Chö 7
Chö, the Tibetan word for cutting, can be defined as using difficult experiences to develop your ability to be awake and clear in whatever life throws at you. This series explores Chö’s origins in the Diamond Sutra, its relationship to Taking and Sending, and daily prayers and practices.

Blasting ObsessionsDownload

Pointing out the meaning of the perfection of wisdom; cutting the four demonic obsessions; four stages of Chö practice.




Section 1

A little more light please. Okay. Now I know where I am.

Now this is going to be a very rough translation. [Laughter] What?

No, that’s not on the right page. [Flipping through pages] Okay.

This is called Pointing Out the Meaning of the Mother.

So, to start, there are the instructions for taking hold of mind, which means establishing a base of attention, which is needed in order to bring out the clarity from the mother of conceptual thinking.

So, you sit in the seven-pointed posture, which is formal meditation posture, let the breath flow freely and mentally let go of engaging the three times. So. Don’t pursue the past, don’t anticipate the future, don’t think about the present, and rest right on the freshness of knowing. Can I borrow your booklet? Thank you.

In the Vajradhara Prayer, you may recall, Rest fresh right there, in the moment, not doing anything with it. That’s the instruction. Page 17, second verse from the bottom, third line. Rest fresh right there, in the moment, not doing anything with it. Okay?

If you can’t do that you imagine a gold vajra, or the Shakyamuni Buddha, or Prajnaparamita about this high in front of you. This is just a base. What they’re talking about is learning how to develop the resting mind. The best way for chö to develop the resting mind is by resting on the freshness of experience in each moment—which is no thing of course. Just resting in open awareness, right there.

And when you do this and your attention stabilizes, then what appears as objects—thoughts, the movement of thought, and the knowing mind—none of them have any substance in and of themselves. They’re just there. And you rest in that direct knowing.

This clear empty experience which arises immediately is inexpressible, is free from any elaboration—it’s like the sky itself. This is the perfection of wisdom. This is the honorific for thought, sometimes translated as vision but I think I’ll use intention. This is the intention of the buddhas of the three times. So, you maintain this absorption for as long as you can.


Section 2

Basically, what’s happening here…if you sit in meditation right now with your body straight, it’s very good to do this when you’re tired, seriously.

Let your breath settle. Let go of any thoughts about the past. Don’t anticipate the future. Don’t think about the present. And the knowing that arises, right there. Look and rest. That clear emptiness which is no thing, free from any kind of thinking, as empty and dimensionless as the sky. But not simply empty space because this clear knowing quality is there as well. It’s not different from the emptiness. That is the mind of all buddhas and the meaning of the perfection of wisdom. There is no other buddha than that. We don’t need to look anywhere else. It doesn’t come from anywhere. It doesn’t go anywhere. There’s nothing you can point to and say, “It is that.” Yet it is present all the time. It is no thing in itself. Yet it is the basis of all experience. Even in the most crazed confusion it is present, just as it is present in the quietest, stillest mind. Okay?


Section 3

Now, the second part—Cutting the Demons in the Realm of Totality. In the chö tradition there is cutting the demonic obsessions in the realm of totality. In the chö tradition there are four demonic obsessions. First, there is the demonic obsession with solidity—that which appears as external objects: floor, book, light, sound, taste, smell, anything like that. That’s what solidity means. When you experience it, thoughts of attraction and aversion arise, right? It stimulates thoughts of attraction and aversion, that’s the demonic obsession. When you fall under that influence, that open clear awareness is interrupted. So, my colloquial translation here: Blast the demonic obsession into the realm of totality! This is for you, Franca. [Laughter]. It’s actually pretty close to the Tibetan. [Ken speaks Tibetan phrase, then makes whoosh sound] Throw over a cliff.

And how you do this is, when you’re resting in that open clarity and a thought of attraction or aversion for a material object arises, you go phat! That’s what you do. [Laughter] Details.


Student: Aigu.

Ken: Aigu. I’m sorry. P-e-aigu [pé]. Orthographically in Tibetan, it’s p-h-a-backwards t. So it’d be pat. It probably wasn’t phat in India. This is a syllable which is used to destroy obstacles, and it comes up in many mantras. So, how it was pronounced in India, I think,pat. Yeah, that’s right. P-a, and then the backwards “t.” With the backwards “t,” so it has the slight “r” in it. How would it be pronounced?

Student: pat.

Ken: pat, yes. But in Tibet, it became phat [pron. péh]. It works either way. That’s the important thing.

So doing that is cutting the demon of obsession with materiality or solidity. That’s how it’s done.


Section 4

Now, he talks about two stages in chö practice which are called arising and termination. I have some material from Sarah’s translation of Machik’s biography which explains that in detail. When I’ve gone through all four demons, I’ll read that to you because Kongtrul doesn’t go into the details here. But it’s about how the pattern, which is this demonic obsession with—in this case—materiality or solidity, releases. And in the same way, when—because of the undisciplined nature of your own mind—without any particular stimulus from outside, you find yourself under the influence of the five poisons, or excitement, or suffering, or fear. When those things arise, this is called the non-materiality, because there’s no solid object in reference to. So when preoccupation with yourself or pride—oh sorry—when you get involved with things like pride, anger, jealousy, greed, fear, suffering, etc., that’s the obsession with non-materiality. And you do the same thing when that happens, you yell phat. And you know, just as you experienced, your mind goes blank and you’re right there.

Needless to say this is a kind of solitary practice. [Laughter] This is not a group meditation. Would kind of kick to do it in a group wouldn’t it?

Student: You never did?

Ken: Pardon?

Student: You have never heard of anybody, you know [unclear].

Ken: No, no, this is not a group meditation. When you are preoccupied with yourself, and you’re feeling arrogant or proud, and this is the kind of thing that happens when you think you’re getting somewhere in your meditation. You know, like, “Oh, I understand something. I’m a great mind-training meditator.” You know, “Oh, I’ve experienced this. I’ve experienced that.” You get excited, and you think you’re getting on top of things. Right?

Well, several of you have fallen into that during this retreat. [Laughter] Of course, the retreat worked very, very well because the next day, it’s been a complete disaster for you. [Laughter] You know, I had to arrange the sun, and the wind, and everything very carefully to get this. [Laughter]

So, this kind of excitement is an involvement, an attachment—that’s called the demon of excitement. Another term for it is the god-child demon. And whenever you find yourself under that influence, yell phat again.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: I don’t know.

Student: God-child?

Ken: Demonic obsession of excitement or god-child.


Section 5

And then the fourth demon, demonic obsession is obsession with a self-image. And what’s very important here is, you have the self-image and you have the obsession with it, you know, what attaches to that. Now, practically speaking, we always have self-images, in every situation that we go into. But we don’t necessarily have to engage or organize our whole way of relating to the world from that perspective. So, anytime you find yourself engaging in and involved in, “I am this, I am that,”—phat. It cuts through that engagement with I. Follow?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: That would be an interesting experiment. I’ll have to try it sometime. I guarantee, I won’t get, “Well, that was better than I expected.” [Laughter]


Section 6

My difficulty here is that the writing here is very faint, it’s hard to read. [Ken reads Tibetan] By doing this, every time you do this, and you actually do it forcefully, so your mind is just right there. This puts you right back into the meaning of the perfection of wisdom.

Yelling phat, what you do is you really engage the demonic obsession very intensely, so you are totally consumed by it and then phat! This is called blasting them into the realm of totality. You like the translation? Yeah. Pardon?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: That’s a different process. That’s using opening to the actual experience and transform it. This is like delivering a shock. Okay?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Thank you. There are various names for it. It’s often called the demonic obsession of arrogance. Sarah translates it as the demonic obsession of inflation, which is very close to the actual Tibetan. Inflation, inflating the sense of self, you see. It’s like, I mean one of the ways this is described, you know, you inflate the sense of self by pumping it up, I mean like this, and then you go phat. Pop.


Section 7

Now, and when you yell phat, then you just rest in that open space until you become obsessed with something again. Now, you can see if you don’t have a pretty stable mind, this gets to be a weird meditation. [Laughter]

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: It depends on your condo. Okay, you know, [Ken reading Tibetan text] What?

Student: What was three?

Ken: Three is getting excited about your experience. And four is what is normally translated as ego-clinging itself. It’s obsession with a sense of self. I’ll read you some notes that I put in Wake Up To Your Life about this.


Section 8

Now, the link with the visualization practice is that, when you develop some ability really to rest in the meaning of the perfection of wisdom, mahamudra—whatever you want to call it, because it’s all the same thing—then you do things like the visualization where you’re imagining all of this stuff. You get this huge visualization going. And it’s very intense. The demons are just feasting on your body. The flesh and blood and bones are flying everywhere all over the place. You got dakinis and offerings and deities and everything. And in the middle of this you go phat! And you’re just there. As you continue to do this, you cultivate compassion very, very intensely, very deeply, whether it’s through taking and sending or whatever, so it’s really, really strong and you go phat!

And then you do the same thing with faith, loving-kindness, with everything. [Laughter] Cool. Okay? This is, you know, loving-kindness, compassion you mix with totality of experience, totality of being in the same way.


Section 9

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: No, there’s no visualization here. You could be doing chö, and you blast the visualization into emptiness. Other times, you just mediate on loving-kindness and compassion or faith. And when it’s really, really strong, phat! So, in this way, you come to know the empty nature of all experience.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: No, no. You have the visualization going on, you blast that into emptiness. Another exercise is to cultivate any of the four immeasurables and blast that into emptiness. Faith in your guru—blast that into emptiness. You blast everything into emptiness. I like this translation..

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yes. This still works. Oh, just, you know [Ken snaps fingers].


Section 10

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: No, there’s only four. you know Mullah Nasrudin, don’t you?

One night, his wife woke him up and said, “I think there’s a thief in the courtyard.” And she pointed, and there was something white moving. Nasrudin said, “Oh, I think you’re right.” And he went and got his bow and arrow and took very careful aim, shooom. And the white thing disappeared. So Nasrudin went down to investigate it, came back and he was just shaking with fear. He was totally white. He was holding a shirt. And he said, “This is my shirt. Thank goodness I wasn’t in that or I would have killed myself.” [Laughter]

I have more. Okay.


Section 11

This section is called Uprisings, Apparitions, Evidence of Success, and Evidence of Severance.

And this is the progression that one goes through in chö. As you do this practice, one begins to get various signs that you’re moving into contact with these demonic obsessions within yourself—that’s the uprisings. And then you have a kind of stable, it becomes an increasingly stable connection with them. And then you’re actually starting to cut through them. And then you have cut through them. Those are the four stages: uprisings, apparitions, evidence of success, and evidence of severance.

The question that was posed to Machik,

When you say uprisings and apparitions, are those the same? If they are two things, where is the dividing line? Are the evidence of success and the evidence of severance also the same? Or if they are two, what are they like?

Machik says,

The evidence of uprisings and of apparitions are two different things, and the evidence of success and of severance are also different. First the uprisings, then the apparitions, then the evidence of success, and then the evidence of severance. First of all, the yogin must internalize both the practice of casting away the body aggregate as food and reliance on a haunted area. Once you have assimilated the cycles…

Let me skip through that. That’s all preparational. Right, so…

Whatever visualization you undertake, whether peaceful, enriching, controlling, wrathful, extremely wrathful, and so on, maintain undivided altruistic intention and the motivation of inseparable emptiness and compassion as the foundation.

Now, it seems that she’s talking about these things as external forces, but listen to it very carefully in terms of internal processes.

Troubled by your peaceful or other primary absorption, the spirits that live in that same haunted area cannot bear the overwhelming brilliance of the yogin’s power of reality, and they become agitated. In order to interfere with the yogin’s practice, a spirit relies on any resources of its own, or summons other companions and gets them all riled up and they crowd in. When that happens, the yogin gets a slightly uncomfortable sensation in body and mind, like a queasy, light-headed, or hair-raising feeling. That’s called the initial uprising.

Sound familiar?

Then the gathering of all these spirits consolidates and manifests all kinds of emanations by whatever powers and abilities they each have. They send a variety of problems, interfering with the yogin’s meditative absorption. At that point, the yogin experiences various unpleasant sights, either for real, or as visionary experiences, as an overwhelming presence, or as dreams. These are called apparitions. Although the spirits display a profusion of various apparitions, they find no purchase with that yogin.

Because of the consistency in intention.

They are unable to bear the yogin’s power of reality.

That’s the force of intention.

Their power is exhausted and falls to the yogin.

This is the transformation.

They become obedient and subservient, doing whatever is commanded. They can accomplish the worldly spiritual powers and minor wishes, serving like slaves. At that time, as a portent of the birth of the yogin’s qualities, all kinds of wonderful and delightful signs occur. This is called evidence of success.

This is the transformation of the energy of these demonic obsessions into attention.

Then the spirit’s courage wanes, their strength subsides, and their malicious thoughts are weakened. They obey the yogin’s commands. Promising to do no more harm to sentient beings, they become allies for those who practice the dharma. The spirits themselves enter the path to liberation and begin virtuous activity. The signs will come to the yogin that those spirits will certainly attain the enlightened path of liberation through the force of protecting the side of the good. At that time, the yogin has severed the roots of all apprehensions that her or his mind could be lost to the inflation of good or bad thoughts, and so on. Once the utterly pure view of the truth of reality, the meaning of the true nature of nonself, is actualized, you will accomplish your own welfare in attaining dharmakaya. You will possess prolific ability to establish beings in the citadel of freedom…

Hey, she stole that from me. Damn. That was my translation.

…and accomplish the welfare of many other sentient beings, primarily those spirit lords of the place and their attendants. This is called evidence of severance.

And then she goes into a lot more detail about it.


Section 12

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: There are four stages, but they aren’t called the four stages of whatever this…I mean if you want to put a title, this is the four stages of the progression of transformation of experiencing in the chö tradition. Okay.

Now, in the taking and sending chapter in here, I just threw in a little bit on the four demonic obsessions, coming at it from a different point of view. The cutting obsession with the external world or with materiality—I won’t go into all the details here—the key instruction: Regard everything as a dream.

Cutting obsession with reactive emotions. This is something I’ve talked with some of you about in the interviews. The key instruction: The trouble is I believe my feelings. Now, what the feelings tell you is one thing, what is is another. But when you are obsessed with your reactive emotions, you feel that what the feelings are telling you is fact. It’s not. And that differentiation’s extremely important. To counteract this sense you say, “The trouble is I believe my feelings.”

Once, when I was in the three-year retreat, I was not well, and we came into the temple to do our evening service. I was the lead chanter for that month. As we were sitting down, I had the very weird experience, and this was because I wasn’t well physically at this point, looking at everybody and feeling that they were all out to get me, and knowing at the same time that how I was seeing it wasn’t true. I couldn’t move it, but that’s how it was. I could see the projection in operation. And as you practice, you begin to see this. You have this feeling coming up, and you know this person likes you, but you can’t help but seeing them as this enemy. And the way to cut through this is, “The trouble is I believe my feelings.”


Section 13

Then the third, cutting obsession with pleasure and power, that’s how I translate that excitement one. May all suffering come into me. May all happiness go to others. Basic taking and sending. That’s how you cut through your own excitement about your own progress and abilities and whatever.

And then cutting obsession with self—you’ll love this one. One of the things I’ve been mentioning in a few of the interviews is that when you have a very strong pattern, initially, we identify it, we feel we are the pattern. And something that I’ve found very helpful is to call the pattern it. Okay? And what do you say to it when your life’s fallen into complete misery and things like that, and you’re totally obsessed with it? You say, This is what you wanted. This is what you live for. Because it set that whole thing in motion, and you’re just reminding that this is what it wanted: total chaos in your life.

Okay, that’s all that I wanted to go over this evening.


Section 14

Student: This is where in Wake Up to Your Life?

Ken: This is page 336 to 345. You know, there are a few good things in the book, but you got to dig really far to find them. Any questions?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: I found that most helpful when I recognize like, I’m furiously angry, or insanely jealous, or any of those things or any number of emotions like depression, things like that. When that emotion is up, you’re necessarily experiencing the world through the filter of the emotion. This is the six realms, so you experience everything is against you. And just saying, “The trouble is I believe my feelings,” just saying that wakes something up. Okay, this is maybe how I’m experiencing things but this isn’t necessarily how things are. And it opens up just a little bit of breathing space which can make a huge difference. Okay? Did that answer your question?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Okay, in practice. Ask your question again.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Oh, I see, now I understand your question. This little voice said, “You don’t think this is true do you?” It’s very simple, “No, I don’t think it’s true but it’s useful to me to do this.” One of the instructions I’ve given is, when you’re working with the six realms rather than just imagine it out there, go right into the realm, so you’re surrounded by it, right in the thick of it, and do taking and sending there. It just becomes very vivid, and you’ve got plenty to work with because you got all of these. Like you take the hell realm; you got all of these hell demons and beings just killing and fighting each other and being crushed by molten, burning hot rocks and being impaled by spears. You know, you can make it as graphic as you want, make up your own images, but you know read Dante’s Inferno or what have you.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Thank you. So you just do it right there, and it doesn’t matter whether you regard it as true or not because even if it’s just like a dream, which it is, just doing this, brings up that contraction from all of that suffering which is what prevents us from feeling compassion. And you think, “Oh, if I give any of my happiness away I’m just going to lose it right here now.” And all of that attachment, you just give it away anyway, so it makes everything more vivid. And the little voice nattering in the background, it’s just a little voice nattering in the background. Let it natter away. Okay?

Any other questions? Okay, that’s all I have for this evening. Have a good evening, see you in the morning.