because of the environment. Does things that makes sense within one’s particular environment within an organization, which actually makes no sense in terms of the well-being of the organization itself, the well-being of you as an individual, or the well-being of the society in which the organization is a part of. And this happens time and time again. And any number of accounts in the news about this. And it doesn’t really matter what organization, whether it’s political, commercial, non-profit, and so forth.

And so one of the things that I want to focus on right now is that within the institutional context everybody’s always looking for ways to make their work easier. I mean, this is totally human nature. It’s good to remember that everything that everybody ever does is because at that moment they feel it will make their world easier. So that tendency coupled with the inability or unwillingness or whatever the case may be to consider or even envision the larger implications generally moves organizations to focus on efficiency and not effectiveness. And so people focus on efficiency and not effectiveness. And gradually, particularly in larger organizations, there is a move in the direction of viewing the processes of the organization as manufacturing, making things. And this runs completely counter to the process that I think operates in spiritual practice which is one of growth.

Now there are very important differences between manufacturing processes and growth processes. In manufacturing processes you seek to maximize output and minimize costs. You see, efficiency. Growth processes you seek to maximize potential and minimize disaster. Very, very different.

So we can look at within Tibetan Buddhist institutions, for instance, the emergence of the lamrim, the Graded Path. And this is a wonderful manufacturing model, you know. You study, you learn this set of skills. And then you learn this material. Then you learn this set of skills and this material. And just progress through, and you come out the end as well, maybe not a buddha but at least a bodhisattva.

And the texts are described that way. And you read them and it all looks so logical. And you just have to do it. Now how many of you have been exposed to that kind of approach? Yeah. How’s it worked? [Chuckling] Well, you learn a lot of stuff, and you definitely learn skills and abilities. But as we’ve talked about earlier all of that learning and development of capabilities and capacities don’t necessarily bring you any closer to the stammering voice which is asking the questions. It does for some but not for everybody.

And what I found is that at some point and for most people this is after five to eight years of practice, though there’s often another wave around ten to fifteen years of practice when it’s usually deeper and more painful. People who have been trained that way find themselves struggling with the transition, which I like to call making the practice their own.

And it’s a difficult transition because at around that period they’re beginning to feel the divergence between what their heart is seeking and this system of practice. And it’s very uncomfortable because they feel that by listening to their heart they’re in some sense either checking out or even betraying the way that they have been trained. And because there are often very significant emotional ties both to teachers and colleagues, as well as frequently to the material itself, to the scriptures and texts, this questioning initially is usually engaged very, very tentatively.

Student: Very what?

Ken: Tentatively. With considerable trepidation. And for good reason. Not infrequently the way many of these organizations and institutions function is that when one raises certain kinds of questions unless one has a really very, very good mentor—and they do exist, fortunately—but in many cases you start asking questions that aren’t customarily asked, and one finds one’s relationship with the whole system changing, sometimes extremely rapidly which comes as a shock. Sometimes slowly. But you just find yourself being eased out in some way. And for reasons you can’t really figure out because “I was just talking about these questions.”

And now as I said this isn’t universally the case because there are some teachers who really are very familiar with this and are able to provide the right kind of guidance and support through such a transition. And if you happen to have contact with one of those, somebody like that, then treasure them because they’re really wonderful.

But what I’ve come across frequently is people who’ve found themselves outside the tradition of their training not quite sure how they got there. And at the same time dealing with sometimes quite deep feelings of having betrayed something, but they’re not quite sure what. Or having violated something but they’re not quite sure what.

And most of the people I’ve encountered, and I’ve worked with quite a few in this, they haven’t betrayed anything. They haven’t violated anything. What has happened is that they started listening to their own spiritual questions. And they frequently start letting go of certain practices and forming a relationship with particular ones that mean something, really mean something to them. Or they may go in quite different directions for a while. But now they’re really engaging in their own spiritual search. And it wouldn’t be incorrect to regard that first phase of their path as learning a lot of stuff, developing a lot of skills, developing abilities which now makes it possible for them to do this more individual search and questioning.

And it’s very unpredictable but usually it’s probably a two to four-year period, there’s a letting go of a lot of assumptions and ideas and tacit understandings, which were part of the institutional setting. And they’re replaced by something that is personally more vital, more visceral and in many respects, say, more alive. And alive because there’s a different level of personal engagement. And this is where one moves out of the manufacturing process or a systematic process of: “Do this practice and then this one, and then this one,” this one into a much more exploratory way of practicing.

And it’s important then for the person to be able to find the resources that they’re going to need. And in this process they’re going to re-examine almost everything that they’ve done. And in that process some stuff will fall away as not relevant, and other stuff as I’ve said before will take on a renewed vitality. Or actually a new vitality.

Now if you look at the lives of most of the great teachers this is exactly what has happened. And it’s often buried in flowery language in the biographies. But most of the really great teachers, the ones who are regarded as holding the tradition, came to that position by doing very untraditional things. Milarepa who is revered in all of the different schools started off by killing 37 people. And it’s not exactly a traditional spiritual path.

Kyer-gong-pa who wrote the Recognizing Mind as Guru was brought up within the monastic establishment. Now he lived in the twelfth century, the tulku system hadn’t taken hold in Tibet at that point. He was right at the beginning of that system. And many of you may not know this but this system of incarnations known as tulkus, it started as a way to keep monastic estates in the family.

Student: What’d you say?

Ken: It started as a way to keep monastic estates in the family. You know, Suzuki Roshi was once asked, “What do you do when a great teacher dies?” He said, “Take care of the real estate until the next great teacher comes along.” So, you know, real estate’s really important.

So, now in a celibate order how do you keep real estate in the family? Well, if you’re the abbot you better have a brother who isn’t a monk. He gets married, has a son. That’s your nephew. And when you die, your nephew is recognized as a reincarnation of you. That’s how the tulku system started.

So it was an honorific title applied to the nephews of the heads of monastic estates so that they could secede. And of course, as that nephew grew up, hopefully he had a brother, so there could be another nephew, and this is exactly how the Sakya tradition has maintained its transmission to this day. It goes from uncle to nephew to nephew down through this. And it just goes back and forth between the two families.

So Kyergongpa was one of these nephews. And he inherited this big monastic estate. There’s one small problem. He wanted to practice. So he kept saying, “I don’t want to do this.” And the monks at the monastery would rebel. And this went on two or three times. And finally he said, “I’ve had it. And I’m leaving.”

Well the monks were really, really unhappy about this because he was like the head family of the region, and a lot of patronage and they didn’t know how they were going to survive. So Kyergongpa left the monastery and went to meditate in a cave, you know, a few miles away. And the monks were so angry about this that they stationed guards outside his cave. And whenever Kyergongpa came out to go begging for alms they threw stones at him.

So he couldn’t leave his cave. He got a little hungry. And then he said practice is more important. So this again is a person who doesn’t really do the traditional thing.

And if you read the lives of most of the great masters you see that this is the case. Kalu Rinpoche’s teacher, Lama Norbu, he did the three-year retreat at a relatively young age. And this is in Palpung Monastery in eastern Tibet in the nineteenth century. And then he was the monastery’s tailor. And there’s a lot of sewing to do in a monastery—banners and all kinds of brocades, and thangkas to frame, all kinds of stuff.

And a few years after completing the three-year retreat he said, “You know, this is a complete waste of time.” And so he wanted to go and meditate, but he couldn’t get permission to do it, to leave the monastery. So he locked himself in the monastery’s toilet. Now, you don’t want to know what the toilets of Tibetan monasteries were like. And he barricaded the door from the inside so they couldn’t break it down and haul him out. And he just stayed there. After a while they began to slide food under the door. But he stayed there for seven years. Not exactly the traditional thing.

So you find this again and again.


Section 12

So you can see from these instances where these people, their spiritual questions were really, really important to them. And even though they’d had some traditional training, sometimes a great deal of traditional training, they had to break with it and pursue their own spiritual questions and practice and, you know, in very difficult and sometimes extremely unpleasant circumstances.

So we’re very fortunate here in the circumstances in which we live. We don’t belong to such rigid hierarchical organizations. We have the resources in our society individually that give us an extraordinary amount of freedom about what we do with our time and energy. You know, all of you have been able to take time off work to be here for these several days. And I know for some of you that has presented certain challenges and for others of you it was straightforward. But it was possible.

And so we’re very, very fortunate. And, at the same time, it’s very important, I feel, to use this time and to use our lives basically to pay attention, to really listen very deeply to what are those questions that are being asked in us, and how do we find a way of living our lives that constitutes a response to those questions, because that’s basically what we’re doing here.

So that’s topic number two. Questions, comments, anything you’d like to pursue around this.


Section 13

Bill. Could somebody hand the microphone?

Bill: I guess this isn’t so much a question. It’s just maybe a reaction. I’m very grateful for the perspective you’ve just presented. And I mean it’s what I’m looking for. I would just add though that I was really grateful to find a path in that sort of laid out, step by step.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Bill: My previous experience had been Zen, which works really well for many people but for me it was sort of like, “Go there, stare at that wall, sit.” “But, but, but.”

Ken: No buts.

Bill: No buts.

Ken: Stare at the wall and sit.

Bill: And it just didn’t work very well.

Ken: Yeah.

Bill: So I felt it was just wonderful to get a set of things to do and manageable things to take on, I guess.

Ken: Yeah. And I share that with you. And what I’m really trying to say here is there are different stages of practice. And being given a path and steps and saying, do x, y and z allows certain things to happen which probably wouldn’t happen in other contexts. But what I’ve seen time and time again is people get so—I don’t know whether it’s attached to it or absorb that so much that they become incapable of listening inside. And thus, even that can become a kind of dead end, dead end for them.

But I take your point. And I think you’re absolutely right. There’re different things that are appropriate at different stages of the path, and for some people staring at a wall is probably the only thing that would work. And then later at another time then they want to do more systematic study and get some sense of what staring at the wall is actually about.

Bill: The only thing that occurs to me in that I just—you know it’s my speculation here but—you know I kinda think that institutional Tibetan Buddhism must be under in the process of going through the greatest amount of change at the fastest rate that it could possibly have been. I mean it’s you know the integration into Western society. And then I think the kind of extraordinary attack it’s going to experience at the death of the Dalai Lama. I mean the Chinese are going to do everything they can to disrupt and undermine the sort of organizational core. I think it’s going to have to adapt and adapt to people in a world like us. And that it will be a much more open thing. And we’re in a position to shape that. And I think that’s in a sense a very hopeful thing.

Ken: Yeah, I don’t want to get too much into all of that but how things are going to evolve I don’t know. You’re quite right, as an institution Tibetan Buddhism is basically a medieval institution. It’s had to, in the course of like fifty years, try to find some kind of place in a post-industrial society or societies. And it’s really only in the last ten, twenty years at the most—more like the last ten or fifteen that different varieties and different things are beginning to come up.

The Tibetan political scene’s a totally different thing. I think there’s going to be some very interesting things but I don’t really want to go into that this evening.

And you’re quite right. Everybody who is practicing now is shaping that evolution. This became somewhat disturbingly clear in I think it was ’95 or ’96, I was attending a conference of mainly Western Buddhist teachers in California. It was about eighty people there from from Zen, Theravadan and Tibetan.

And I was giving a presentation on my teaching model and in the middle of that presentation word came that Maezumi Roshi had died. So I guess it was ’96 [Maezumi Roshi died in 1995]. And one of the more unsettling aspects of that was that with Maezumi Roshi’s death, Bob Aitken became the senior Zen patriarch in America.

Student: Who?

Ken: Bob Aitken of the Diamond Sangha in Hawaii, who’d studied in Japan and elsewhere. Very long-term practice of Zen. But he was now the senior Zen teacher in America. So a bunch of us were looking at each and going, “We didn’t bargain for this.” ’Cause we realized, oh, as this generation dies out a responsibility now moves to, you know, whoever the senior teachers are and whatever’s going on there, so. Yeah, it’s a very interesting time.


Section 14

Judy and Pat.

Judy: I’m just wondering if you could say a few words about sangha. ’Cause it seems like what you’ve been talking about with institutions that to me that’s kind of underneath it.

Ken: Well, yeah it’s a good point. In Tibetan the word for sangha is dge ’dun [pron. gen-dün]. dge is the word for virtue and ’dun is the word for intention, seeking. But we could translate it as intention. So those who intend virtue is a folk etymology for the word sangha. And I think that’s a very good way to understand sangha.

The way that the term has come to be used in English makes a number of us tear our hair because in Asian cultures there’s only the sangha. And so, you know, to say, “in my sangha” would be like saying, “Well, that’s my sky or my rain.” Or something like that. The way it’s evolved in the West it’s come to denote a group of people around a certain teacher or institution or whatever. So that’s a little unfortunate.

But the other piece of this is that it’s a community of shared intention, which is very different from what most people understand community to be. And there are connections which form in that, but those connections are more of support, which can be, you know, mentoring. You know, one person’s experience helps another or peer group support. But it’s all in the context of that shared intention. It isn’t about creating a group which is in any way exclusive or something like that, which is, again, human tendency. We tend to form tribes, and it’s us versus them, and so forth and so forth.

And I’ve seen lots of that in various centers and probably many of you have. Where there’s, you know, something to join. And there’s often the not-very-explicit criteria for membership, so forth. So that’s all human behavior.

I remember a friend and colleague of mine back in the ’80s who used to be the Head Administrator at Mt. Baldy Zen Center, a guy called Michael Radford? Yeah. And he and I were at inter-sangha day at Zen Center in Los Angeles. This is back in the late ’80s. And each of us were asked, “Why is sangha important?” So, he and I were last. I was second last and he was last. I said something or other, you know, along these lines. And Michael Radford was much more eloquent. He said, “Why do we need sangha? Because this path is so damn hard!” That was it. That was all he said. And I thought that said it right there.

You know, it’s very helpful to be able to associate with like-minded people who have some sense of the kinds of things that we’re struggling with because they’ve struggled with the same things. And we can share experience, you know. Share practice tips, things like that, resources, you know, things like that. And so that provides a really good support. But once it moves in the direction of a social group, it becomes something else quite different, which I don’t think has that much to do with spiritual practice. Okay?


Section 15

Pat, you had a comment or question.

Pat: Well, I wanted to key off something that Bill said. And it seems to me that the Chinese occupation of Tibet promoted a diaspora that is why we have Tibetan Buddhism in this country now.

Ken: Yep.

Pat: And so since we have it—and if this is in the book tell me what page—I was hoping that you might, just briefly, talk about the three schools and their—

Ken: Three schools?

Pat: The schools of Tibetan Buddhism that are currently active or what would be called “lineages.” And talk about their distinctions.

Ken: How would that be helpful to you in terms of practice?

Pat: Well, I’m a little confused by the nomenclature.

Ken: Oh. Okay. So you want a map.

Pat: Or at least a couple of circles.

Ken: Okay. Just let me make a couple of general comments and then I’ll answer your specific question.

You’re absolutely right, Pat, without the Chinese invasion we probably wouldn’t be here. Law of unintended consequences. And disastrous for Tibet as a culture but very beneficial for the rest of the world. And where things evolve from here, as Bill noted in his comment, the Chinese absolutely will try to control the recognition of the next Dalai Lama. That’s a given. I’m sure they’re plotting furiously about that.

I take a rather different view of this. And that is, while this will continue to be very difficult for Tibetans as a people and as a people in exile, with all of the hardship both material but also emotional and cultural hardship that that involves. For Buddhism itself or for the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, it’s quite possible that the destruction of the political entities associated with it will be very good for the practice of Buddhism. Because now those political entities won’t have any ground to work with. And so now it becomes about practice and not about real estate.


Section 16

Very quickly, as Tibetan Buddhism evolved over the centuries four major schools and a number of minor schools. Well it became into four major schools, which aren’t really an accurate historical picture because there was so much flux. But as it came to the diaspora the four major schools were the Gelugpa, Sakya, Nyingma and Kagyu.

Gelugpa is most heavily associated with the governing aristocracy and probably the largest. Also the most systematic. And arguably the most scholastic. The Sakya is much more of a family tradition with many, many subdivisions. As I said earlier it preserved that original method of transmission between two branches of family. And has produced many great teachers in the course of its history. And one of the things it was noted for was a great scholastic expertise but in a slightly different way. One might perhaps say in a more subtle way than the Gelugpa.

The other two schools, the Kagyu and the Nyingma; the Kagyu traces its origin back to the eleventh century. Yeah. And in particular, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa—those three figures. And out of them a lot of different schools emerged. But they are all in the broad category of Kagyu. Kagyu has traditionally placed a great deal of emphasis on devotion as—excuse me [Ken sneezes]—as the primary means through which they develop. It isn’t to say that devotion isn’t very important in the other schools, but they like to think they have a special relationship with it because it was such an important aspect of particularly Milarepa and Marpa’s relationship back in the eleventh century.

And then the Nyingma is…literally means the ancient ones. The other three schools all began around the eleventh century though the Gelugpa really starts around the fifteenth, fourteenth rather. But the Nyingmas go back to when Buddhism was first introduced into Tibet which was in the eighth century. So it has a very, very different flavor to it. And a lot of practices which are exclusive to that tradition, a lot of great poets. And it just has a different feel.

So those are the four major traditions. And now it used to be in the early years of Tibetan Buddhism that people would study in different schools. And then as things solidified that became more and more rigid. But with the diaspora again there’s now a lot more flow back and forth. So you have people who’ve studied deeply in more than one of the schools, as well as people who stick very much in one of the schools. So, it’s a big mess, which is probably the best way.

Okay. Any other comments or questions?



Section 17

Topic number three. We’re going back to Ever-present Good. It’s on page 17. Now we talked about the first two kinds of people, the people wandering in samsara who haven’t even found a spiritual path because they don’t know the possibility or the potential for some kind of spiritual awakening. And then what’s translated as here as extremists you could also think of them as reductionists—people who want to reduce things to a single principle and adhere to that. And that’s the tendency, which I think…it’s good to keep checking oneself out in one’s own practice.

One of the things I’ve been emphasizing in this retreat is resting. And so it’s very easy to imagine that in fifty years there’s going to be the Resting School of Buddhism [laughter], you know. And that’ll be a problem because it’s very important. It’s very important because most of us are very driven people. But you can imagine what the Resting School of Buddhism would look like.

And whenever you find yourself attaching to a single principle, it’s a red flag. Now what happens time and time again is that in your…in one’s practice one discovers an imbalance. You go, “Oh.” So you start practicing in a way to address that imbalance. And that’s perfectly appropriate. And then maybe addressing that imbalance leads to some kind of experience or things like that, so you say, “Oh, this was a good thing to do.” And now you begin just to do that one thing because it produced a good result. So now you just start doing it. And you start telling everybody, “This is the one thing you should do.”

Now you’ve become an extremist. And it starts very, very innocently in many cases. And later becomes a problem because by just relying on that one principle or that one approach necessarily you’ll eventually create imbalances. But because of your emotional investment or whatever, you’ll be unable to recognize them, or even if you see them you’ll provide some other explanation of why they’re not important, don’t need to be addressed, etc., etc.

So what is much more important here and much more reliable is never take an extreme position about your practice.

Student: Never, Ken? [Unclear] [Laughter]

Ken: Ah, yes. Defeated by language again, thank you. [Laughter] [Ken laughs and sighs.] How do you get out of this, Gene? [Laughter]. Okay. I’ll word it differently.

Whenever you find yourself increasingly relying on a single principle, open to everything you’re experiencing. You won’t want to at that point ’cause you’d be attached to that single principle. But open to everything that you’re experiencing. And going through the process that I’ve been outlining, how does it feel in the body, etc. And when you do that, you’re quite likely to detect whether something is actually out of balance and what to do about it.

And, you know, pretty well every single principle that I’ve come across, they do lead to imbalances, so that opening and being in your experience is very important. And of course, this is presuming you don’t have contact with a teacher or a guide who can help you spot these things.

George, you have a question. And where’s the mic?


Section 18

George: Isn’t experiencing fully what’s going on through your body a way of preventing you from latching on to one particular thing dogmatically as your practice?

Ken: Well, that’s what I just said.

George: Okay.

Ken: Yeah.


Section 19

Okay. Next verse. Oh, Jeff.

[Student talking in the background, unclear]

Jeff: Isn’t that a single principle?

Ken: Well. We can easily get tied up in language. What I was saying was opening to your whole experience which is body, emotions, and stories, and awareness, and heart, and feelings, and all of that stuff. But it’s usually going to take some form in the body. At least that’s been my experience. Well, it’s a good point, Jeff, because I’m thinking of what someone said from the last section of the retreat, that you can become very adept at feeling things in your body and never lift the veil. Is that what you were thinking of?

Jeff: [Unclear] Assent.

Ken: Yeah. I think that’s a very good point.

Student: Could you elaborate on that?

Ken: In the last section of the retreat one of the yoga teachers who was here described how through her yoga practice she was very aware of all the physical sensations going on in her body, and how, what muscles were being used, and what states of tension all the different muscles were. So she was very, very deeply in touch with her body. And when, what she got out of the retreat was—and the image she used was pulling back the veil as to the emotional material that was present with all of that stuff, which isn’t necessarily worked with in hatha yoga in the way that most people practice it, or many people practice it.

So in addition to being present in that physical experience you start opening to the emotional experiences there rather than just putting them aside. And now it becomes a very different experience. Okay?

Did you want to add anything, Jeff?

Jeff: That’s a really important point. [Ken laughs] I mean because I’ve spent a lot of time because my business is sensation. But it’s always tied to emotion and it’s frequently all but inseparable…all but inseparable.

Ken: It is but people split it off.

Jeff: It’s true.

Ken: Yeah. And so yes they do arise together but people will focus on this part and ignore this part. And sometimes they’ll get all into emotion and ignore the physical. And sometimes they’ll get all into the physical and ignore the emotion. But they will split. But when you open to both then it’s very different. You have to deal with it in a different way and that’s why people split it off so that they don’t have to make those changes.


Section 20

Leslie, you have a question or comment.

Leslie: Why is it that temporally they’re often—

Ken: Pardon?

Leslie: They’re not…my experience is that often the body sensation and the emotion come at different times. Particularly in the last year of practice I’ve noticed that I’ll have a lot of body sensation without emotion.

Ken: And then along come the emotions.

Leslie: Yeah.

Ken: Yes.

Leslie: Why does it separate like that?

Ken: [Pause] Well, what you’re talking about there is material that has been suppressed. And so as we practice depending on the way we practice, we’ll generally come in touch either with the emotional material first or the physical material first. And that really depends a lot on a lot of different factors. So, our attention has only a certain level of energy, it can only penetrate so deeply, so we get, say, the physical sensations. And then as our level of attention increases now it becomes possible to experience the emotional sensations. And that makes life a whole bunch more interesting.

Leslie: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: And then as our level of attention increases still more then we’re able to experience a whole ’nother level of physical sensations. And then another level of emotional sensations. And so it does go back and forth that way. And when we’re experiencing emotional sensations the physical stuff seems fine. And when we’re in misery physically then we aren’t too bothered emotionally. And it goes back and forth like that. You know, we can’t figure out why it keeps changing.

And I’ve experienced it. I remember when I was doing a movement workshop I started hitting some material in this part of my body, my abdomen. And I had one of the assistants help me ’cause it was really, really painful. And I found that if she applied a certain amount of pressure, I was in the emotional material and there’s no physical sensation. And if she eased up the pressure, then the emotional material went away and the physical sensations were there. It was just like on-off, on-off, on-off.

But if you keep practicing and keep building a greater capacity in attention then you get your reward—which is to experience them both together! Things get a little interesting and intense at about that point. But now you’re actually experiencing, or you’re getting very close to experiencing the suppressed material, which is why it’s getting so interesting. And so you can feel completely nuts, and intense pain emotionally and physically. But that’s exactly what one wasn’t able to experience once upon a time.

And that can go on for anywhere from, you know, a few minutes to a few months, few years, whatever. And as it’s experienced, and it can be many layers of experiencing that way, then every time you experience a bit more of it you find you have another freedom because you know, you can move. It’s almost as if you couldn’t move your arm like this but now you can. And some of that’s just internal emotional stuff you can move in different emotional directions that you couldn’t before. And so you’re actually gaining freedom. Okay?


Section 21

So back to Ever-present Good. Oh, do you have a question, Gene? Please.

Gene: I just wanted to pop the idea that it all depends also on what you’re focusing on. Like in yoga they’re focusing mainly on the physical. But if you do something like bioenergetics you’re focusing on the emotional aspect of it.

Ken: Yeah, there’s a yoga teacher I’m in communication with and so he said, “What should I teach at my next yoga workshop?” I said, “Well, why don’t you teach how to experience difficult emotions in yoga postures?” He said, “I like that, Ken.” ’Cause it’s something that’s not usually done. But it’s very much the direction that he’s going, so. That’s kinda neat.


Section 22

Let’s go to the next stanza.

Mind itself is originally pure…

And we’re taking note that we can also talk about experience in terms of mind. So you could read this as Experience itself is originally pure.

…like space.

As long as you use conceptual knowing to look for it,

You get stuck, like a bug caught in its own spit.

Now this is a certain kind of insect that secretes saliva to either build houses or to build traps for flies and things like that. But it gets caught in its own saliva.

Turning your back on what is, you are still ruled by wanting.

How worn out you must be, you listeners, from blocking things!

Now listeners refer to a class of spiritual practitioners in Mahayana Buddhist lore, the sravakas, who are pretty independent people. They just listened and practiced on their own. That’s why they’re called listeners.

Now what is the problem with just listening? Problem with just listening is you don’t know whether what you’ve come to know through your practice is—I hate to use this word but I have to here—real or not because you’re taking everything into your world. And you’re at peace in your world, etc., but how does it actually translate into lived situations. And this kind of practitioner would be typically one who withdrew from the world and just practiced on their own. So it was, you might say, “not tested in the marketplace.” That’s one way of interpreting this.

So what Jigme Lingpa is directing our attention to here, there are a couple of things. One is the tendency to rely on conceptual knowing, what I term understanding as a way to come to some kind of spiritual experience. And you can think about things, and you can think about things very deeply. But as long as your understanding is at the conceptual level, it is, in a very real sense, theoretical. It doesn’t necessarily touch the world. And you can come up with wonderful systems. But you’re really just spinning your own web.

By relying on that and I remember a guy who came to see Rinpoche back in the ’70s. He’s a very good example of this. He would say…he was in quite a bit of emotional pain. He said, “What do I do about the pain?” Rinpoche said, “Well, if you understand that the pain is empty then, it arises, you won’t suffer.” He said, “Oh, I understand all about emptiness. That’s not a problem.” And go on for a while about that. And then he’d say, “But what do I do about the pain?” And he just couldn’t understand what Rinpoche was talking about, or trying to direct his attention to. It’s because he had a very fixed conceptual understanding which wouldn’t allow anything else in.

So that’s what Jigme Lingpa is pointing to when you say, Turning your back on what is, you are still ruled by wanting. I mean, there was something very much that he wanted but he was turning his back on what he was actually experiencing. And was caught up in this conceptual understanding that he’d developed which didn’t allow him any freedom.

Now can any of you recognize this operating in you? Where you have a certain understanding, and it’s actually a very nice way of avoiding certain things in your experience. And yet something is driving you and pushing you and pushing you that, that wanting, you can’t get away from it. And it’s really tiring! How worn out you must be. Anybody recognize this?

Student: Sure.

Ken: Okay. I just want to make—because he’s not really criticizing schools or ways of practice, you know, in terms of traditional vehicles. What he’s trying…what he’s pointing out here is things that we all do.


Section 23

Okay. Next one.

Your mind is the source of all experience, patterned or free.

And patterned or free is my translation of samsara and nirvana. So, a literal translation of this would be Mind is the source of all dharmas, and samsara and nirvana. Well, you know, what does that mean? So I prefer to translate it into something close to English.

Your mind is the source of all experience, patterned or free,

You awaken completely when you rest and do nothing at all.

Okay. Which is really, that’s a very good meditation instruction. The resting is somewhat difficult. The doing nothing at all, that’s a little more difficult.

Instead, you follow meticulously and exclusively

The cycle of teaching on ignorance, interdependence, and samsara.

This is the link of Twelve Nidanas of interdependent origination, which teaches how or shows how actions evolve into experienced results and perpetrates the cycle of birth and death, and so forth. It’s a very intricate, complex explanation of why things are the way they are.


Section 24

So question here. How many of you have struggled to come up with your own explanation of why things are the way they are? Okay. How helpful is it to you in your practice? Okay. But we do it, don’t we? Okay. So this is what he’s pointing to here.



Section 25

JP: Just a comment. You’ve discussed in your teachings online, encouraging people to—I don’t want to say “discouraging”—to not focus on belief.

Ken: Not focus on belief.

JP: Yes.

Ken: Yes.

JP: Beliefs, belief. And I’m grateful for that because—not that I don’t do this—but it’s liberating to not have to explain all these terms, and the cycle, and karma and I mean, you know. But trying to understand the experience of what you come across in certain instances.

Ken: You find this helpful.

JP: Yes. Very much so.

Ken: Yeah. There’s a saying in Tibetan Buddhism, “You practice for your own benefit; you study in order to help others.” And I remember a conversation I was having with a very good Western Theravadan teacher who said that he hadn’t studied a lot of sutras and things like that when he was in Thailand, he just practiced. But now that he was teaching he found he had to go back and read this stuff and learn all of this stuff because, to give himself a vocabulary with which to talk about how practice works.

Student: Could you repeat that again?

Ken: That—

Student: In practice.

Ken: Oh. “You practice for your own benefit; you study in order to help others.” It’s said slightly tongue-in-cheek, of course.


Section 26

Helen, the microphone’s here.

Helen: Thank you. I totally agree with this. There are times when I notice if I conceptualize something it can help me.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Helen: But it’s based on experience, of course. But there is something about, for example, I’m trying to get off on a turn-off from the freeway onto the street I need to go to. And the distance is very short in order to get over, three lanes. There are some people who, I’d say about 50 percent who let me in and others who don’t. But then I seem to forget that. Even though it’s conceptual, I get mad when they don’t let me in, and then I realize later, oh, but some people will let me in, and some people don’t. So that kind of helps me to accept the situation.

Ken: Yeah.

Helen: The way it really is. But somewhere my need, I guess, is to have it right all the time, a certain way. I mean maybe that’s the problem, really.

Ken: Well, this is a very good example you’re raising here. The appropriate use of language is to frame or express experience in a way that is useful to us, that is actually useful. So, in your example you say, “Okay, some people let me in and other people won’t. That’s just how things are.” And that’s very useful so you start moving over on the freeway the first chance you get. And you aren’t particularly surprised when somebody doesn’t let you in. So you slow down, let them go by, and hope the next person lets you in. That way you get across your three lanes.

But we all have a tendency, and this is part of what he’s talking about here, to want the world to be a certain way. Like everybody’s going to let me in. And now we can get caught by the language of that world. And this is where belief comes in. And believe things are that way and get very attached to that. And, of course, if you’re changing lanes on a freeway it’s gonna be disastrous.

Now life isn’t quite as fast as changing three lanes in a short period of distance but the results in life could be equally as disastrous when we get caught by the formulation of how we want things to be. There we aren’t expressing our experience in a way that is useful to us. And it’s a really very interesting thing is to focus on how we’re using language. Are we using it to express some kind of ideal state? And then there are all kinds of problems that come up with that. Or are we trying to use language in a way that is actually useful.

So that’s a very nice example of that.

And when we’re using language in a way that is useful—and I try to do this as much is possible myself—then we’ll find ourselves formulating things in different ways in different situations. We won’t get stuck in just one way because different situations require different formulations if things are to be communicated in a way that they’re actually useful. Whereas if we’re lapsing into belief, then we’ll find ourselves saying the same thing in the same words again and again. And it becomes stock phrases which reflect the solidity of our beliefs. You follow?


Section 271

How charmed you must be, you self-reliant ones, by your artificial awakening!

And again this is the same problem as in the previous one. By creating this idealized notion of what it is to be awake and never really putting it to the test in life, we actually have deluded ourselves and this is what he’s saying, you’re charmed by your own concept of awakening.

And people like this can be somewhat impenetrable. I’m always mindful of Saraha’s phrase which is, “Those people who believe in emptiness are stupid like cows” No. “People who believe in reality are stupid like cows. People who believe in emptiness are even stupider.” And believing in emptiness is a wonderful example of creating a conceptual framework which allows you to feel that you’re awake. And it just doesn’t hold water in actual situations because it’s a belief and it’s a static way of relating to things. It just doesn’t work.


Section 28

Then we move onto the next one. This is where the bodhisattvas get it now.

Mind itself, always complete in its natural expression,

Rests in the womb of uncontrived original nature.

So what he’s saying here is that how we are is how we are and that’s it. I mean, we see things, we feel things, we move, we eat. All of this happens without any thought or direction, you know. We don’t have to figure out how to eat or how to see. It just happens. So you could say experience itself always complete in just the way things arise.

Rests in the womb of uncontrived original nature. This is a poetic way of saying without the projection of thought and emotion, without our ideas about how things should be entering into the picture.

Now all of you know this in your own experience, if only in fleeting moments. You see something that needs to be done, you just do it without thinking. That’s the kind of thing that he’s talking about. I mean he puts it in very high-flown language but you know, there’s some dishes so I just go and do them. You don’t really think about it. And it’s just very natural flow of life.

However, there’s some people who need to analyze everything, think about it. Understand—“Why is this happening? Why isn’t that happening? How is this happening? How is it possible for that to happen?” And this is what he’s referring to:

Caught up in logic and analysis, you sophists distort how things are

Because you believe in descriptions of the two truths.

Now the two truths are ultimate truth and what I prefer to translate as apparent truth. How things appear and how things are. And put very simply, how things are, we can’t say. How things appear, they arise in experience like a dream, like a mirage. Experience we have to negotiate them somehow but we can’t tell where they come from or how they are there. And ultimately we can’t say what anything is. But still we have to negotiate our lives. That’s expressing it in very simple terms. And basically you don’t need to do anything more than express it in those very simple terms. And if you just take that as a way of regarding experience, like “Okay, I don’t know what this is and yet I have to negotiate everything that arises in my experience,” that would be a very good way to approach life. Just like that. Because the not-knowing what it is removes a whole bunch of judgment about how things should be fixed and should be a certain way, etc. And saying, “Okay, yes, I have to negotiate this and just have to figure out the best way to do it,” brings a certain openness and a willingness to work with whatever arises rather than trying to make it conform to how you think it should be.

But there are people who want to analyze this up the gazoo and what is empty and what is not empty, and different kinds of emptiness and different kinds of manifestation, first, second, or primary, secondary, tertiary manifestations, and all kinds of stuff like that. And with these ones you should do this, with those ones you should do this, and this one over here, etc. Anybody negotiate life that way? A few people are nodding. You know, trying to make it all very precise and put it all into the right categories, etc., etc. And just one or two people do that? Okay.

So, in other words, you develop this whole elaborate way of describing experience. And now what happens is that we forget about the territory and we start relating to the map. Does that help people recognize this one? Yeah. Okay.

And that’s what is meant by Because you believe in descriptions of the two truths. They’re maps. But we start relating to them as the territory—how things actually are. And he just says, “When you’re relating to the world this way you gotta ‘looong’ way to go.” [Ken chuckles]


Section 29

Nick, microphone, please. Who has the mic?

Nick: This touches on a little bit like maybe when you asked the question of why I’m here and to broaden that a little bit why I practice.

Ken: Yeah. Can you hold it like that.

Nick: Sorry. Because up to a point in my life I had created a system like this in my own mind—

Ken: Ah!

Nick: Which wasn’t, you know, Madhyamaka or something.

Ken: No. It doesn’t matter.

Nick: It was my own invention, you know—

Ken: Yeah.

Nick: Based on experiences and everything was categorized and finely-tuned, and it was really, really, really complicated to go through a day. [Laughter] Really difficult, yeah. Yeah.

Ken: Yeah.

Nick: And I actually started sitting, practicing a lot and at some point maybe it must have been like six months after I’d been actually practicing consistently, I realized I wasn’t doing that anymore.

Ken: Uh-huh.

Nick: But I hadn’t noticed that it had stopped. And then I tried to describe to somebody how I used to look at things, it sounded completely crazy.

Ken: Yeah, so you have firsthand knowledge of this.

Nick: Oh, yeah.

Ken: Yeah.

Nick: It was painful.

Ken: Painful. Leslie.


Section 30

Leslie: Considering how difficult the path is, sometimes it seems like it’s good to have some beliefs because you could be really mixed up if you keep changing your direction based on what’s going on in your head right now. Or some values or something.

Ken: Well, suppose you’re going for a hike in the Rockies. While you can get topo maps, topographical maps, and compass and things like that, but what would be really useful to you if you’re going hike in unknown territory, territory that wasn’t familiar to you. What would be really useful to you?

Leslie: Go with someone who’s been there before. [Laughs]

Ken: Exactly. A guide who knows the territory. This is far more useful than any kind of conceptual system, you see. And when you’re with a guide you don’t need any conceptual system. And the guide isn’t using any conceptual system. You get my point?

Leslie: Yes, but––

Ken: [Laughing] I love that, “Yesss.”

Leslie: In this path I have teacher but I’m my guide.

Ken: I will let you split that hair.

Leslie: And sometimes I seem quite mixed up.

Ken: Well, what I’m suggesting here is the teacher’s acting as a guide, saying, you know, “Well, you can go there but you’re going to end up dropping about 2,000 feet in about 300 yards. You can tumble down that if you want but I don’t recommend it.”

And now maybe you’re the kind of person who has to test that out. Okay. Well, that’s fine. And some people do.

But the guide isn’t using a conceptual framework. The guide says, “You know, you go there, this is going to happen. You go there, this is going to happen.” And you can say, “Well, how do I know that?” And the guide says, “Oh, go there and find out if you really want to know. But I just don’t think it’s very good for you.”

Now some people—and I think to a certain extent all of us—you know, we have to learn by experience. We’re sufficiently stubborn that it doesn’t matter what the guide says, it doesn’t matter what it says on the topo map, we have to find ourselves rolling down the cliff and go, “Hmm, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.” And if you don’t have any broken arms or legs or bashed-in skull, then we can pick up and keep going.

So, the very best way to practice is by consulting with someone who knows what practice is like. And then you’re getting real experience. And this goes back to the point about language. Language is being used in the way which is directly useful. Once you start abstracting it into a schemata of some sort, it can be very useful but it can also cause you to overlook stuff and create problems.

Leslie: Does that imply that we should look at what the results our guide is getting before we decide to rely on them? [Laughter]

Ken: Ehhh—

Leslie: How many broken bones they have?

Student: Maybe we should just be grateful they don’t have any of those.

Ken: Well, I think the main thing is, does the guide speak to your experience? And if the guide speaks to your experience then it doesn’t really matter what they look like, does it?

Leslie: Not so much.

Ken: Okay. Not so much. I’ll take that an “agree.” Okay.

Let’s stop here and do the short period of meditation.

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