Five Elements / Five Dakinis 9
Dakini practice — a way to refine experience and raise energy.

Session 9Download

Presence, purification, energy: 3 types of practice; Dakini practice as purification, transforming reaction chains into presence; Personal practice balances these elements; Two modes of completing practice: symbols and lights; Statements associated with elements, related to emotional patterns




Section 1

One of the things I didn’t explicitly suggest that you do, but I’ve noticed some people doing it. Here we are out in nature we can sit and play with rocks, watch water, feel the sun, bask in the breeze and study the elements just by experiencing them. It’s a very helpful thing to do.

As I said at the beginning of this retreat this is learning another language. It’s a mythic language. It’s also a metaphoric language. And in it’s own way it’s very powerful. One of the themes that I found very useful in both practice and in my life, is the theme of balance. And this is certainly some influence from balanced sources here.

One of the things to recognize about balance is that one is never in balance, things are never in balance, but they can be more or less out of balance. When things are moving in the direction of imbalance they become progressively more difficult. Requires more and more effort to hold the situation together.

So in terms of our practice, if you find in your sitting meditation you’re expending more and more effort trying to—maybe you feel like you are expending more and more effort to overcome dullness—well, that indicates that there is some kind of imbalance which you’re using that energizing to ignore. It may be you actually need to rest. Or it may mean that there is a different kind of effort needed.

One of the quotes I have up on Unfettered Mind’s web site—somebody said, “That’s what I try and tell my wife all the time!”—says If you are rowing in the wrong direction, rowing harder doesn’t help. There are a lot of areas of application for that one. So if you are moving in the direction of imbalance and you’re working harder and harder it’s not going to help. You’re increasing the imbalance.

On the other hand when you move in the direction of balance things become easier and easier, they begin to flow.


Section 2

Now as I said a few moments ago one is never actually in balance. Instead what happens is you become more and more adept at detecting imbalances, and are able to address them earlier and earlier. So there’s more continuity and less huge fluctuation. And it feels like you’re doing very little, but a great deal is being accomplished.

So we rely on awareness for the detection of imbalance. In particular, meditation, we have two components of attention. The first, and here I’m using the Mahayana definitions which are different from the Theravadan definitions. Two components of attention are: mindfulness and awareness. Not the big awareness, the direct awareness, just awareness.

Mindfulness here is defined as being present with the object of attention. So if that’s your breath you’re present with your breath. If it’s a book your attention is resting on the book. If it’s nature of mind you’re experiencing nature of mind.

Mindfulness is the quality that you always start with. And basically you establish a connection with mindfulness when you are able to rest on the breath for three or more breaths in a row. You have then experienced mindfulness. So it’s not some mystical magical quality. Very ordinary quality just a certain steadiness in attention.


Section 3

The second quality, awareness, is defined as knowing what’s going on. And all of you have experienced this in your meditation. Attention becomes steady and there you are resting say with the breath. At the same time you are aware of all that other stuff which is very useful, because it is in that broader awareness that you’re able to detect whether things are in balance or not. “Am I going to sleep. Am I thinking?” etc.

In our practice we get more and more adept at detecting when we’re moving away from clear stable attention. We can move away in one direction, lapsing into dullness; in the other directions lapsing into busyness.

The five elements allow us to bring a higher level of attention to the whole matter of balance. So here the steadiness of attention would be like the earth element. Clarity is the water element. Knowing is the fire element. The dynamic quality is the air element. And the indefinable open quality is the void element.

Now it’s not particularly helpful to sit while you meditate analyzing the quality of your attention like crazy. It takes you out of the practice basically. A lot of us have this problem. We sit there and we have this running commentary on how we’re doing. Anybody else know that one? “You’re doing fine now, just keep going, yep, good [laughter]. Not! You’re getting a little dull, yep. No, don’t follow that thought. That’s it! Good!” [Laughter]. It’s just thought.

We can do the same thing in all areas of our lives. In our relationships the support of nurturing quality is earth. The flow of emotional energy back and forth: water. The passion interest, etc: fire. The ideals that you aspire to: air. And the space in which all this takes place: void. You know.

It also applies to work, other activities. It’s very interesting to look at projects one’s engaged in either in one’s professional or personal life. When they go wrong it’s almost always because one of the elements is out of balance. You know, choke something to death with too much structure. Something dies because there’s no passion in it, so forth.

If you’re in leadership roles this can be very helpful. If something doesn’t feel right, tells you what to do. So a wide range of applications here.


Section 4

Yes. [Unclear]

Student: Yesterday when we were doing these exercises, even though I found them dreadfully boring, I got a lot out of them because I could see all the people that I work with and how they move. And I could see then how to begin to read where they were in the organization and how they were able to function with highly traumatized children. Or whether or not they could function. So I think knowing how people in an organization just physically move that was a really good guide for me.

Ken: Yeah. Well one of my students—some of you know her—Gail, is an expert in using movement to analyse how people function in organizations. It’s pretty well died out. The last really proficient practitioner of this is at Claremont actually. And there were some things developed in the earlier part of the 20th century. But just seeing how people move and you can tell exactly how they will function in an organization.

So what I’m trying to describe here or convey to you is how you can use this language you’ve started to learn. And use it in conjunction with awareness in order to support the effort to move into great and greater presence. Because balance is the optimum condition for presence to arise. It’s one of the reasons why we emphasis learning how to establish stable clear attention because it’s out of that that the kind of direct knowing can be recognized.


Section 5

So this afternoon I just want to make reference to the meditation that we didn’t do. Which you may be interested in doing on your own. Which will take you into much deeper understanding of how the reactive patterns limit you, and also open up ways of moving in different directions. And this is on page 232/233 the following.

Student: Is that the same for the paperback?

Ken: Yes. Yep. Fortunately they’re the same. And this can be summarized under the three words: escape, die and turn to light, or three phases.

Student: Is that [unclear]?

Ken: Escape, die and turn to light. It’s called The Five Dakinis: Form and Emptiness. And here you get to use your imagination.

So, as it says here, imagine you’re in an earthquake. This is the empty component of the earth reaction. And you come up with a way of escaping. Now when you first do this, you think, “I can’t escape an earthquake.” You’re doomed. And that informs you on the limitations in your thinking here, what you’re capable of imagining. So, here you are in the earthquake and the ground is shaking beneath you, maybe it’s splitting open, how do you escape? You come up with something. You’re going to have to be creative. In other words you’re going to have to step out of your conditioned thinking.

So you go through that and then you go back to the earthquake and the ground splits open and you fall into it, and it closes over you and you die. How’s that? And you go through that. This is to counteract the tendency that you think you can control everything. It’s also to remind you of the inevitable results of reactive patterns. They’re parasites, they kill you.

Then you go back to the earthquake a third time. And as the ground is shaking, and opening up, you imagine light radiating from the earth center and everything turns to light. And you rest in the light. Then let the jewel form at the earth center.

Now for each reaction there are the emptiness aspect and the form aspect. The form aspect for earth is imprisonment—like you’re stuck between two rocks—can’t move. So you go through the same thing there. You figure out a way to escape, you die, crushed between the rocks, and turn everything to light.

And you do the same for water, fire, air, and void. Void is a little difficult because it’s closely analagous to actual death experience.


Section 6

Now, this is a difficult set of exercises. Do each of these for two or three days. You may find your relationship with a lot of stuff changes. Some limitations fall away, but you also may recognize the limits of situations more accurately.

Usually when we do this, we go up to that point in the dakini meditation, and then move into the escape, die and turn to light. Do the transformation, do the jewel and the earth case and then go on from there.

Now obviously we didn’t have time in the context of this retreat, to do all of that. But that would be an additional step. And as I pointed out, doing this opens up the possibility of stepping out of the limited way we think about things now. Helps us to recognize the limits. And helps us to know the actual nature because the actual nature of all of this stuff is that it is simply an arising in mind. That’s why we turn it to light in the end.

Any questions on that? I just wanted to make sure, so that you had the whole story, so to speak.


Section 7

It’s also very useful to pay attention to the elements in your life. Where do you get support. Where do you not have support. A friend of mine is going through quite a difficult period in her life. And she happened to be in town a few weekends ago and I said, “So who are your business advisors?” And she said “Well other than you Ken, I don’t have anybody.” I said “Then you’ve got a serious problem. You need to have more sources of advice other than just me because I’m not even an expert in these matters.” So that was an indication of where she did not have that aspect of earth element in her life.

So earth, as we have talked about many times, has to do with structure, order, routine, foundation of your life. You know the basics like food, and shelter, income. The things that form the basis of life. And you take a look. And you see where they are present where there isn’t enough attention on them or maybe there’s too much. Backing up your hard disk is a good earth exercise. I need to do that myself!


Section 8

For water it’s about flow as we’ve talked about. In particular what things in your life do flow, what things in your life don’t flow. Near where I live in Los Angeles there’s a house on a corner. And it has a brick pathway leading through the lawn to the sidewalk. And it ends where the two sidewalks intersect and it forms an arrow there. So this path way is like an arrow leading out of the house. You stand at the vortex of that arrow and you can just feel all of the energy flowing into you. I can’t imagine how anybody is surviving in that house! ’Cause there’s just this arrow leading all of the energy out it. Wonderful bit of feng shui.

So where are things flowing in your life that they shouldn’t be flowing? Where aren’t they flowing that they really need to be flowing. You know, where there’s flow of information, flow of emotion, flow of income, all of those things. What are you attached to? What are you adverse to? That all comes into water.


Section 9

Same thing with fire. Where is the vitality, the passion, the energy in your life? Dalai Lama likes taking apart watches. He loves that. Done it since he was a kid; still does it today. Pure enjoyment. Things you do for pure enjoyment, that’s fire. Things that you get riled up about, that’s reactive fire.

So take a look at that. Where’s fire in your relationships or the lack of it? What do you consume? In particular, as I find this very important, where do you consume attention?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yes. Where do you require other people to give you attention, and you consume it. You know, Laurence Olivier was once asked, “How do you be a great actor,” and he said, “Look at me.” [Laughter] That’s what makes an actor great. You look at them, and you can’t help looking at them. They consume your attention. They are adept at it, they’re expert at it. Politicians, if they are any good, do the same thing. So what consumes your attention.

What do you like to learn, explore and learn more about? What do you not want to learn more about? Where is there too much fire; where are you getting burned? Where is there too little? Things are dying out.

For me with projects it’s always the beginning of the projects that I’m interested in. I love starting things. Once they’ve started I totally lose interest in them. Somebody else can run them—not interested. But I love, you know, okay, how you put it together. “Okay. we put that here. Okay I can see how to do it. Lets oh—forget that.” And I go onto something else.

That’s why I can only teach something two or three times. After that I am completely bored with it. You know if you want to be a good teacher you can teach it over and over and over again. I can’t do that. How is it for you? Some people just love running things. They hate starting them. But they love running things, all these differences.

Student: You can be a good teacher [unclear].


Section 10

Air. Where does air manifest in your interactions with people? Well, they’re the people you like to sit down and brainstorm with. Get the ideas flying around. It may not get anything done, but it sure is interesting.

Water connects through emotion.

Student: Water? You want air?

Ken: I am on air. I’m just going through…water connects through emotion. Earth connects through support. Fire connects through passion. Air connects through problem-solving, understanding something.

Anybody remember Beyond the Fringe? Yeah, it’s a British comedy group. One of their routines was about the philosopher—this interview, I think— Russell or somebody going to see E.G. Moore. And it goes like, “So I went to see E.G. Moore and I saw that he had a basket beside his chair with apples in it. So I said to him, ‘Moore do you have some apples in that basket?’ And he said ’No’. So I paused and I said, ‘Moore, do you have any apples in that basket?’ And he said ’No’. Thus leaving me in the logical [unclear] in which there is only one recourse. ’Moore’, I said, ‘do you have apples in that basket?’ ’Yes’ he said. And from then on we were the best of friends!” [Laughter]

A philosopher’s discussion, a connecting through understanding. Don’t worry about it, no deep significance there.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Don’t bother about that one, no. On this subject, who plays intellectual games with you so you never feel any sense of connection. A rush of fingers! And then void. Where is there space in you life?

One of the things that has taken me a long time to learn, but I actually do it now, is I space things out in my day. I space things out in my day so I very, very rarely have two meetings back to back. That makes a tremendous difference. I can have actually quite full days and never feel rushed.

Another thing which I’ve learned to do, which I’ve advised people—particularly if they are in high-pressured jobs where unexpected things happen all the time—is schedule unscheduled time. That way you always have time for something if it comes up unexpectedly. This is also good for ones personal life. There’s a person I used to work with who’s had something on his social calender every night of the week. That’s how his partner liked to live his life, and my client was just being run into the ground. So I said, okay, take out your calender get a red magic marker please. And I want you to put an x through two nights of every week. And he went: “I can’t do that!”. I said “Yes you can. You simply take your hand and you go like this.” And he went “Mmm, but what if somebody calls?” “You tell them you’re busy. You are. You’re busy doing nothing that night.” He said it made all the difference.

So scheduling time where there is nothing in our lives is very very important.


Section 11

You know meditation time is a time where there’s nothing in our lives. I’ve started to work with a group of people in their 20’s and early 30’s. And, you know, “What do you produce when you’re meditating?”

Student: Space.

Ken: Nothing. You produce absolutely nothing when you practice meditation. So in terms of a life and a culture and a society which is bent on being productive, meditation is a complete waste of time. It produces absolutely nothing. For this reason it’s impossible to reconcile meditation with a productive life. And if you try to squeeze meditation into your life, it will be squeezed out because it’s not productive. The only way that you have a meditation practice is if you say to yourself, “I want this time to do nothing.” And you make it a priority along with everything else in your life. Nothing else works. But if you approach meditation from the idea of being more productive, wave good bye to your meditation practice.

So we need space in our lives because if our lives are full nothing new can come in. It’s a simple as that. In relationships you need space. If you’re a guest your host needs space. A good guest knows how to get lost for periods of time, so there isn’t a constant demand on the host.

So study void. Void is what makes everything possible. If there is no emptiness or open space in your life then very very few things are possible.


Section 12

Okay. So I’ve tried to give you an overview here over these four or five days. We’ve covered an awful lot of material. I think it’s quite good. But I think you probably appreciate at this point that this is really just a start. The extent to which you explore this is up to you. Like most systems of practice in Buddhism, they can be taken to any depth that you want. The more fully you form a relationship with the dakinis the more fully you form the relationship with your own mind, including the awake aspects of it such as the five aspects of prestine awareness.

My responsibility has been to introduce these tools to you. Hopefully to the extent that you have some experiential flavour of them. Now they are yours. Now you do with them what you wish.


Section 13

Any questions? Peter.

Peter: [Unclear] I’m assuming it connects with is space?

Ken: Yeah, it connects through space. Give another person space, they give you space, that’s another form of connection. Any other questions. Yes

Student: If we get stuck in our practice we can email you? [Unclear]

Ken: Yep. I’m pretty easy to track down. You can email, or if you really want to talk about something then give me a call we’ll set up a time. That’s always possible.

Any other questions?

Student: After an intense period like this of a long retreat does your practice become easier? Is there a pattern that forms after a retreat?

Ken: What are you concerned about [unclear]?

Student: Oh, just getting lost in the [unclear], I guess.

Ken: Anything I say would be irrelevant. You’re going to go back and you’ll either continue your practice or not. Anything I say will be somewhat inconsequential.


Section 14


Mary: After four of us leave you’re going to give us some warnings. Now I know we can listen on the podcasts, but could you give us the major warnings? The top two? [Laughter]

Ken: The top two, yes.

Here we’ve been working with a sustained practice over a period of a few day, where there’s been a pool of energy we’ve been working with. Which is one of the benefits of group practice because we contribute to that pool, and then we can draw on that pool so that each of us are able to make efforts greater than we would normally be able to make individually.

The consequence of that, of living in this relatively high energy environment for a few days, things have soaked in a little deeper. Some of you have very definitely felt or got in touch with things that you may have known about but you didn’t really want to touch. And now they’re up in your face and you can’t do much about them.

As a consequence your physical co-ordination and your level of reactivity may be a little heightened over the next few days. That is because old stuff is emerging. You may find your physical co-ordination is a little different, so be careful driving. Things like that.

But in particular this is the most pertinent one, try to have a little space in your life. Because when you leave this environment that energy will decay and in the absence of mindfulness which we always forget from time to time, it decays into the reactive patterns. So you may find yourself a little more reactive—possibly. So just watch for that.

You know, usually we’re going home to friends and loved ones. And they think, “Oh they are going to be so nice and peaceful from the retreat.” And you walk in and you just hit the roof about something totally inconsequential. It happens.

The other thing is we’ve been practising the Qigong. George prepared booklets. So it’s very good to keep the Qigong going as part of your practice. But as George may have already mentioned, if you make the Qigong part of your practice then keep it going on a regular basis. It’s not good to stop and start Qigong. It’s like turning water on and off in the pipes, it raps the pipes and eventually causes problems.

Even after this retreat probably do Qigong for two or three days, just doing it once a day so it isn’t just a sudden stop. But I do recommend that you make the Qigong part of your practice, and at the end of your regular practice session you do six or nine repetitions, not just the three. We only do it three after each because we do it several times during the day. But normally it’s twelve repetitions. And it’s very very helpful because it balances energy in the body.

Student: So at one time, do how many times?

Ken: Yeah. You start with six, work it up to nine or even twelve if you wish.

Student: Okay.

Ken: If you start feeling spacey don’t take it any further.

Student: Can you split that up? Do six in the morning and six and night?

Ken: You can. And if you really want to be energy do twelve in the morning and twelve at night. Don’t do it after—

George: Right before bed! [Laughter] You’ll be up all night!

Ken: I was saying don’t do it after supper. Don’t do it after 6 or 7 o’clock. [Unclear] You may end up with a little more energy than you want to.

This particular set of exercises and the corresponding sitting eight pieces of brocade, which is another set, were designed by a Chinese general to refresh his troops after long marches. That’s where they started from. But he used them. And they can be used for training energy for martial purposes. We use them for balancing techniques. They work very well.


Section 15

Okay? Let’s turn to the prayers then.