Q&A on individual responsibility in political and social issues, relationship between compassion and insight, and instruction on the ‘one breath’ meditation
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Well, there are a few people still to come so why don’t we take some time and take up any questions you have about your practice?
Student: You know, I was remembering what Thich Nhat Hanh said when he was asked why the Vietnam War happened. He said the war happened to all of us. [Unclear] So I was also thinking of the Iraq War — and that’s been brought up here a couple of times. That’s the sense I have about that, too, that it happened to all of us. Thich Nhat Hanh also said that not only did the Vietnam War happen to all of us, but that we’re all responsible in some very basic sense. So it seems to me that the Iraq War and a lot of other social ills and issues also fit in that category. In some way we are participants in anything that happens, especially when it’s a world conflict and it sort of happens to all of us and we’re sort of responsible for it all. This is following up on a comment by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Ken: I think we have to be very careful how we use words. A few years ago I went to a local book store because there was a person giving a talk on a book he’d written about torturers. He’d interviewed five groups of torturers. One was members of the Israeli army; another was a certain unit in the Chicago police force; third was something in Central America. I can’t remember what the other two were.
It was a disturbing evening. Two things that I recall most clearly from it was that in all cases, the torturers were very ordinary people, and the second is that the torturers felt they had license to do what they were doing. In fact, not only license, they had been tacitly asked by the society to do what they were doing because…
Ken: Yeah, because every society has a class of people that they don’t care what happens to.
Ken: Well, I mean, that’s maybe too broad a statement, but when you look closely at most societies you can discover—in India it’s the untouchables—we certainly have it in our society, and certainly in English society and French society. So, if you come up with a counter example, fine, but it’s pretty widespread. Now, there may be a social need, some dynamic in the structure of societies about that, but I haven’t studied that or looked into it. In any event, I have difficulty with the use of the word “responsibility” in the way that you’re saying Thich Nhat Hanh uses it.
Student: I think [unclear] and the way that word is used is the way I interpret it.
Student: [Unclear] but that is what he said, so however [unclear].
Ken: Well, I know what he’s pointing to, but, as I say, I think we have to be very careful what words we actually do use because it’s very easy to create problems that don’t exist through the misuse of language. I was discussing this at breakfast with Newcomb and Barry actually, the use of the war metaphor.
Ken: The use of the war metaphor. Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. Okay, who’s the enemy?
Ken: Who’s the enemy in the war on poverty?
Student: Poor people.
Ken: Exactly. That’s what you get to. And that’s why it’s inappropriate as used. And I feel something similar in the use of the word responsibility here. As it’s used in normal English.
Now, what I think what Thich Nhat Hanh may be pointing to is that each of us have the same tendencies within us and it is very much a responsibility in our practice to identify and dismantle the reactive patterns that give rise to the same form of discrimination, inconsideration, even hatred, rejection.
Look at the bodhisattva vow. In the bodhisattva vow of aspiration there are two states of mind which violate it. One is despair and the other is rejecting a sentient being. Despair is, “I can’t do this.” And the reason that that’s regarded as a violation of aspiration bodhicitta, or the aspiration to wake up, is because when you say, “I can’t do this,” you’re denying your own spiritual potential. And you’re denying what you actually are.
The definition of either of these two states is that you hold these for more than two hours, which is the length of time it takes for them to become fixed, I mean, approximately. Then you have to renew the vow. Nice thing about bodhisattva—
Ken: Rejecting a sentient being is when somebody does something and you say to yourself, “I will never help that person again.” Now, if you hold that attitude for more than two hours you’ve violated the bodhisattva vow.
This is straight, traditional, classical Buddhism, but you can see those ethical principles within that. There’s instruction that would prevent us from harboring any of the attitudes that make war—and torture and those kinds of things—possible. And I think, yes, we have that kind of responsibility in our practice And I think that’s what Thich Nhat Hanh is pointing to.
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Other questions? Yes?
Student: This stems from yesterday from a question about the practice of shamatha leading to insight as different from that leading to compassion To my experience, the two seem so intertwined. I was unable to catch where it separated and how they are not almost one and the same.
Ken: Compassion and insight? Well, they’re quite different.
Student: Excuse me?
Ken: They’re quite different.
Student: But don’t they arise almost co-emergently?
Ken: [Laughter] That’s a big word. Where’d you get that one? [Laughter] Where’s my dictionary? Ah, the lhan cig skyes pa’i ye shes (pron. lhenchik kyé pe yé shé) [co-emergent or co-natural awareness] I guess. Okay, how much do you want on this?
Student: I’m asking the question because it’s—
Ken: I can give you a three or four-sentence answer or I can give you two hours.
Student: Make it two hours. [Laughter]
Student: Middle way.
Ken: Ah, there we go.
Ken: Are you taking this now? Yeah, okay. That’s good. No? What’s behind your question?
Student: Yeah!! [Laughter]
Ken: What’s the practice experience?
Student: Again from my own experience, it’s that compassion has continued to grow as I’ve been involved more and more in practice, and that the insight that develops from the practice reveals the relationship to all sentient beings. Maybe I am using or hearing the word insight incorrectly.
Ken: Compassion is the ability to be present with suffering. It’s necessary if you’re actually going to help somebody. If you can’t be present with the suffering, then you will try to change the situation so that you don’t feel the suffering. That’s not helping the person. So, the number one requisite in compassion is to be able to be present with the pain in the situation. To do that you have to let go of control, which for some people is a bit challenging. I had one student who’s a self-admitted control freak. We’ve been working on his driving—he keeps trying to arrange the cars on the freeway [laughter]. Insight is the ability to see into what is happening, so they’re quite different.
Ken: No feeling implied in insight, not necessarily. You just see into what is, so it has a penetrating quality.
Student: With compassion [unclear] insight.
Ken: Don’t spoil my story. Now, when we use the term insight in Buddhism we are pointing to something that’s quite different from the way the word is used in ordinary English. And even within Buddhism there are significant distinctions in how the word is used.
In the Theravadan tradition, the word mindfulness refers to what in the Mahayana tradition we refer to as the union of shamatha and vipashyana. It’s quite different usage. Even within the Mahayana, in the Gelugpa tradition, insight is used to refer to working with such questions as what is the nature of mind, what is the color of your mind, where is your mind, all that kind of stuff—you know what I’m talking about. In the Kagyu tradition, those questions are viewed as the preparation for insight, and insight actually refers to seeing into mind nature. That’s insight, okay, which you and I were working with this morning.
Now, it’s quite possible to be able to stand and be present in the presence of pain and suffering and have no insight. And it’s quite possible to see into the nature of mind and have difficulty being present with suffering. It’s possible and, unfortunately, that happens.
In the Mahayana tradition, emptiness—which is the result of seeing and compassion—are regarded as…well, the phrase that my teacher, Kalu Rinpoche, always used was stong nyid snying rje snying po can (pron. tongnyi nyingjé nyingpo chen). stong nyid is the Tibetan word for emptiness, and sngying rje is the word for compassion, snying po is the word for heart and can is the word to have. To have the heart or the essence which is the union of compassion and emptiness. And this is, I think, one of the aspects of the genius of the Mahayana, is the recognition that you need both.
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In terms of practice, as you cultivate compassion—that is, as you become more and more able to be in the presence of suffering—then you can open to more and more experience. You can open to the experience of everyone you encounter. You can open to the totality of your experience because you can be present with the pain in others and you can be present with the pain in you. So, you open to the totality of your experience, and this provides you with a stability of attention, which is awfully useful when it comes to developing insight.
At the same time, when you really see into how things work—and we’re talking about mind, but it’s the same in other areas of knowledge—compassion arises quite naturally, unless there’s an emotional block against it. So, for instance, if you have mastered a body of knowledge—you know, carpentry, psychotherapy, linguistics, it doesn’t matter—but you really know it, you understand it very deeply, what do you experience when you see someone fumbling around and making mistakes in the area of knowledge that you know so well?
Student: You help them.
Ken: Yeah, you feel compassionate. So that’s why I say compassion arises naturally from deep knowing, unless there is an emotional block. And there are all kinds of people who have very deep knowledge of a particular area and aren’t particularly noted for their compassion.
So, yes the two work with each other and can and do enhance each other, but it’s not a given. It’s not a given, and that’s why one is encouraged to cultivate both, okay? All right, Newcomb?
Newcomb: I found yesterday when I was contemplating the karmic armor involved with situations where I had caused harm that it seems that bare insight and compassion arose pretty much together [unclear] as I first explored the whole chain where at happened acutely aware of pain and suffering [unclear] and same time aware of all [unclear].
Ken: That’s right, yes. In our practice, when we sit and we get distracted and we come back, we get to deal with our emotional blocks and we work through those in some way. What we’re developing in the course of all this is an intimate knowledge, an intimate understanding of the process of suffering in us.
But the process of suffering in us is exactly the same as the process of suffering in every other person. The content, the fixations, they may be different, but the process is exactly the same. And the more deeply we know that in ourselves the more deeply we understand it in others. And then, as you say, understanding and compassion arise quite naturally. But it comes from knowing ourselves deeply. In connection with this—did I talk about the four horses?
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Ken: In one of the early scriptures there’s reference to the four horses. Now, the first horse gallops as fast as the wind at the rider’s urging. The second horse gallops just as well as the first horse when he sees the whip in the rider’s hand. The third horse gallops when he feels the whip contact his skin. And the fourth horse doesn’t gallop until he feels the pain of the whip in the marrow of his bones. Which horse do you want to be? [Laughter]
When we hear this story, as Suzuki Roshi says, most of us want to be the best horse. How much does the best horse understand suffering? From the point of view of our practice, you may find the fourth horse is the best horse. I’ve noticed people who are able to sit easily have a difficult time really understanding. People who have more trouble sitting or more trouble with their practice, they usually end up knowing something.
So, think about it. It’s really about knowing your own experience intimately, directly, completely When you know that, you know everything that’s really important, because then you know what is happening in another person because you know it in yourself. And you know how to be present with it because you’ve learned how to be present with it in yourself. So, there’s your insight and compassion, okay. Yes?
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Student: I feel relief now that we’re [unclear]. It’s been a very, very rough day for me. I felt like I was in a minefield. It’s like I don’t want to talk, you know. I don’t want to do anything [unclear]
Ken: I didn’t say don’t talk.
Student: As it turned out, it wasn’t a problem, but the phenomenon I was having—one of them that I identified this morning—was I felt as [unlcear] what’s coming into my mind were things that I’m already experiencing a lot of [unclear] and wanting to maybe work with those. I’m not sure quite how to do that.
Ken: Okay. That first day was just to get us into things and show you a way of working with that traditional material, which can be very fruitful, but also to help you identify reactive patterns that are operating in you. If you’re able to identify those then work with those, and just go through the process that I was describing this morning, where you know a situation or a genre of situations in which you fall into reaction.
Okay, then walk through it very slowly, noting what you’re experiencing at each moment so you actually begin to experience the reaction in you. And as you do this—and you may have to do this several times—you’ll begin to get a sense of the discomfort—which you’re avoiding or seeking to avoid—by falling into reaction. Or which the reactive mechanism is getting you away from. Now you start bringing attention to that, okay? Our practice here has unearthed some things and given you fuel for your practice. Start burning the fuel. Okay?
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Ken: Well, we’re going to do something a little lively right now.
Ken: Well, there’s the one-breath meditation.
Student: That’s all we get? [Laughter]
Ken: Yeah, that’s all you get. The one-breath meditation looks like this. You know, you’re really sleepy, you’re really tired or you’re really distracted, or you’re really sleepy, tired and distracted, you know.
Ken: Okay, so you do one breath. Not so bad was it? Can you do one breath? Just one. Breathe out and be…no no, not forcefully, just quite naturally…so that by the end of that breath you’re fully awake and present. Can you do that?
Ken: Well, try it. Just one breath, and with that one breath you’re going to cut through all of the tiredness, confusion, distraction, sluggishness, torpidity, toxic narcolepsy [laughter]. Just one breath. There wasn’t so bad, was it? Okay. Then you stop. One-breath meditation. Then you do it again.
Student: Do I get to breathe in?
Ken: Well, you can breathe in naturally. If you’ve finished your meditation, you relax, okay. And then when you’re ready, you do it again. You do that for 15, 20, 30 times, just one breath at a time. Maybe by then you have enough confidence to try two-breath meditation. Okay?
Now this is just an extreme application of a well-known meditation instruction. Short sessions many of them. Well, the session has now been shortened to one breath, but it works very well. One breath and then you relax. And maybe you just fall asleep, but now you’re not and that’s fine, okay, because you’re tired, and then one breath. But you’re totally clear.
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One student approached Munindra and said I keep falling asleep when I meditate.
He said, “Okay.”
“Well, what do I do about this?”
“What’s the problem?”
“Well, I keep falling asleep when I meditate.”
“Yeah, yes I heard you. What’s the problem?”
“I keep falling asleep when I meditate.”
“Yes I understand that. What is the problem?”
And then Munindra said, “Now, before you fall asleep, which nostril is there more air going out?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ah, now I understand your problem.”
The point is to be right in your experience. Okay?
Ken: Well, yeah but you’re right there okay. It’s all we can do. Okay, what I want to do is to avoid toxic narcolepsy and other deadly diseases, we’re going to do an exercise. It’s a paired exercise.
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Experiencing the emotional reactions of reactive patternsDownload
Paired exercise on experiencing reactive patterns; additional instruction on working with reactive patterns
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Okay, to avoid toxic narcolepsy and other deadly diseases, we’re going to do an exercise. It’s a paired exercise. Paul, this goes to your point about how do we with deal with people who aren’t as enlightened as we are. [Laughter] Or at least who aren’t practicing the way we are. We can’t, okay? One of the things I do in my spare time is a certain amount of business consulting and executive coaching. These are people who don’t have any practice and most of them aren’t interested in any practice, and they don’t have any time for highfalutin’ ideas like attention and mindfulness; I’m not even worrying about things like emptiness and compassion, either.
Student: What are you coaching them?
Ken: Just how to be sane. You know, just how to lead their departments, and how not to alienate everybody in their office. Just straightforward, usual corporate stuff.
Student: So if you are alienated does that mean you’re insane?
Ken: I’m not getting into that one. [Laughter] So. You’re going to divide up into pairs. This is going to rotate, of course, so everybody will get a turn—but I want the roles to be really clear. One of you is going to explain to the other how to change a light bulb. I found that this is the most useful one.
Student: Do you have to know how-to to start with?
Ken: You’re going to explain how to change a light bulb. Is there anybody here who doesn’t know how? You know, just the screw in…
Student: [Unclear] [Laughter]
Ken: Now, the other person simply says, within a sentence or two of the explanation—and these are the only words you’re allowed to say—“I don’t understand.” Whether you do or not, you are to say this: “I don’t understand.” Those are the only words you’re allowed to say for this exercise. At which point the person who is explaining how to change the light bulb, you’ve got to start over again. And the second person, when they reach the same point in the explanation, even if they went another route, you say—altogether now—“I don’t understand.” Yes, okay. You do this five times. And we’ll have a little discussion afterwards.
Student: Can you interrupt the explanation or wait until the explanation’s complete?
Ken: No, no, within the first sentence or two because we don’t want to take a long time on this, you see. “I don’t understand.”
Student: Does it change, or in other words, as far as the pair does it…
Ken: You’re going to be the explainer, and this person is going to interrupt you five times. And then after that, we’re going to switch roles. Okay. All right?
Student: The same pair?
Ken: It can be the same pair, we will see. All right, but this is…anybody unclear about…?
Student: “I don’t understand.” [Laughter]
Student: Do we get to ask the other person questions about—
Ken: Sure. Do you all know what a light bulb is?
Ken: I don’t understand.
Ken: The only thing the other person’s going to say is, “I don’t understand,” okay? So, pair up, preferably with someone you don’t know. Husbands and wives should not do this exercise together [laughter].
Ken: One more point—could I have your attention please? Okay, when the person says, “I don’t understand,” both of you take a breath, and experience what you’re experiencing right there.
Student: Do we start over explaining…?
Ken: Right from the beginning.
Student: Right from the beginning. Okay.
Ken: Okay, how many have completed five on one side? Okay, finish up quickly and then reverse so you do five on the other side.
Ken: Okay, everybody done five in both directions?
Student: Not quite.
Ken: Okay, just take a minute and finish up then. [aside] “I don’t understand.” “I don’t understand.”
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Okay, let’s come back together.
Student: [Unclear] what was it toxic narcolepsy? [Unclear] sounds good… [Laughter]
Ken: Now, okay, when you were the explainer, what did you experience at the first interruption?
Student: [Unclear] Curiosity, like, “Huh?” [Unclear]
Student: [Unclear] a little challenge and irritation.
Ken: Challenge, okay. Curiosity.
Student: [Unclear] but it was really hard to like take it totally seriously.
Ken: So okay, that’s another thing, okay. Yes?
Ken: Yeah, I don’t understand. Okay, what did you experience at the second interruption?
Ken: Anybody else?
Student: Lack of control. [Laughter]
Ken: Yeah, I got that! What else? Frustration. Weariness, okay.
Student: Creative thinking.
Student: Creative thinking.
Ken: Yes, you started to…okay. Anybody experience incredulity?
Ken: Yes, like, “Huh? But I was so clear. I may not have been clear the first time, but I know I was clear this time.” Right?
Student: What was interesting was that it didn’t help—all the different explanations and approaches were all different. They were all about screwing in a light bulb.
Ken: Yeah, well that’s a whole ’nother side. Now, after the third interruption what did you experience?
Ken: What was that?
Ken: Right. Anger. Stunned.
Ken: Frustration. Anybody?
Ken: Tedium. Pity, okay. [Laughter]
Student: [Unclear]…trouble with the content [laughter].
Ken: Ill will, right. Yeah, grrr…
Student: [Unclear] Okay, I will screw in the light bulb.
Student: To hell with it.
Student: Well no, just taking over the situation.
Ken: Yeah, okay, the futility of trying to explain it.
Ken: Okay. And the fifth?
Student: I give up.
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Ken: Right, okay. Now, question. How many times have you experienced this dynamic in your lives?
Student: At no point did I say, “Let me show you how to screw it in.” You just take it out of the burble and say, “Come over, let me show you how to do it.”
Ken: Yeah, it wouldn’t have made any difference. They would have said, “I don’t understand.”
Student: [Unclear] but I’m showing her how to screw in the light bulb, and taking care of it, and if she doesn’t understand that’s her problem!
Ken: Okay, just another approach. Now, when you were the interrupter, what did you experience on the first interruption?
Ken: Okay, anybody else?
Ken: Power. Anybody else?
Ken: Kamal. Control. Yeah. Fear? Who said that? What were you afraid of?
Student: I was afraid that I wasn’t getting what they were saying, that it was my responsibility that I wasn’t getting it.
Ken: Okay. On the second repetition…the second interruption…?
Ken: No, that was the first one, okay.
Student: I felt broken-hearted.
Ken: What were you sad about?
Student: It was a little bit like the sensation of somebody who doesn’t know how to read when someone’s reading…telling them something. I just had that flash of like, “Shit, this must be a really awful feeling.”
Student: Because I don’t get what she’s saying even though I [unclear].
Ken: Okay you felt what?
Ken: Humor. Yep. Third interruption?
Student: [Unclear]…I felt how it hurts…
Ken: Patience. You felt, you know, kept saying “I don’t understand”…
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Anything else?
Student: [Unclear] [Laughter]
Ken: Yes, there we are—sadism. [Laughter] There you are, trying to minimize the pain. Okay fourth? Fifth? What did you experience?
Ken: Yeah, okay. Right, now this is a totally set-up exercise. Everybody knew everything that was going on, right? Yet all of these feelings came up, all of these stories. How many of you, when you were explaining, felt at some point this person must be incredibly stupid?
Ken: Did that come up? Okay.
Students: Oh yeah…what an idiot…[unclear].
Ken: But it comes up anyway, and how many of you felt despair—“I’m never going to get through,” right? Yeah, okay. And on the other side, “Ah-hah. I have the power!” [Laughter]
Student: [Laughs] It’s true.
Ken: Okay, you didn’t feel that? A lot of people did, maybe not you. And, “Oh this poor person….” Okay.
Student: Yeah, I felt that.
Ken: But the thing is that when you feel, “Oh the poor person,” you’re not really acknowledging who the perpetrator is here. It’s you. That’s why they’re suffering, and so it’s a beautiful way of exiting from your role in the situation.
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The reason for this exercise is that everything you experience here is a reaction. Everything you experienced is a reaction. They are feelings and thoughts and ways of looking at the world which were provoked by the resonance of this situation with past experience. And even though it was a totally set-up situation, we all fall into it. That’s how reactive patterns operate. We fall out of awareness and it just runs. So there’s one person, you know, totally into it, looking for just the precise place to be maximally frustrating to the individual. And there’s another person thinking, “How can I minimize the pain here? I’m really uncomfortable with it.” Okay. And I imagine that’s what you’re doing in other situations in your lives, right? So, that’s reactive pattern.
Now, reviewing your experience, in either situation—you can take your choice—either as the explainer or the interrupter, what experience were you trying to avoid?
Ken: The experience of conflict, okay. Josie?
Josie: Feeling helpless.
Ken: The experience of feeling helpless. Anybody else?
Ken: Mm-hm. But anger is usually a reaction to another feeling, so you/we get angry to avoid something else. What’s under…?
Ken: Let’s go a little deeper.
Ken: Fear for some people. Mm-hm. Yes.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Anybody else?
Student: Isn’t this, like, giving in?
Student: [Unclear] I didn’t want to give in.
Student: I wanted to hold my ground.
Ken: Okay. So you wanted to avoid the feeling of surrender.
Student: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm.
Ken: Okay. What feeling were you…if you weren’t focusing on how to interrupt at precisely the right point?
Student: I guess the things that got to me seem to be that to a certain extent, maybe, avoiding taking the exercise completely seriously, because if I were in a real situation, I wouldn’t try to frustrate a person in a real situation, but this is a game.
Ken: [Laughter] Ah-hah, you see! This is a person who grew up in a family where games were played for blood. [Laughter] That’s where it’s permissible to play for blood.
Ken: Yeah. You’re allowed to do anything. I had a great-uncle—he was wonderful. He was a Scottish Presbyterian, he was a brilliant scientist, and he was utterly moral, except when he played games. [Laughter] So you’d play something like Scrabble, and he’d put down a word, and everybody would say “That’s not a word,” and he’d say, “Of course it’s a word, what do you mean?” And you had to be prepared to challenge him and lose your turn, and he figured if he could get away with it, that was perfectly fair in the context of the game. So that’s another whole thing that’s going on there.
Student: It could give someone permission to be playful you know that’s…
Ken: It also gives you permission to do a lot of other things. Yeah?
Student: For me there’s a kind of sadness—
Student: [Unclear] There was this conflict to engage, and so what I was saying in the end became less important than the fact I wasn’t making contact with someone. I was missing…
Ken: Well, yeah, it’s designed to miss each other in a big way.
Ken: Yeah, right. So, you get the feeling of how reactive patterns take you away from something you don’t want to experience. That’s their function. And they project a whole world, a whole realm, that you look at this person in a certain way. How many of you, when you were in the interrupter’s seat, felt that this person was your plaything? Yes. Right? God realm. Okay, and there you are, you’re not going to give up. Titan realm.
Student: In real life you would have felt—if it was a situation that you really didn’t understand—you would have felt very inadequate.
Ken: Yeah, exactly. That’s what one person said. Inadequacy, that’s usually coming out of the titan realm. That’s why you compete so much, or out of the hungry ghost realm, which is why you’re so greedy, because you’re trying to fill something up. Yes?
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Student: I don’t understand how you can tell the difference between the experience you’re trying to avoid and the pattern. I mean, inadequacy—is that an experience you’re trying to avoid or is that the pattern?
Ken: Well, both. The feeling of inadequacy can be a feeling that you try to avoid, and you go into a reactive behavior, like you’ll get super competitive so that you don’t have to feel that inadequacy. But, as you say, it’s also a pattern, and this is what I refer to as patterns being layered. So, you peel away the competitiveness, you get the inadequacy. You peel away the inadequacy, you might get something like a feeling of shame about yourself, and you just keep peeling away until you get back to a basic feeling, which you can experience in attention. You experience it so that you know it is simply a feeling, then the whole house of cards collapses. And you don’t have to react that way in that situation anymore. You take the guts out of the pattern engine.
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Paul: It seems to me that if you were to break this group into two groups separately and give them both separate instructions and then do this one time it would be more realistic in terms of ongoing relations with others.
Paul: And it might open up and go deeper. There might be a few fistfights. [Laughter]
Ken: You’re quite right, but because I’m using this for illustrative purposes, I don’t want anybody walking away feeling that they had been abused, etc. So I’ve chosen when I do this is to make sure everybody knows that it’s a totally set-up situation. And there’s another advantage to that, because everybody knows exactly what’s going to happen, and the reactions arise anyway. That’s characteristic of reactive patterns: they aren’t about the situation, they’re an inappropriate response to the situation. They’re dictated by what is resonated inside. So, when everybody knows what’s going on they say, “Yeah, you’re right. I was feeling that and there was no reason to.” But you’re feeling it anyway. Okay? But yes, if you split up like that and say, “Okay this is what you’re going to do, and this is what you’re going to do,” then there could be occasion for some pretty deep stuff to come up, yeah.
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Student: Could the competitiveness just be lack of self-worth leading to competitiveness [unclear]…can it all occur in one? That kind of split-second thing going from inadequacy to competitiveness to…
Ken: Oh, it’s very fast. Yeah, it’s very fast.
Student: [Unclear] you know, wanting to kill the person…
Ken: Yep, yeah.
Student: [Unclear]…okay, but all the between is…
Ken: Well, it isn’t necessarily played out.
Ken: But in many cases it is. I mean, you look at people in the business world. You know, after you’ve earned your first fifty million dollars, how much more money do you need to live?
Student: Fifty-two million.
Ken: No, a hundred and fifty.
Student: Then a hundred and fifty billion.
Ken: Yeah, and what these people are trying to do is satisfy something by just being the top, being the best, etc. I mean, you talk to top business people and they say, “Oh it’s not the money, it’s the score. That’s just the way you keep score.”
Ken: Yeah. And you know, unfortunately, what they’re doing with their money—in order to get a better score than the other guys—is wreaking havoc in the society. But no, what’s important to them is getting the highest score, that’s it. So okay, let’s take a break and then we’ll return for meditation.
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Student: Shall I tape it?
Ken: This part we don’t need to tape, no.
Student: [Unclear] compassion.
Ken: Only an intellectual would ask such a question. Now, what I’m trying to do here is give you enough experiential flavor for your meditation practice. This morning I asked you to start going through a reactive pattern and feeling all of the different sensations in body, emotions, and cognitive mind. And so by going through that kind of detailed tracking, bringing attention to your experience, you can start to notice when you move out of responding to a situation to reacting. And that’s the crucial distinction in Buddhism—the difference between response and reaction. When we react, we’re just running a tape. Now, in many work situations—and this certainly I’ve observed in the corporate world—you’re hired and you’re promoted because the way you react serves the interests of the corporation.
Ken: The consequence of that is that you move more and more into reaction throughout your career, and you end up profoundly alienated from yourself, unless you take remedial steps. But that’s what actually happens—you’re paid to react in certain ways. Yes?
Ken: Also, yes, and the education system and things like that, so there’s huge bodies of reaction. Our small task in Buddhism [laughter]—undo it all.
Student: [Unclear] I’m not joking.
Student: You feel that is possible?
Ken: Well, as I said to somebody the other day, if you’re not reacting but actually responding in three per cent of your life, you’re doing very well. If you’re doing five per cent, you’re probably going to be regarded as an awakened individual. If you’re doing seven per cent, you’re qualifying for sainthood. No, a lot of the stuff we do habitually. But is it possible to wake up and be present? Yeah, totally. It is possible. Is it easy? Depends on your perspective. On the one hand, there’s nothing to it; on the other hand, you have to let go of everything you know.
[ PERMALINK ]
Student: I’ve been harboring this fantasy that if I had started in my twenties—I’m now about age fifty—if I had been able to go to the gurus or lamas, that I would be far, far better off than the puny little self that’s [unclear] here today [unclear]. Can you help me with that in any way because I know it’s hardly a true portrait?
Ken: Well, yes [laughter]. And the one question I’ve found really useful for getting at what’s driving a reactive pattern is, “If I wasn’t acting or thinking or doing this, what would I have to feel?” So, if you didn’t harbor or hold to that idea, what would you have to feel?
Student: I’m hopeless.
Ken: Right, that’s where you start. Hopelessness is a very powerful feeling. However, I have it on good authority that it is a feeling, not a fact. Okay. Last comment, quickly.
Student: How do these practices that we’re doing this weekend interact with the sort of dzogchen, mahamudra, cutting through…I mean I think there is [unclear]?
Ken: How do they interact with mahamudra and dzogchen?
Student: I mean that sort of thinking—the cutting through, not, you know, cutting off every branch of the root [unclear]…
Ken: Well, mahamudra and dzogchen aren’t about cutting through at all. That’s a misconception there; and how they interact…
Student: Well I’m sorry, I didn’t say mahamudra [and dzogchen] were about cutting through, I just [unclear] that was one of the practices that was given [unclear].
Ken: Oh, I know. It’s called trekchö and all that, but it’s not what you do at all. The interaction is this: to do those practices you have to have a sufficient capacity in attention that you are able and willing to experience whatever arises. Whatever arises. Now, as I said before, I had the privilege of doing a three-week dzogchen retreat last fall. Our meditation instruction was very elaborate, very complicated, consisted of one sentence: “Do nothing.”
Student: For three weeks?
Ken: For three weeks. Exactly right: “Do nothing.” We had an interview every other day. “Do nothing.”
Student: Not watch the breath?
Ken: Nope. “Do nothing.” That was a great relief.
Student: I’m sorry, what—to do nothing or relax into doing nothing?
Ken: “Do nothing.” Okay.
Student: Did you survive it?
Ken: That’s for you to judge. [Laughter] We took a few days to settle down, etc., and it was great. I felt a significant shift in my practice. I got a lot out of the retreat; very glad to have done it. But around the seventeenth or eighteenth day or so, somewhere around there, I was sitting on the balcony of my cabin doing nothing. I was quite happy doing nothing, and then I thought of Longchenpa, and I thought of Kalu Rinpoche, and I thought of many other teachers. These guys were prepared to do nothing for twelve years. Twelve years. Now, how many of you harbor any personal ambitions? What would it be like to do nothing to fulfill any of those personal ambitions, hopes, dreams, ideas, etc., for twelve years?
Student: You mean not reading a book, not picking up any…?
Student: Not cooking…?
Ken: Well, they cooked, they did that. But they’d just sit and do nothing. And my faith and appreciation of what these guys did was just like, “Wow—that’s really something.” And these people were willing to experience whatever arose. All of the disappointments, all of the hopes, all of the dreams. How long can any of you sit with that stuff? That’s what I mean about a capacity of attention in which you are able and willing to experience whatever arises. So these are not easy practices. It’s one thing to do nothing for an afternoon. Actually it’s not hard to do it for three weeks, although I think it would drive some people nuts. One, six, twelve years—as Longchenpa did—totally different ball game.
[ PERMALINK ]
Okay, now I want to go into meditation instructions. We’ve got to do some this afternoon, just to keep up for form’s sake. I also have a few more people to see in interviews. So I want you to go through practice, through situations where reactions come up, and feel where the reaction arises. You’ll notice that by all of the sensations that arise in your body and emotions and things like that. If you suddenly get lost in thinking, it’s a very good indication you’ve hit reactive material, because everybody uses the intellect to get away from feeling. If you go to sleep that’s also a good indication you’re hitting reactive material because that’s a great way of checking out: I don’t have to feel anything.
Student: What if you’ve forgotten what you were reacting to…?
Ken: Well, you’ve go to go back and do it again. The way practice works here is exactly the same way that shamatha works. You sit down in shamatha, you breathe, get lost in a thought, after a while you go, “Oh yeah, that’s right I got lost in a thought,” and you come back and you breathe again, breathe, breathe, breathe, get lost in another thought, “Oh yeah.” But as you do this over a period of time, you begin to move back until a time comes when you’re sitting there resting with the breath, and a thought comes up and you realize, “Oh there’s a thought.” But you don’t get lost. You’re just, “Oh.” And it goes up and it goes poof, and you go, “Hm,” and you’re just there the whole time.
And that’s actually developing a capacity of attention so you can experience a little reactive process, because a thought is a little reactive process. We’re doing this on a larger scale now. So you just keep coming back, keep coming back, keep going through the same situation. You’re going to get lost, confused and all kinds of uncomfortable feelings come up, etc., etc. You keep going through it, and this way gradually you’re going to hit whatever that reactive process is based on, which is some kind of uncomfortable feeling.
If you hit that—and you may or may not—some people in the interviews said they hit it and some didn’t, but if you hit it, just rest in that feeling, because at this point you don’t know that it is a feeling. It feels like a fact to you. That’s why you run away from it. That’s why the reactive patterns kick up, just to get away from it.
So now you need to develop your capacity of attention just to experience it, just to rest in the experience of it. That may take, you know, anywhere from five minutes to ten years and until you know—and I don’t mean intellectually, I mean experientially—you know it to be a feeling, then everything changes. So that’s the big scheme of the practice.
Okay, so we’ll start, and I think we’ll just do the same thing we did—two periods with one period of Qigong. Okay. Where did we finish with the interviews? You’re next. So then you and Didier and Scott, is it? Okay.
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