Does right livelihood mean having a noble profession? Is right action determined by intention or outcome? These teachings explore walking the eightfold path. Recorded during a 2010 class in Los Angeles.
Participants’ experience with loving-kindness meditation including opening to what arises; doesn’t wishing oneself to be happy actually separate you from certain experiences; is it unrealistic to think of the world wishing you happiness and peace; how this meditation impacts life off the cushion; is there a specific order to the immeasurables; how to work with fear; what is meant by ‘opening’ to experience; the purpose of practice and its effect on one’s life; is our natural state to be open or closed to what arises. Commentary on decay and corruption in the four immeasurables; meditation instruction for compassion.
So, this is our third class in this series of six on the four immeasurables. I think we’ll begin following basically the same format that we did last time. What was your experience with loving-kindness? That’s what you were working on last week, wasn’t it? Okay. So. Do you have the microphones ready?
Ken: Yeah. Anybody have any insights, challenges or questions? Lisa.
Lisa: Unlike equanimity, which I struggled more for doing it than with others, with loving-kindness, it was the reverse. It was more difficult to do for myself or with myself. And it became easier with other people. So I’m suspicious of something there. [Chuckling]
Ken: I think it’s a very interesting point. Later this evening we will talk about loving-kindness in a rather deep way as Uchiyama describes it. But right now I’m just going to ask you a rather blunt question.
Ken: Why don’t you want you to be happy?
Lisa: I think I still believe a lot of the voices. One of the other things that I noticed was that morning practice was a lot more difficult to do get through. I had to keep coming back and coming back.
Ken: That’s working with the energy?
Lisa: Mmm-hmm, the morning tummo. And then as I’d move through the day I really felt face to face with some really dense material. One of the voices that goes by after I’ve done it—a cutting, or an insight or a resting—is, “But what I’m saying is true.” This voice is asserting its plausibility and it’s pointing to plausibility. So I think I’m still pretty hooked into some…
Ken: What do the voices say?
Lisa: They’re talking. It centers around uncertainty, and a real discomfort with uncertainty. And wanting to nail things down and get things organized.
Ken: Yeah. But we started with why don’t you want you to be happy. What do the voices have to say about the idea of you being happy? I imagine they have some rather short and pithy comments on that.
Lisa: I don’t deserve that. I don’t know what it is. I…yeah.
Ken: That kind of thing.
Lisa: Those sorts of things.
Ken: Yes. Okay. What do you experience in your body when those kinds of voices are running in you?
Lisa: Like a Geiger counter going kind of [makes a buzzing sound].
Ken: So agitation.
Lisa: A lot of agitation. Yeah.
Ken: And underneath the agitation? [Ken comments on the audio system] We got a little feedback here. Underneath the agitation?
Lisa: Really churned up water, kind of choppy waves.
Ken: So very, very agitated.
Lisa: Very, very agitated.
Ken: What’s the temperature of the water?
Lisa: Hot—it’s hot water.
Ken: How hot?
Lisa: Just hot enough to be comfortable. Not too…
Ken: Just hot enough to be comfortable? Or hot enough to be uncomfortable?
Lisa: Yeah. A little of both, it’s right on the edge there. You know, if it were more uncomfortable I probably would work a little harder on…I don’t know. Something—
Ken: You’re dancing, you know.
Ken: What are you dancing around?
Lisa: I’ve really felt the absence of capacity and…very difficult in the agitation, to rest in it, or cut it or…
Ken: Okay. We’re going to go back to something that we discussed in the very first class. It came out of a question that Agnes posed. It sounds to me like you’re trying to minimize suffering.
Lisa: Yes, absolutely.
Ken: What would it be like just to end it right now?
Lisa: That’s where the voice says, “Impossible!”
Ken: Ah ha!
Lisa: “That’s impossible.”
Ken: Yeah. Okay. But how do you feel right now?
Lisa: I know that…
Ken: Physically, physically what happens?
Lisa: Much more calm.
Ken: That’s right. So this is the kind of attention. When we find ourselves doing this dance, then we get very, very confused. Because we’re trying to approach something but not really get there. And it never works. Because it is a way of avoiding meeting what is actually there. That’s why I wanted to pose that differentiation…[Feedback in the audio—Ken comments on it] Differentiation between minimizing suffering and ending suffering. When you say, okay. And it’s equivalent to cutting. So, “Okay, I’m just going to be right with it.” Then the agitation disperses. And now you get the voice going, “This is not possible.” Okay. That’s not true, of course. But that is what’s running in us.
Another way of looking at this approach is what Uchiyama is saying, “Whatever we encounter is our life.” And when we have that kind of disturbance coming up, we desperately want to believe that it isn’t part of our life. And so we go into this whole dance, which is just trying to avoid it. But if—and this is the power of Uchiyama’s approach—you say, “Okay, this is part of my life.” And parts of us may go, “This is not the life I bargained for.” You know? “This is not the life I wanted.” But we say, “No, this is part of it.”
And both equanimity and loving-kindness come in here. The equanimity is, “Yes, this is part of my life.” And so the whole idea of liking or disliking or preferring is out the window. It’s just there.
And the loving-kindness aspect is, “This is part of my life, and I will accept it. I will open to it.” I know a lot of what he talked about in the chapter on loving-kindness sounds like equanimity. But if you read a little more closely you see it is all about opening, opening and opening. Opening to what’s ever there. It’s not just about meeting it. It’s now about opening to it. It’s that extra quality. Okay?
So, for you here there’s this voice in you says, “It’s impossible for me to be happy. It’s completely impossible for me to be happy.” And the way you respond to that is you open to that. Okay, that’s interesting. Right? And what happens when you do that? Again, physically, what happens?
Lisa: Resting in that, it’s calm…
Lisa: Resting in that—is this working? [Referring to the audio equipment]
Ken: No, it’s fine. Resting in…?
Lisa: Just that.
Ken: Resting in that. Okay. Because what the voices are saying are the expressions of feelings. They’re not actually facts. Though they sure feel like it sometimes. Okay, anybody else, your experience with this? Susan.
Susan: In the first line, I had a…I don’t know if it’s a language quibble or if it’s about meaning, but “May I be happy” seems to be kind of at odds with what Uchiyama was saying—that we can’t actually be happy all of the time because some experiences aren’t pleasant. It’s got nothing to do with whether you meet them or open to them. It more has to do with the quality of the experience.
Susan: So what is meant by happy?
Ken: I brought it with me, but I don’t know where it is. Do you know what it is to be happy?
Susan: I’ve been happy, yes.
Ken: Yeah. So that’s your answer. [Laughter]
Susan: Oh. Okay, wise guy.
Ken: You’ve known me for many, many years, Susan. Why do you expect anything else?
Susan: What does happy mean in this context?
Ken: No, no, no, no, no, no, no. no. [Laughter] You know what happy means. Your question isn’t about the language. Your question seems to me more, “Why am I wishing myself to be happy if Uchiyama says we can’t be happy all of the time?”
Susan: If he says all experiences won’t be happy ones, or make us happy. Yeah.
Ken: Yeah. Well, last time we talked about mind of the body, mind of emotion and mind of awareness. Okay? Uchiyama is coming from almost exclusively at the level of mind of awareness. It’s very, very powerful and very deep, which is why I wanted us to have that perspective in this. But we also have a body, and we also have emotions.
Now, as Lisa was describing, what happens in you, when you say, “May I be happy,” what happens in your body?
Susan: It lightens up.
Ken: Mmm-hmm, anything wrong with that?
Ken: No? Okay. And if a friend of yours or someone that you are close to in some way, just looks at you and says, “You know, Susan, I really want you be happy.” How does that make you feel?
Ken: Yeah. That’s being on the receiving end of loving-kindness. What receiving loving-kindness does for us is it precipitates an experience of not being separate from the world of our experience. Okay? That’s the transformative quality of loving-kindness. You know, each of them has its own transformative quality. And the transformative quality in loving-kindness is it reduces the sense of separation. It reduces the sense of alienation from the world, from experience, etc., etc. Okay?
So that’s why we say that. It’s not because we think we can be happy all the time or we’re trying to be happy all of the time. But, that line is about reducing the sense of separation.
Now, as practice deepens and we can start approaching it from the level of mind of awareness, then just as I was saying to Lisa a few moments ago, it’s about opening to whatever is there. But not all of us can go immediately there. So we work. That’s why I encourage people to work at the level of the body. Because the body is always awake. The mind of the body is always awake. It always tells you exactly what’s going on. It’s overlaid by the conditioning at the level of mind of emotion.
But by paying attention to the body, we can come into connection. We can come to know and experience what is operating at the level of mind of emotion. And then by building a capacity in attention, we can bring a level of attention from the level of mind of awareness, to that conditioning. And that’s what breaks it up. So we work with all three levels, all three minds.
Ken: And so if you go through the verses—if somebody could lend them to me—I don’t know why they aren’t here. Thank you.
May I be happy, well and at peace. When we hear that something relaxes, in us, because we are actually at the receiving end of loving-kindness at that point. And we know what that’s like. And when we actually feel that way about somebody else, that’s what it’s like for them.
And then, May I open to everything that arises. What’s that like? Susan?
Susan: Sometimes it’s easier than others.
Ken: [Laughing] Yes. May I experience the world wishing me happiness and peace. What’s that like?
Susan: Well, I had another question about that one.
Ken: Oh, fire away. Go ahead.
Susan: It just seems like realistically speaking, unless everybody’s enlightened, then they’re not going to doing that. [Laughter] But, yeah, it would feel great. I would like it. [Laughter]
Ken: Yes. Go on.
Susan: I’m just feeling like an idiot.
Ken: It has nothing to do with being an idiot. You’re right. Realistically it’s a pipe-dream. You know, most people are so caught up and things like that—they don’t have the time to wish us happiness and peace. You know? They barely have time to open a door for us. But none of these lines are about trying to make the world a certain way. Each one of the lines is aimed at eliciting a certain experience, or putting us in touch with material in us.
May I experience the world wishing me happiness and peace. Well, for some people, the prospect of the world wishing them happiness and peace would be like heaven on earth. And they can just feel themselves open. Oh, wonderfully. For other people, the prospect of the world wishing them happiness and peace is completely intimidating. Like, they wouldn’t know how to function. It puts them right in touch with all of that conditioning.
And there’s no right or wrong here. One is not the right reaction, and the other is not the wrong reaction. I mean, I imagine you could find people particularly here in Los Angeles saying, “May I experience the world wishing me happiness and peace.” Well, they do, don’t they? I mean, what are you, absurd? Of course they do. You know—somewhat narcissistic people. Each of these lines are designed to put us in touch with whatever is operating in us. For some it allows us to open at a deeper level. For others it puts in touch with what blocks, such as such as Lisa’s, “Well, that’s impossible.” Okay?
And then, May I appreciate things, just as they are. That’s that opening. Just as they are.
In fact, I got an email from someone today who was asking me for a book on how to work with teams. The questions that were coming in the previous emails weren’t making any sense to me. So I asked, “What do you really want here?” And it was a way that people can work together who can really appreciate the differences among each other. Now, when you get a group that works that way, it’s very, very powerful. But it’s extremely difficult because you’re asking people to appreciate in others what drives them nuts. But if you are able to get to that in any group, then it becomes very, very powerful. So these are quite non-trivial things.
I mean, you are somewhat artistically inclined, right? What’s it like sitting down with a computer programmer?
Susan: I admire their ability to know things I will never know.
Ken: Yeah. That’s very nice, what’s it actually like? [Laughter]
Susan: Oh, you mean to try to talk to them?
Susan: About a computer?
Ken: Or about anything.
Susan: It’s an exercise in patience and presence.
Ken: Are you appreciating them right at that time? [Laughter]
Susan: Depends on what they’re saying to me. [Laughter]
Ken: But you see what I mean?
Ken: What would it be like to appreciate them, even as they’re driving you nuts, because they have a different way? Or to put it a little more pointedly, What prevents you from appreciating them?
Susan: An inability to connect with them.
Ken: Yes. Yes. I want to say, a seeming inability to connect. Right? Because there may actually be connection there, but they don’t fit in to how you see and understand the world. Right? So that’s what we’re really working with here. So these are elements in your experience that don’t fit into your experience. It’s really difficult to appreciate. Okay?
Very good. Priscilla. Could we have the microphone please? It’s okay, John, they’ve got one back there.
Priscilla: Just a couple of simple things.
Ken: Could you hold the microphone like this?
Priscilla: Okay. I’m not used to talking into microphones.
This is the first time that I’ve ever done any kind of a structured meditation. Anyway, what I’m finding, that the attention aspect of it is really what’s working on a pretty basic level with me. I don’t think I’m as complicated. I tend to obsess on my legs going to sleep more than I do on anything else.
And two things happened to me. One was a realization that in my general dealings with people, I tend to use clichés to dismiss things about them or situations that they may be in. For example, so, maybe thinking or saying things like,“Well, that’s life,” or “That’s the way the ball bounces,” without really articulating to myself or in conversations what I really mean—in a more articulate and more…I don’t want to use the word compassionate, but a more detailed way of what’s really that person’s experience. And a lot of that on my part is laziness. So…
And then another thing happened. I had just finished my meditation, and I went out to buy a newspaper or something. And I was parking my car. And someone was getting in my way, or was taking a spot. I don’t exactly remember. But I started in a dialogue with myself about “Oh, my god, that person’s really”—you know—whatever. And then I started thinking, “May I experience the world wishing me happiness and peace.”
And I realized whatever that person was doing had nothing to do with me. You know? And that this whole thing that I had conjured, the whole way I conjure up my life is with me at the center and this agenda that—you know? Which is just as simple as getting a spot. You know, this energy that I put into this inner dialogue that is not really on point, but a sort of fantasy of what it is that my thing is at that moment or agenda. I have no idea how big it is or where, or to plumb these depths of whatever this is that is going on with me. But I find it so interesting to have the covers pulled…
Priscilla: In these pretty gentle ways. It’s really more fun, like being a kid again. Oh, my god! You know. So, anyway, that’s all.
Ken: Okay. Well, thank you. And it sounds like you’re using the practice quite fruitfully, because you’ve identified two things, at least: one, the tendency to speak in clichés; and the other, “Like wow, I’m constantly constructing the world in such a way as that I’m at the center, and it’s all about me.” Where both of which actually prevent us from being really present in our lives, and in in our interactions with others, so—good!
Ken: Yeah, John.
John: Thanks. Excuse the question if it’s pedestrian as I’m new to this practice. But in my experience from the mahamudra classes that I attended with you, and discovering that I had a capacity for practice. And finding it fluid and actually for the first time accessible. And now bringing the four immeasurables into the practice, there’s a chart talking about decay and oh, there it is. Okay—remedy. And being aware or having my attention on my own—there’s a word that you use—habitual, habitual…
John: Patterns. Exactly, bringing that into the practice, finding it to be slightly distracting. And also, there’s a page where you talk about not being attached to the pleasant reactions that I have from the practice as well as the unpleasant ones. Because both those are not real. They’re not something that’s going to be useful to my practice. So, taking away those two things, I’m left with where I was originally when I started this practice, where I felt that shift, and I was there.
So I’m confused as to why applying the four immeasurables to my practice becomes an obstacle in the sense that I find myself distracted or maybe not using attention in the right way. I don’t know if I’m being really clear here. But I think that I’m stepping it up in using these. Because it makes sense to me. There seems to be a method to this. But it is not as fluid as when I just began and started without any of these tools.
Ken: Yes. The essence of practice is very simple. It can be summed up in a few words, and there are many different formulations. One is, Just be present. Another is, Don’t do anything. And then there are slightly more elaborate ones, Don’t be distracted, don’t control your experience, don’t work at anything, which is a more elaborate way of saying, Don’t do anything.
And often when we begin, we say, “Oh,this is such a relief, I can just sit here.” It’s like, aaaah! So we sit there. And then we have some visitors. And the visitors have other ideas.
Ajahn Chah, who was a wonderful Theravadan teacher—I never met him, but I’ve heard very much about him—one of his meditation instructions is, just put a chair in the center of a room and sit in it. And see who comes to visit. We don’t have to do anything with the visitors, but just see who comes to visit.
We find ourselves rather often distracted or upset or disturbed in some way by these visitors. Do you know what I mean?
Ken: Okay. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page here. And so, while we have this wonderfully simple instruction, we begin to discover that simple doesn’t mean easy. And we begin to see that this is actually very difficult. And as you just noted, there are all of these things that come up in us, or seem to come to us—these visitors. We don’t know how to deal with them. We don’t know what to do with them. So that’s where we begin to develop some machinery, tools, such as the four immeasurables.
Because sometimes, those visitors, we’re very judgmental about them. And we like this one, but we really don’t like that one. So there’s no equanimity. And so we may find equanimity somewhat useful.
And sometimes, well, we can tolerate a couple of them, but we’re absolutely not interested in getting to know them. And that’s where loving-kindness—in fact, we’d rather they just went away, weren’t part of our lives at all. And others, visitors they come to us, and we don’t want to have anything to do with their pain. We don’t want to touch it. You know what I mean? And that’s where compassion comes in.
And then there are other visitors that come, and they just say, “You’re no one, you’re worthless, you’re never going to get anywhere, this is hopeless.” Things like that. And we just feel like a pile of crap. And it’s complete fiction, of course, but that’s what’s going on. That’s where joy comes in. So we develop some tools in order to just be able to stay. So as Ajahn Chah says, “Put a chair in the room and see who comes to visit.” This make sense?
John: It makes complete sense.
Ken: Could you use the mic, please?
John: It makes sense to me. And there’s a paragraph in your book where you describe the corruption of those. And I’m trying to understand intellectually, is the corruption connected to the visitors coming in and co-signing, or buying into their presence? Or is this something about not having attention on whether they are there at all? Being distracted by them and not being attentive enough to know that they are the illusion that brings me into that place of self-loathing. I mean, I’m trying to be clear about what I’m saying…
Ken: Let me, let me take a couple more questions, and then I’ll come back to talk about decay and corruption in more detail. Okay?
Ken: All right. Murray?
Murray: I guess as I feel like I’m going through a step-by-step process with using the immeasurables in meditation and in life. And in learning them, is there an order to them? Does it have to go equanimity, loving-kindness, compassion, joy? Or is it more…?
Ken: There are three orders. And each of them has a different purpose. I think I talk about this somewhere in the beginning [in WUTYL]. In the Theravadan tradition and some of the Mahayana traditions, the order is loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. And it’s likened to raising a child. The first thing you do is you welcome the child. You wish the child to be happy. That’s loving-kindness. And then you be with the child in their suffering and pain, so that they learn how to be with their suffering. That’s compassion. And then you celebrate the growth of the child, and take joy in what she can do and her abilities as they develop. And then when she’s ready to be on her own, you let her go. And that’s equanimity. And each of those are stages in parenting. And that’s how the Theravadan approaches the four immeasurables.
In the Mahayana, the usual is to start with equanimity, because the first thing is to get rid of our prejudice. And having become free of our prejudice, then we can open with warmth to everybody. That’s loving-kindness. Getting rid of the prejudice is equanimity, of course.
And then we go from just wishing people to be happy to what’s actually a more intimate involvement; being prepared to be with them in their suffering, which is compassion. And then, which is strangely challenging for many people, is to be with them in their success and happiness without giving rise to the comparing mind, and the jealous mind. That’s joy. So that’s the sequence there.
And the third sequence, which we actually use in connection with corruption, begins with joy. Which is the emotion associated with power—with cutting through things. Probably the easiest way to talk about this is the four ways of standing up. You show up. You just take joy in your being right in your life. And from there you open to everything, which is the loving-kindness or ecstatic. And on the basis of that opening, then you can see how things actually work, which requires equanimity. Because when you are prejudiced, you don’t actually see how things work. To see how things work, you have to see everything equally. And now that you’ve shown up, opened to everything, seen how things work, seen what’s really going on, then you can serve the truth, and just accept what is. Which is the essence of compassion, the essence of leadership, actually.
So you have each of these approaches. And they all have a different purpose, a different way of working. And the one we’re working with is the Mahayana one. Okay? All right. Peter, then Agnes.
Ken: Hold it right in front of your mouth, please. [Referring to the mic] Thank you. Like an ice cream cone.
Peter: When I was going through May I open to everything that arises I had a problem with fear. It was just a kind of shutting down. And I knew not to dive into the fear, probably not a great idea. But I’m just not sure how that fits into this kind of cosmology? Is that closer to despair or do you think it’s allied with something like that?
Ken: I don’t know, but the way you work with it is, so, May I open to what arises, and you immediately feel this fear. Okay? What’s arising?
Peter: Bad idea.
Ken: No, no. What’s arising is fear? Right?
Ken: Okay. Can you open to the fear? Which is different, as you say, from diving into it. Can you just open to it? Or let it open to you.
And sometimes, you see, the way I feel meditation operates is that—and I think you probably have heard me say this before—we have these emotional knots that are really closed. And what we are doing in meditation is we have attention which is like the sun. So it’s like the sun shining on a flower. Now, when you have a rosebud or a flower that’s closed, and the sun shines on it, what happens?
Peter: It begins to open.
Ken: It begins to open. Okay? And that’s a totally natural process. The tendency is, when we have one of these things, is we try to pry it open. And that doesn’t work so well.
Ken: So, the practice at such points consists of—okay, you have this stuff, and now you are going to just let it be there. And you’re going to be there in attention, but you aren’t going to require anything to happen or try to make anything happen. You are just going to be there.
Peter: Yeah, I’ve been having a thing a lot of trying to make things happen.
Peter: A sort of an impulse.
Ken: The reason we try to make things happen, is because we want to get something over with.
Ken: See? And that’s a way of not opening to what’s actually there. We just want to get it over with. So we can move on.
Peter: [Unclear] a little different.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. Very good. Agnes.
Agnes: You use a lot of times—
Ken: Can you hold it closer? [referring to the mic]
Agnes: I wonder, can you give an operational definition or operationalize open? And you cannot answer my question with a question. [Laughter]
Ken: Why not? [Laughter] I don’t understand what the word operationalize means. That wasn’t a question; that was a statement of fact.
Agnes: This open, it sounds simple. You know, it really, the more I hear you, the more I like…
Ken: Okay. I’m going to borrow a page or a line from Joseph Goldstein, who is a Theravadan teacher, who is very good. And it’s very similar to what I was just saying to Peter. I suppose opening involves a kind of trust.
Suzuki Roshi says, “Our practice is absolute confidence in our fundamental nature.” And this is very much what Uchiyama is talking about also. One of the lines that I read in one of Joseph’s books was, we have this phrase, you know, Just let it go Okay? But he says, “Well what does this actually mean? Well, letting go means, actually means just letting it be there.”
So, if you have something that’s coming up in the practice, and it’s causing you disturbance, we think letting go is, “Okay I’m just going to let it go,” and it’ll go away. But that isn’t what happens. What we do is we stop trying to get rid of it. And we just let it be there. And we go on with our practice. And it’s jabbing us in the ribs. And we say, well—great California expression—“Thank you for sharing,” and we go on practicing. We don’t ignore it. That doesn’t work at all. We let it be there.
Suzuki Roshi talks about this quite a lot in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. He talks about your mind as being like a wild horse. And rather than trying to enclose it in a corral, and make it quiet, you just give it a very large field to run. And it runs! And it runs all over the place, for about five or ten minutes. And then it just stops and starts chewing the grass. That’s what happens with horses—they won’t run forever.
And that’s the first step. You just let it go—let it do whatever it does. And many times people who come to me about their meditation instruction and say, “Well, this is going on, this is going on, this is going on, and I can’t stop it!” I say, just let it run. Oh? “Then I will be very distracted.” Yes, you will—for a while. But just let it run. And so—okay, they let it run and it‘s turmoil, turmoil, turmoil, turmoil, turmoil. And then it stops. And it stops by itself. And that’s very important.
Saraha, one of the great Indian mahamudra masters said, “Mind and thought are like a bird and a ship in the middle of the ocean. And the bird flies away from the ship. And it may fly very, very far away, but it has to come back to the mind, to the ship, because there is nowhere else for it to land. And so it doesn’t matter how crazy your mind gets, we always come back to just being here.”
And so working with that is kind of like the equanimity practice; when you find the mind returning, find we can just be there. Like the horse has started to chew the grass. I’m going to mix all of these different images right now. Then comes the possibility of opening. Oh, the horse is just chewing the grass. And we can just—I don’t know how to say it—but experience it completely, without trying to do anything with it. Does that help?
Agnes: So there’s a resignation there as part of the process?
Ken: No, that’s a very good point. And your question is really about the difference between acceptance and resignation. This is acceptance; it’s not resignation. Because resignation is like, “Okay, I’ll put up with this. I don’t really want this to be there, but here, but I can tolerate it. I’m resigned to its being here.” That’s resignation. Acceptance is actually very much what Uchiyama is saying. “This is part of my life. I can’t do anything about it. So I will not try to escape it or avoid it any more. I will accept it, as part of my life.”
Resignation—you are not actually accepting it.
Agnes: So resignation means that there’s a resistance.
Ken: Yes. Yeah.
Agnes: I mean, even though you aren’t fighting it, you aren’t happy with it.
Ken: You aren’t fighting it, but you’ve closed it off. You’ve shut down to it. And that’s the opposite of loving-kindness.
Agnes: Where does receptivity fit in? You just kind of like passively accept…?
Ken: No, let’s try being actively receptive. You can’t do it with everything all at once. I mean, I was looking towards this class with some trepidation this evening, because I’ve had some experiences in the last couple of months which have been quite clear reminders that there are aspects, things that arise which I can’t open to or accept yet. There are lots of things that I can open to and accept, quite easily. But there are areas which I’m not ready to go there yet.
The tendency is for us to think that it’s an all or nothing thing. “I have to do it all.” It’s not like that. It’s a progression here. And this is where equanimity comes in very, very importantly. We do what we can, in each moment. And it’s not about getting a good grade or getting a good performance. In each moment, we do what we can.
One of the most powerful passages, which wasn’t in what I gave you for reading—we’ll get to it later. But Uchiyama describes having an incredible pain which was very, very difficult for him to tolerate. And then at the end of it, he says, Through this experience,—and this is on page 80, if anybody wants to read it—Through this experience, when I realized that when I stopped fighting the pain and just let it be inside me,—this sound familiar?—the burden of the suffering would be lifted. I have always felt that this was an extremely valuable experience in my life. However, despite that, if I had to encounter such terrific pain again, I would only be fooling myself if I thought that this past experience would be any help in breaking through the pain. This is wonderful! He’s speaking in terms of the complete absence of success or failure.
Student: While you’ve been having this dialogue several different things have come up for me.
Student: I can’t hear you.
Student: While Ken has been having this dialogue, several different things have come up for me. And it’s more of an indication of where I am at the moment. And the first one is the loving-kindness prayer or the meditation or the practice is something that I’ve had all sorts of experiences with for a long time. But there are times when I feel that it just falls right off me, like words. Almost like the difference between looking at the picture of a fan and feeling the breeze.
And I can bring an aspect of straining or grasping to just doing the practice. And I say this in the context of what you were just discussing about opening to things without a resignation—that acceptance is not agreement. Acceptance is not permission. But sometimes things can build up almost like an avalanche and collapse under their own weight. You know me a little so you know what I’m getting at. Practice isn’t cure.
Student: Practice is not cure. It’s not strategy.
Ken: No. That’s quite right.
Student: So you can fill in the blanks about what I’m saying. Right?
Student: With acceptance as the context that I even know what I’m looking at.
Ken: Yeah. If we approach practice from the perspective that it’s going to make our lives better, we’re going to have a few problems. Ironically, it actually does. But as long as we approach it that way, it won’t.
The purpose of practice, the aim of practice, is simply this. At least this is what I’ve come to. Right now each of us has an experience. We call this experience life. Our actual experience of it is pretty piecemeal. A lot of the time we are just lost in our reactions, confusion. We don’t remember what happened five minutes ago, let alone what happened five years ago. But it’s the only experience that we have. So the aim of practice is to be able to experience whatever this is that we call life. To do that—as I’ve talked about in the context of the mahamudra class—we need three things. There needs to be a willingness, there needs to be a capacity, and there needs to be some know-how.
I remember many years ago when I had an office in this building, there was a woman who came to me who was struggling with depression. And she’d been working with depression for quite some time. And sometimes she would contemplate suicide. So it was fairly serious. And so I said, “Well have you considered medication? ” “I don’t want to take medication. I want to experience—I don’t want to take medication.” Okay.
And I suggested a number of other things. And she said, “No. No. No. No. No.” So I said to her, “Well, then I’m a little confused. You say that your life is extremely painful. But you don’t want to take anything or do anything that is going to prevent you from experiencing it just as it is. That’s what you really want to do” And she went “Oh. You’re right. That is what I want to do.” So it was through that she recognized her own willingness. You know. “Whatever it is I want it to be just what it is. I don’t want it to be changed or altered by any of these things.” Okay. So there was a very strong level of willingness there.
The next thing we need to do is to build capacity. Because things arise in our lives, and they resonate with old stuff in us which we weren’t able to experience before and we just check out. We have all kinds of ways of checking out. And so that’s what most of meditation is about—building that capacity of awareness, so we don’t have to check out. I mean, we can actually experience what is arising in each moment—internally and externally.
You know that there are some situations where you can go to a movie, and you just don’t want to see that. You know, you can’t experience that. Sometimes somebody says something and in the popular expression, “I can’t handle that.” You just leave. You just can’t experience what was happening outside or what was happening inside. So we need to build our capacity to do that.
And then know-how, there’s actually some skill that is useful in here. Because I think as Peter was saying earlier, diving right in isn’t necessarily skillful. You know. I mean, diving off the cliffs of Acapulco if you don’t know how to swim is not a good idea. So there’s a relationship between the willingness, and the capacity and the know-how. They work together. But the point is just to be able to experience what is arising. And there is a freedom there. There’s quite a wonderful freedom when you can do that. It’s a freedom that’s very difficult to describe in words. And it’s not a freedom from, and it’s not a freedom to—but there is a freedom. Okay. So, thank you.
Last question, very quickly, Peri, because I want to…I mean, these have been very good questions. And I’m really very, very happy to go into the experience in this depth. This is great.
Peri: This is returning to Agnes’ question. Because this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Is our fundamental nature naturally open? So there is in truth no action to opening? The action is really to stop clutching?
Ken: In German there is a word that is a combination of yes and no. ja is yes. And nein is no, and the word is ja-ein [Laughter] And that’s how it is: yes and no.
Peri: Could you say more about that?
Student: Yes and no.
Ken: Let’s put it this way. Is it fundamentally open? Could it be anything else? You are not Agnes, so I can ask a question, you see. Could it be anything else other than naturally open?
Peri: It could be anything at all, but—
Ken: But you see what I mean?
Ken: Of course it has to be naturally open. Okay. Does that mean that you can be naturally open in every situation?
Ken: No. Okay. So,
Peri: But so the action is to not close?
Ken: Well, the action is to not close but sometimes you don’t have any choice about that either, do you?
Ken: No. So, you know, it’s meaningless to talk about action where you don’t have any choice.
Peri: Right. But I guess for me, rather than to think about trying to open, the question is—
Ken: I want to go in a slightly different direction. And this comes under the rubric of this wonderful phrase in Tibetan: dag pa gnyis ldan gyi chos sku (pron. dakpa nyi den gyi chö ku)—which can be basically translated as the twofold purity of the dharmakaya. And it’s a wonderful, wonderful description. Because dharmakaya is our fundamental nature. Okay? So the two-fold purity of our fundamental nature. It’s naturally open by virtue of what it is. That’s the first purity. And the second purity—it becomes naturally open through our practice. And both are the case. And some people try to put this in terms of potential or whatever, but that’s not quite right. It has those two aspects. And it’s naturally open, because it couldn’t be anything else. At the same time, there is work that we do. And then we come to know that’s it’s naturally open.
Peri: And so then my question is—or—through practice to open, the activity is to stop closing?
Ken: The effort is to stop closing.
Peri: That’s what I mean.
Ken: Yeah. Well, that’s one of four efforts. Okay. And I ran through those before. One is to actually show up. The other is not to close down, not to shut down. The third is to see things as they are. And the fourth is to accept, to receive whatever comes from that. So all four efforts are important, and only doing one leads to an imbalance.
Ken: Okay? Now, Rory handed out the photocopies of the diagram for remedying decay. This is a skill. I mean you need to build a certain capacity in each of these in order to be able to utilize this. But this is primarily in the skill or know-how.
You will find in the course of life that you run into situations where you think you are equanimous but you are really detached. Okay? And there the effort is to open to what is actually going on, which is usually the last thing we want to do. And this is something I’m quite familiar with—with situations which put you into despair. And there the effort is joy, you know, joy in just being, which is usually the last place we want to go to.
So these are ways of coming to understand there are certain, specific efforts we can make when we’re moving out of balance in certain ways. And that’s why I find this useful. I modified a chart that Guenther put in a book he published a long time ago called, Kindly Bent to Ease Us. But I’ve discovered this actually goes very, very far back in Buddhism. It’s just not usually put in such a clear, pictorial fashion. It’s quite useful that way, I think. For those of us who like pictures, which I do. So I wanted to do that.
The other thing I wanted to say, corruption is more insidious. It’s more difficult to deal with. If you look at the section on corruption, page 297, very last paragraph, In other words, we hide in what is familiar.
So, if you have a natural tendency to open to the world, loving-kindness practice can take that natural tendency and you just open, open, open, but you keep falling into trying to own the world. And you get addicted—that feeling of openness.
With compassion, you try to rescue people. With joy, you just like going through situations, regardless of the results that it produces for other people. And primarily, a lot of competitive people, you know, they just like to go. But it doesn’t do anything for their competitiveness, or the jealousy or their sense of deficiency upon which jealousy is based. So that’s why we have to pay close attention to what seems to come naturally to us. What is actually driving it? What is actually being served?
And in many, many cases, what is being served is a habituated pattern. And then we will have to do something quite different. So if you’re used to rescuing people, you’re going to have to use equanimity, because we rescue people because we don’t want them to suffer. But actually, actually what’s going on is not that we don’t want them to suffer. We’re unable to tolerate the suffering, the discomfort of them suffering. That’s why we rescue them, if you follow. So we have to practice equanimity with ourselves. Can I experience them struggling? “No, no, I don’t want to do that.” And that’s aversion. Can I just experience their struggling? Can I experience that in equanimity? And that’s how we move out of rescuing. Do you follow? And there is similar dynamics with all of the others. And that’s what I spell that out here.
These are more powerful and more difficult to deal with than the decay. The decays can actually be remedied usually fairly straightforwardly, but the corruption operates at a deeper level. Anybody have any questions they’d like to ask about that? Kate, microphone?
Kate: I just want to make sure I’m understanding this chart. It seems to me like the arrows are going the wrong way. Well like, the decay arrows are right, but then, you are saying that the remedy for instance, despair. Compassion decays into despair, but the remedy for despair is joy. So shouldn’t the arrow be going towards joy? I mean, is that the way it is supposed to be read? And again, like joy decays into elation. But then the remedy for elation is equanimity.
Ken: Well, the way that I was thinking about it, and we all have different ways of thinking about it—
Student: This one’s upside down. That’s what happened.
Ken: Which? No. Joy decays into elation, right? So you bring the quality of equanimity to the experience of elation. So the solid arrow implies an active effort. The dotted arrow is what happens passively.
Kate: Oh. Okay.
Ken: Okay. That makes sense?
Ken: I mean—it could have been drawn the other way, but that’s how I set up the chart. Okay. Lynea. Where’s the other mic, by the way?
Lynea: How do you know when something has moved into corruption?
Ken: When it just feels so right, and the results are disastrous. [Laughter] Does that help?
Lynea: It does, but it just seems that’s a little late. [Laughter]
Ken: Well, it’s an iterative process. I mean, because “It just feels so right,” and then you see this mess. And so that’s that time. And the next time you get that it just feels so right you go, “Mmm, what’s going on here?” And as I say, you have to examine what is being served? And that’s very much the case of, “Okay I want to do this. It feels right. What is this actually serving? Is it serving the situation? Or is it serving something in me? If it is serving something in me then it’s corruption.” You know. And many times you will convince yourself that you are serving the situation, only to find out that it was serving you after all.
Because we twist this stuff around, and that’s why I constantly advise people, “Go to the body first.” Because the body will say, “I don’t like this situation.” And the conditioned emotions will just override—“No, don’ t worry, this is really what needed to happen.” But there’s a feeling of, “It just feels right.” And…
Lynea: Then I am confused. If there is a sense that it just feels right, but the body knows something different—
Lynea: Then what is feeling something right if the body is—
Ken: Oh, we ignore the body. Have you ever done that?
Lynea: I guess so. I just am not making that distinction.
Ken: Yeah. And somebody asked me about this a week or two ago. When it’s serving something in us, there is a sense of stickiness. Whereas, if it is serving the situation, there isn’t any stickiness and there’s often a sense of emptiness. Not necessarily big emptiness, just—
Trungpa was once asked, “How do you know when you are acting in compassion.” He said, “Well, it feels like you have no skin on, and you do what you have to do anyway.” Everybody thinks compassion is a wonderful feeling. It’s not; it’s a horribly painful feeling. Because you are actually present with the other person’s suffering. And it feels like you have no skin on. But there’s no stickiness. Okay.
Priscilla. Do you have a microphone there?
Priscilla: Since we are getting near the end, I’ve wanted to ask this question. I’ve done a lot of reading and so forth on dependent origination and the idea of no-self and that whole thing—And mostly Tibetan. And so I got confused by the references to the self. And I’d like if you could to kind of elaborate where we can sort of see it in a copacetic view.
Ken: Uchiyama uses the Self—big capital S, he’s using the word self to refer to fundamental nature. It’s not a thing. So, okay, Uchiyama is western-trained, so he’s using a western vocabulary for that. Diane, last question very quickly, because I need to go on to meditation instruction.
Diane: Sure. To follow up on what Lynea is saying on how to identify corruption, there’s almost a suggestion that the body-mind is smarter or more honest than the two others—than the mind of awareness or the mind of emotion. There’s a suggestion when you said that if you want to know when you decay into corruption, listen to your body. On the other hand, I could be riddled with fear and anxiety, and understand that I need to walk through a situation in order to get on the other side of it, where my body is lying to me. There are many—
Ken: Yeah. The mind of the body will always tell you that something is going on. You may or may not be able to understand or read or hear what the mind of the body is saying because of the conditioning at the level of mind of the emotion.
Mind of awareness, most people don’t have much connection with, which is why it doesn’t come into play very often. But that’s essentially what one’s cultivating. All of what Uchiyama is talking about—this mind which is beyond like or dislike—this is the mind of awareness. It knows. It knows at a very, very high level. And because it knows at that high level, that’s what can undo the confusion that’s been conditioned at the level of the mind of the body, so that—mind of emotion, sorry—so that the reactive emotions are cleared away and the four immeasurables come into play.
Diane: So you’re not suggesting some type of dynamic between a hedonism or a nihilism that either it feels right or it doesn’t touch you.
Ken: No, no, I’m not suggesting that at all. Okay?
Diane: I’ve got to ask this!
Student: This teeters on something, on a short patch of grass between wisdom and instinct. That it’s not always the same thing.
Ken: Insight in the sense that it’s used in English, no. No, that isn’t the same as wisdom at all.
Student: Did you say instinct? Or insight?
Student: You said instinct.
Ken: Oh, instinct. No. They aren’t the same thing at all.
Compassion, we’re going to spend a month on compassion. So we’ll be doing this for four weeks. Part of the reason for that is that compassion is what all spiritual practice is oriented towards. And the presence or absence of compassion defines whether there is spiritual understanding or not.
One of the tragedies that we hear about, and that some of us probably encounter, is religious ideology being the reason that people are subjected to suffering. And this can be in many, many forms. But when something moves into the level of ideology, there is always an us versus them and there is no compassion for the them. And so, to my mind, ideology is the antithesis of spiritual understanding. Because in spiritual understanding, there is no us versus them, and there are just people. And compassion allows us to cut through the conditioning of society, of ideologies, to see suffering for what it is, wherever it is.
So in the same way, May I be free of suffering, harm and disturbance. Now, when you read those lines, or say those lines, there can be a whole range of reactions that arise. There can be a relief, there can be a sadness, anything in between.
May I be free of suffering, harm and disturbance. And when you say these lines with respect to other people, May those close to me be free of suffering, harm and disturbance there is a similar range of reactions. And it becomes very interesting when, you know, “May those whom I am alienated from be free of suffering, harm and disturbance.” There’s another whole set of reactions, because often those are the last people we want to be free of suffering, harm and disturbance.
I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine. And this was about a month ago—talking about the pain that one encounters, often in spiritual practice. And we both agreed that the pain each of us had encountered in various points in our practice was so great we wouldn’t wish it upon our worst enemies. So meeting one’s own pain at its very deepest levels actually is the basis for compassion. “I wouldn’t want anybody else to have to experience this.” That’s a start.
May I be present with everything I encounter. I talked about this earlier this evening. It sounds very simple. It’s not that easy. And often people look at this and say, “Well, I can encounter things.” But it’s not about just the things we encounter externally. It’s also about the things we encounter internally, because it’s all our experience. And there are lots and lots of things. Whenever we get angry we’ve encountered something that we can’t be present with. Whenever you snap, or are snippy, even snippy, you’re encountering something you can’t be present with. So it can be very little stuff. Or maybe you just don’t want to be present and make the effort at that point. There’s something right there.
May I experience the world wishing me freedom from pain. Now, as Susan asked in her question, this isn’t about actually hoping that the world will wish me free from pain. But what would it feel like to have that kind of relationship with the world? Because it requires us allowing something in that we don’t ordinarily allow in. At least, that’s how it is for me. Maybe it’s different for you. And it points out how we are closed to ourselves in a certain way. And we don’t want to deal with our own pain.
And May I accept things just as they are, and again, we touched on this earlier this evening, to Agnes question, acceptance is acceptance. It’s not resignation. Acceptance is, “This is here. And I will work with this.” It’s not, “I will tolerate it. Or I will just let it be there but I don’t really want to have to deal with it.”
And even in his remarks on loving-kindness, Uchiyama was pointing. See when he talks about the big mind, and magnanimous mind, it’s this opening. And he says, The tendency of ordinary cooks is to handle plain food carelessly and rich food carefully. That’s not the attitude of loving-kindness. Loving-kindness takes everything and works with it in the same way. And then you take it more deeply, into accepting things.
And quite consistently, I’ve found both in myself and in working with people, when we can see and accept what is true, we relax. But there’s the two parts to that. We have to be able to see it first, and then accept it. And then even if it is very, very difficult or very painful or if it is the antitheses of what we actually want to be, we relax. We relax in the body, we relax our emotions over time, and we just become present. So this principle of just accepting is very, very profound.
So I’d like you to work with this. And as I say, we’ll spend a bit longer on compassion because I think it’s very, very important. We’ve been laying a foundation with the equanimity and the loving-kindness. And it’ll give you a little more chance. Over the next two weeks work principally with yourself, doing a bit of extension. The next two weeks we’ll do a bit more extension. And over the next two weeks what I want go through is the commentary on shredding patterned existence. Which, I think I gave you out as the reading. We’ll do the first couple of bits next week, which are basically the infant level and the teenage level. And then we’ll do the adult level and the spiritual longing level.
Ken: So, page 301 to 304 for next week, as well as the chapter on parental mind in Uchiyama. Okay? And then the following week, it’ll be 304 to…
Ken: …307. Okay? So again, we’ve gone over. My apologies, it’s hard to squeeze it all in. But this is the end of this class. And I look forward to seeing you next week.