Compassion, part 1 Download
Participants’ experience with compassion meditation and related reading including experiences with heartbreak and movement of energy; being present in the suffering of others; are goals useful in practice; intention and results; compassion and boundaries; what is meant by ‘the open space of no response’; what is meant by ‘non-residing’; working with the line ‘May I experience the world wishing me freedom from pain’; the satisfaction of despising. Commentary on adolescence striving and parental mind; meditation instruction for compassion.
Ken: This is the fourth class, is it? Only two more left after this. Okay. Fourth class on the four immeasurables.
And I believe the focus for practice over the last couple of weeks was compassion. Compassion being the wish that others not suffer, at least at one level. We’re working with the four lines of,
May I be free from suffering, harm and disturbance. May I be present with everything I encounter. May I experience the world wishing me freedom from pain. May I accept things just as they are.
What was your experience with this? What questions, insights, challenges? Now I can see. Julia.
Julia: I had two experiences that were frequent and notable. One was heartbreak. And the other one was very strong movement of energy as I did the lines.
Ken: As you did the lines? Describe the heartbreak.
Julia: I had an increased awareness of the degree to which people suffer. And also a sense that for many people, they may not have the means available to them to help them with their suffering.
Ken: Thich Nhat Hahn tells a story of an extremely bad-tempered woman in a village in Vietnam. We’ll call her Mrs. Fong. And while she was very bad-tempered, she was also extremely devoted to Buddha Amitabha, who is the buddha of compassion.
And she would pray at the top of her voice to Amitahba every day for hours. People in the village found this somewhat disturbing. And because she was so short-tempered, her noise pollution was creating a body of resentment in the community.
And the elders met together to see, talk about what should be done. One of the elders said, “I know what to do. Leave it to me.”
So the next day when she was right in the middle of her prayers, he went over to her house and knocked on the door and said, “Mrs. Fong, I would like to speak with you.” There was no response. After a few minutes, he knocked again and said in a somewhat louder voice to be heard over her prayers, “Mrs. Fong. You know who it is. Please come down. I’d like to speak with you.” And the only indication that there was any effect was an increase in the decibel level of the prayers. So finally he knocked very, very loudly, and said, “Mrs. Fong. I really must speak with you. Please come down.”
And the prayers stopped. There was a sound of a mala or rosary being slammed on the table. Stomp! Stomp! Stomp! The door was thrown open. Mrs Fong said, “You are disturbing me in my prayers.” And the elder looked at her and said, “I’m very sorry. Obviously you are very agitated by this and very disturbed. But I’ve only been calling you for a few minutes. Can you imagine how Buddha Amitahba must feel?” [Laughter]
And what you say, Julia, is very much to the point. The immeasurables build on each other. When we start with equanimity, through equanimity, we come to the understanding that everything everybody does, they do for one and one reason only. In that moment, they think that what they’re doing or what they’re saying is going to make their world a little happier or a little better.
Of course, because of the confusion, it often has the absolutely opposite result. But that’s why people do these things, to relieve some pressure internally or externally. “It’s just going to make things a little better.” Because they can’t stand the ways things are right then. Or they think, maybe it’s very good, and they just want it to be a little better. And they ruin it by their action. But that’s why they do things; that’s why we all do things. We think it’s going to make our world a little better, and in that way, a very profound way, we’re all the same.
Then in loving-kindness, we connect with this deep yearning which drives our actions. And we want to be happy. We tend to make a mess of it, because even though we want to be happy, we don’t really see things very clearly, so the actions we do aren’t really appropriate for the situation. So, it makes a mess.
As we come into touch with our own wish to be happy, it actually becomes quite easy to wish that others be happy, too. It doesn’t mean we have to like them. A lot of people confuse loving-kindness with liking. But there’s a difference between liking people and wanting others to be happy.
Then we come to compassion, which is the wish that others not suffer. And as we cultivate compassion then as Julia describes, there’s a heartbreak. Because in order to cultivate compassion, we have to see the suffering that is there. And we tend to see it not only in others but also in ourselves. And the more intimately we become acquainted with our own suffering, the more clearly we understand that the process of suffering—how we create our suffering—operates exactly the same way in everybody else. Again, there’s no difference.
And now it’s a very short step to that heartbreak. Because we see and know how people are creating suffering for themselves all the time. And our heart goes out to them. And that heartbreak is not pity. It’s not feeling sorry for others. Each of those sentiments has an element of separation, and possibly an element of arrogance, superiority. In compassion, there is no sense of superiority. There’s just being present with the pain and suffering, our own and others. And when we do that, we experience a broken heart.
Now, Julia also made reference to energy. As we work with these practices, we are—through the taking in of these lines—breaking down the mechanisms of various habituated patterns. There’s a great deal of energy locked up in those processes. So it’s not surprising that as we experience, come to be present with the pain that is at the core of these patterns, and the patterns start to fall apart, all of that energy is released.
It becomes available to us: becomes available to our body, becomes available to our emotions, becomes available to our attention and awareness. So there can be sensations of energy moving in the body. There can be very strong emotions arising, for seemingly little reason. Just things resonate more powerfully and more deeply. And we can also experience much greater clarity and understanding. All of these things arise quite naturally. Okay? Thank you, Julia. Anybody else? Art.
Art: It has to do with the line, May I be present with everything I encounter. This past weekend, I had a difficult conversation with someone. And that conversation was causing that other person to experience a great deal of pain and suffering. I realized that there was nothing I could do in that circumstance but just be there. I’m a little concerned that although it felt like I was present, that that might have been masquerading as indifference.
Ken: That’s a very deep question. A very practical question, too. I’m not sure that we can know, frankly. And some people say, and some people have told me, when you’re really present you know it and that’s that. That may be true. I can’t say that I know that.
What I do know however, is that whenever the results in an interaction or a situation are different from our intention, then that’s de facto evidence that we were not present. Now—and I think one of the more useful approaches here, for me, anyway—is what I call the black box theory.
You’ve heard me talk about the world of individual experience. Uchiyama talks about it. And when we look at the world or approach the world that way, there are no other people. There are experiences which arise, which for convenience sake we label other people: these forms, these shapes, these sounds. And we put those all together and call this a person, and it’s a convenient way. But there’s really just our experience. From this perspective, we only have our own experience to work with. We cannot know what that other person is thinking or feeling, etc. You follow? And so the effort then is to be completely present in that world.
Now, that’s easy to fall into a kind of indifference. So when I say, “completely present” it means that we’re able to perceive and respond to all of the subtle body language. And we might even say subliminal perceptions that arise. Because you know, very small movements and sometimes very quick movements—ones we may not register—our body, our whole system registers. And we may not register them conceptually, but something in us registers them. So it means being present with all of that.
And you act. You say what you have to say, and you see what the result is. And the result is happening moment by moment. So there’s a constant adjustment, moment by moment, as one’s intention, “Oh, well that intention is not going to work at all. So now I need—because that’s not this world. That was an idea.” And so there could be a constant moving more and more into it, moment to moment. I think that’s all we can do. Now, when I say, “That’s all we can do,” actually, it’s quite a lot. I mean, if we’re really doing that, it’s quite extraordinary. But what more, what more can we do?
Art: I think I understand. What then, does one do with the weight of—although you can’t understand it—the other person’s experience? If that other person tells you, “I’m suffering.”
Art: What does one do with the weight of that as a result of your action?
Ken: Let’s take a short step back. You hear the words from the other person, “I’m suffering.” That precipitates an experience in you. What do you do with that experience?
Art: I don’t mean to sound glib. You do what you think is appropriate for that particular situation. And sometimes it’s responding, sometimes it’s knowing you can’t do anything.
Ken: Well, yes. But the first thing you do with that experience—you know, the person says, “I’m suffering.” And so there’s a whole upwelling of emotion. I mean particularly if it’s a person you are connected to or have been connected to. And they say, you know, “When I hear you say that, it just makes me feel terrible.” And things like that. Now, you’re going to respond to that.
There’s a whole upwelling of experience. That’s the experience you have to be present in first. Right there. That can be very, very hard. Because that can be pushing on all kinds of old conditioning in you—how you are always the cause of everybody’s pain, etc. And all of these old stories come flooding up. And often the last thing we want to do is to be there. And we just want to make the other person feel better.
I mean, it may be constructed in us that we are making the other person feel better, because we actually do care about them, but part of it is coming because we can’t stand being with that experience inside. And part of the reason I’m going there is because one of the ways you characterized that experience is as weight. Which suggests to me that what you’re experiencing there is a heaviness, a load, a burden of some kind.
Art: Heaviness, certainly. Load or burden, not quite. It’s just sort of the sense that the other person is suffering, and just a—
Ken: Can you do anything about it?
Ken: So, there is a person suffering, and you can’t do anything about it. What do you experience there?
Ken: Yeah. Julia’s heartbreak. Right? Yeah. That’s compassion. And if you can be in that heartbreak and connected to that person at the same time, then what arises is what arises. That, I think, is all we can do. I think it was Martin Buber who called that the I-Thou experience. I mean, it really has the qualities of presence. Because you’re present to what is arising outside you, and you’re present to what is arising inside you. You’re present in the whole thing. And what arises from that can be quite remarkable, wonderful, mysterious—pick your word.
Because there is, in many respects, a transcendence of the sense of self and the attachment to self that only comes from being willing to let go of what one’s holding onto inside. And it’s in moments like these that we experientially appreciate or understand that there isn’t a lot we can do to help others with their suffering, because so much of it is self-generated. This is the bodhisattva’s dilemma. I mean, we all know this. We see the solution, but the other person for whatever reason can’t see it. And even if they can see it, they can’t do it, and even if they can do it, they can’t keep doing it. And we can’t do it for them, and so forth, and so forth.
Right? When you are getting down to this level, usually the pain and suffering that are being experienced aren’t from the present situation. It’s how the present situation is resonating, usually in both people, with old, old pains. And you didn’t put those pains there. So you can’t do anything about them. This is why in spiritual practice we say and we insist that all, all efforts are volitional. They have to come from the person themselves. You cannot possibly make anybody do this. You can create the environment, you can push, you can encourage, you can do whatever, but you can’t actually make them do it. Everybody has to come to this their own way. Okay? Leslie?
Leslie: So you can’t make somebody…?
Ken: You can’t make somebody deal with their own suffering?
Student: Deal what?
Ken: Deal with their own suffering. You can’t make somebody want to wake up. It has to come from inside them.
And there’s a nun in England that I met some years ago. Many of you have met her, Venerable Talisanti. And she’s a southern California girl. She’s a kick. She’s just finished a three week…a three month, three month? Yeah, I guess it’s a three month retreat in England, a winter retreat, at the center where she lives. And I guess around the beginning of January or so, we were talking on the phone. And she was describing in words that are very familiar to me going through pain that she wouldn’t wish upon her worst enemy. And I can resonate with that, because in my own practice sometimes it is so very painful to meet the conditioning and what’s behind the conditioning in us that you really wouldn’t want to wish it on your worst enemy.
And I’ve always found that very interesting, because if you’re experiencing a pain that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy, you’re already in compassion. Here’s your worst enemy, and you wouldn’t want them to suffer like that. That’s the beginning of compassion. The willingness to go there cannot come from outside. It can only come from inside. Okay.
Leslie, did you have…?
Leslie: Well, I guess, you know, I’m not quite sure how to phrase this question, but if you could just say something about…It feels like there’s very much a lack of goals involved in this. And so, if you could say something about that.
Ken: What do you need a goal for, Leslie? [Laughter]
Leslie: I mean, to just come to it, to just be with it without really trying to do something other than being with it. Being with the experience, or the other person’s pain or your own pain.
Ken: Well, I think this takes us back to why we practice. Now, I think most of us start practicing because we want to achieve enlightenment. Right? How are you doing? [Laughter] Not working too well. Okay. Certainly, when I started to practice, you know, you read Philip Kapleau’s The Three Pillars of Zen. And you heard about all of these or read about all of these wonderful satori experiences. And read one thing after another. And you know, one person getting enlightened here in history, and another one there. Yeah. And once you’re enlightened, everything is fine. You know. So we come to it with that. And we think—I think many of us think—that if I just meditate the right way, do the right practices, then this experience is going to come. Then all of my problems are going to be solved. Something like that?
Leslie: Well, also, I’m thinking in terms of when you’re working with someone else’s suffering, and you’re thinking about maybe in there some way is some way you’re going to help them.
Ken: Yeah. You are going to know what to do in every situation. Right?
Ken: It’s going to work like magic. Because you’re enlightened. You know, it’s like you have these metaphors in the Indian and Tibetan tradition, you know. It’s like, the Buddha is like the sun shining in the sky, shedding it’s rays of warmth on all the world. Or it’s like the rain falling from clouds nourishing plants everywhere without discrimination. You think, “This sounds cool.” Right? You’ve got to read the fine print. [Laughter] Do you want me to read the fine print here?
Ken: Okay. What does it mean to be enlightened, to be awake? Well, one way to think about it is to be free of any confusion. Let’s explore the implications of that. If you are completely free of any confusion whatsoever, and somebody comes to you in pain, what’s that going to be like?
Leslie: Well, you would just be present with—
Ken: Yeah but let’s go a little…you’ve got to get the fine print, Leslie. Okay, how evident is that pain going to be to you?
Ken: Very. What’s that going to feel like?
Ken: Very bad. Right? You know? That’s what being awake’s like. [Laughter] I mean, it’s not going to feel very bad, like bad bad, but their pain is going to be as clear to you as if you’re looking in a mirror. Right? It’s going to be crystal clear. And your heart’s going to be open.
So we see we had this sneaky idea that if you’re really awake, then we wouldn’t really feel any of that stuff. It would just be like magic. But no, actually, we experience everything completely. Do you want to experience everything completely? [Laughter] I understand. But that’s what it means to be awake. That’s the fine print. You know.
And actually, I think you are here, probably, because you do. But it really does mean that. And it’s a very wonderful thing. You’ve probably had situations where you were just completely open. And even if it was extremely difficult, extremely painful, I would very much doubt if you would trade those experiences for anything. Right. So that’s what brings us to practice. Yeah. But being awake means you get to experience it all, inside and out. Okay? Rory.
Rory: Well, I guess I just wanted to move out of that pain like right away. So I thought, oh well, with the way it came on, you know, my friend comes to me, I share in his pain and then I release his pain. And I don’t hold on to his pain. I’m probably holding on to my own, but, you know, I don’t…I fully feel his. But not mine. And then let go, and you know probably go back into my own. So you try to kind of let it ebb and flow. You know?
Ken: But it’s there.
Rory: But it’s there.
Ken: And it’s going to resonate with your own pain, right?
Ken: And so the task there, the effort there is to be present in that. Because if we aren’t able to be present in our own pain, we can’t be present for the others.
Ken: Okay. Steve, you have a question?
Steve: I just wanted a clarity, a clarification. You said to Art something like if the result didn’t follow the intention, that it’s an indication of not being present. And that confuses me. Because I would think that actually since you have no control over the result, having the intention and being able to let go of what the result is would be being more present. So I am confused by that. By the—
Ken: Go into a situation with a certain intention. Now, you may realize quite quickly that there’s a problem. And at that point you have a choice. You can hold to your intention and ignore the problem. And we all know what the result of that one is. Or you can include the experience of the problem, whatever it is. And now you’re going to see what is possible and what isn’t possible in this situation. Your intention is going to shift necessarily.
Steve: So the second part of that thought is that having the intentions connect with what is happening in the present.
Ken: Absolutely, because all we can really do is to the best of our ability to discern the direction of the present and act in accordance with it. When you’re completely present, when you’re awake, your intention is the direction of the present. Which means that you simply become an ongoing response to the suffering and pain of the world. Which, you know, that sounds great in theory, but it has it’s challenges. Okay.
Steve: I’ll work on it.
Ken: Okay. Good. There’s some questions back…Sean, did you have one?
Sean: Yeah. Thank you. I just—
Ken: Are you going to quote the book? Oh, dear.
Sean: Well I did read some of the assigned text and I had a question about it.
Sean: Why don’t I give it to you because I—
Ken: So while Sean is looking for that, do you have a question?
Student: I’m trying to…I wasn’t quite ready when he handed it. I’ve gone over the text also last week, and thought a lot about how I am with the immeasurables. And I know that, you know, at times people complain from an equanimous point of view—if that’s how you say that word—that I tend to be more detached. And from the loving-kindness, you know, place, I tend to be in my whole history. It was very much a revelation to me to see, you know, that I am way too open. Sometimes boundary-less in my relationships. So the healing for me towards a healthy love and compassion is to learn to draw more boundaries.
And then, you know, on the level of compassion, I look and I know that I attract relationships sometimes—or have—with people who don’t want to process their own emotions. And so I find that in the name of quote compassion, I’m really just kind of this mule of another person’s baggage, you know, processing their anger or their guilt or you know. And I’m seeing that I do that. So, I’m learning to…I’m trying and learning at this very moment in my life when to say, “No more.” You know, this is…I understand, “No more.” Because I cannot deal in this relationship. Because this is like being the baggage claim at the airport for people sometimes. I have to stop it, you know. And I have it around me a lot because of what I do.
Ken: Okay. And so your question?
Student: You know, I’m jus…the question…I’m dealing with a lot of confusion of when to say, when not.
Student: I’m suffering myself a lot because in my solution today because I suffered a lot this morning just from this. And I went and I meditated and worked on having a feeling of openness. And I just became more open. And just, “Don’t say anything.” And just waited for more of it to unfold and to reveal itself. I don’t know. I’m sort of making a statement and hoping for a comment from you.
Ken: I’m going to change your metaphor slightly. Relationships are like a teeter-totter, you know. And they go back and forth. They’re never actually perfectly in balance. But there’s a constant movement which makes things alive and interesting. There’s a constant back and forth and readjustment and readjustment. When they move out of balance, it becomes very uninteresting. One person is stuck up in the air and the other person is stuck down on the ground. Right? Ever gone on a teeter-totter with someone who’s a lot heavier than you? Right? You are just sitting up there, thinking, “Can I get down now?” you know, and they spring up and—bang! You are up in the air again. Well, it’s a long way down now. We’re talking about big teeter-totters now. Aaaah. Okay? But that sounds like what you are experiencing in that. You know, you are taking on all of this weight. And there’s a reason you do so. I’m going to suggest the reason you do so is because it is easier.
Student: Easier than drawing a boundary. That’s what I’m learning.
Student: But I’m still not clear when to draw it, you know.
Ken: Yes. And the only way is..because this is like you are doing something that you don’t know how to do. It’s like learning a new skill. Right? So what happens when you learn a new skill?
Student: You make mistakes.
Ken: Right. Can you go with that? That you’re going to make mistakes?
Student: There is a certain amount of joy in the revelation, you know.
Student: And it’s like finger-painting when I was a kid. I loved it. You know. So there’s a part of me that’s reveling in it at the same time as I’m suffering.
Ken: Well, that’s good. Because that means you’re exploring new territory. And something new is developing. So keep going. And you will make mistakes. Just learn from them, that’s all. And the skill will come. And it won’t be just a skill. There will also be increased awareness. So you will be able to sense things in the way that I was talking about earlier. And that’s part of the skill: being able to sense where’s the balance here. Okay?
And this is actually how we grow and move into not only being able to see. Being present in our lives isn’t a state. It’s an on-going thing. I mean, one of my friends likes to tell people to rent Jackie Chan movies. Okay? Because you watch Jackie Chan do all of these extraordinary things. Where, like, he’s falling over, but then he bats a piece of furniture which knocks down that opponent. And then he trips over something but in the process of doing that he does a somersault which puts him in the right position to knock the legs out from somebody else, and things like that.
And it’s actually not a bad metaphor for being present. [Laughter] Because whatever is arising, you’re working with it, moment to moment to moment. It’s not like you get this wonderful scheme in your head and then it just plays out. That is not how it happens in life. It’s just that each moment is a new situation. And you work with whatever’s there, moment to moment. And that’s why you can’t have a thinking mind. Because the thinking mind is too slow.
Student: I realized that this morning. I’m always sort of waiting for the right moment where I can serenely explain myself. And I realize it’s a bit more like a war. Like when the opportunity is there, you know, when you trip over the chair and you go flying, try to land on your feet.
Ken: Yeah. Or do a somersault.
Student: Yeah. [Laughter]
Ken: Yeah. It’s sometimes easier. Okay?
Student: It’s been a very interesting path lately.
Student: Thank you.
Ken: You’re welcome. Sean, do you have yours?
Sean: Thanks. It says, A sense of…
Sean: I’m sorry? Oh, page 302. Second, third paragraph.
Ken: Third paragraph.
Sean: Second sentence. It starts with, A sense of self begins to form when the flow of movement and response is interrupted. The open space of no response is perceived as threatening and we react by ignoring it. And my question is, what is the open space of no response?
Ken: [Long silent pause] You get it? [Laughter] Unnerving, isn’t it?
Sean: It’s just uncomfortable being. That’s what’s threatening.
Ken: Yeah. And so we do anything to elicit a response.
Sean: It’s interesting that I didn’t understand what that line meant, because it’s so—
Ken: And this is really in reference to when we’re very young. So we don’t have all of the conceptual machinery. It’s like, there’s no response—it’s very threatening. I mean, just this few minutes, few seconds, are like. But imagine you’re just a few months old or something like that. Okay? And so…that didn’t happen. And we just work feverishly to get a response going. What’s this touching in you? Okay. Thanks.
Sean: I remember. I remember what that was like.
Ken: Okay. Very good. Kate.
Kate: Just a quick question. I’ve always kind of struggled with the word non-residing. Like they’ll say you know, non-residing awakening.
Kate: And that’s always been confusing to me, because I always think, “Well, don’t you want awakening to reside in you?” But, am I, you know, when you just described a minute ago about being present in the moment to moment experience means that you’re really constantly changing.
Kate: And is that what that means? Non-residing? Is that…?
Ken: Well that’s interesting. Actually the term non-residing awakening, non-residing nirvana, I mean there’s a lot of them. Let’s use the non-residing awakening as a very technical explanation. On the one hand you have the notion of samsara, which is the way we experience existence. We experience things based on pattern and conditioning. Then we have the concept of nirvana, which is when everything is just peaceful. And so non-residing actually refers to not residing in samsara or residing in nirvana in that conception.
That conception of nirvana isn’t what the Theravadans mean by nirvana at all, but it’s a straw man the Mahayanists set up. So it’s the idea of being confused or in a certain sense being disconnected. You know, you may feel very peaceful, but you are not actually engaging the world. And so, but I like the way you link it. So, you know, you are right in the world, and it’s tumbling around, and things like that, and you can’t sit still anywhere because it’s one thing after another. So it’s non-residing in that sense, too. Okay.
This is a passage in Uchiyama. I don’t think it was in the section I gave to you. Maybe. No, it’s a little further on. It’s on page 64. I’ve always found this passage quite wonderful. Discussing the instruction, When this has been done, preparations for the next morning’s meal may begin. It’s a very deep instruction. Like, when this has been done, preparations for the next morning’s meal may begin. But here’s what Uchiyama does with this,
In this seemingly matter-of-course passage there is an extremely vital teaching to be found. In this world of impermanence, we have no idea what may occur during the night; maybe there will be an earthquake or a disastrous fire, war may break out, or perhaps revolution might erupt, or we ourselves could very well meet death. Nevertheless, we are told to prepare the gruel for the following morning and make a plan for lunch. Moreover, we are to do this as tonight’s work. In preparing the meal for the following day as tonight’s work, there is no goal for tomorrow being established. Yet, our direction for right now is clear: prepare tomorrow’s gruel. Here is where our awakening to the impermanence of all things becomes manifest. While at the same time our activity manifests our recognition of the law of cause and effect (karma). In this routine matter of preparing tomorrow’s gruel as this evening’s work lies the key to the attitude necessary for coping with this absolute contradiction of impermanence and cause and effect.
We have this aspect of our experience that is, there is order and there is chaos. There’s both. It’s not one or the other, though everybody keeps trying to put it all in one or put it all in the other. And how do you relate to a world of experience in which there is both order and chaos? Well, you have to follow the order. Otherwise, you end up in disaster. But if you expect to have the results that the order would ordinarily predict, you are going to create all kinds of expectations which will prevent you from relating to the chaos. So the only way to do this is to do what needs to be done each day, but without establishing any result, any goal. So, what you end up doing is discerning in each moment the direction of the present. And that’s it. I mean it sounds very easy, but it’s not quite that easy. Okay.
Molly had a question? You’ve got a mic?
Molly: I was just going to comment on the third line, May I experience the world wishing me freedom from pain. And ask you about what I did there.
Molly: I think that these four lines brought up a lot of emotional reactivity for me, as you were talking about. And for that line, May I experience the world wishing me freedom from pain, I turned it around, and I said, “Well, it seems to give me the authority to make choices that are good for me without fearing disappointment from other people.”
And so this is a good thing, because one of my patterns is to not do things because I’m afraid of what people will say or think. So my question is around—am I just sort of feeding my own pattern to get what I want from a situation? Am I devising a kind of strategy, or…?
Ken: How did you say it? This seems to give me permission to…?
Molly: It gives me authority to make choices that are good for me without fearing disappointing people.
Ken: And when I hear you say that, it makes me feel that there’s been a certain imbalance in your life for quite a while, where for whatever reason you’ve made choices which aren’t good for you because you felt in a certain sense you had to take care of everybody else.
Ken: Yeah. Now, I think the key here is to understand what we are. I think for most normal people—if there are any normal people—what we are stops at the skin. You know, “This is me and that’s out there.” But for people who are probably a little disturbed, their sense of who they are maybe doesn’t even include everything up to their skin, they’re contracted down on something smaller than that. But from a Buddhist point of view, what are we?
Ken: And in being nothing?
Molly: We have no self.
Ken: Yes. And in being nothing, we are?
Molly: Then we don’t have these reactive patterns I guess.
Ken: Now you’re being very logical. If I am nothing, if I am no thing, what’s all this? It doesn’t go away, does it?
Ken: So, if I am no thing, what is all this?
Molly: It’s nothing, too.
Ken: Let’s try it another way. I said earlier our sense of self kind of stops at the skin. Right? What if you extended your sense of self. And suppose your sense of what you are is everybody in this room. Would that change anything?
Ken: What would change?
Molly: I would experience. Well, no it wouldn’t, because I’m still me. Or I’m still myself. [Laughter]
Ken: Let’s go with that first thought. First thought, best thought.
Molly: Well, okay. I was going to say, yeah, it does change you because then you are experiencing what other people are going through. You’re more compassionate or you can—
Ken: Yeah. Okay. And what if you went a little further, say, all of California?
Ken: Okay? Let’s go a little further. Okay? You are everything you experience.
Ken: Okay. What’s left of you?
Molly: It’s just experience.
Ken: Yeah. What’s left of you?
Ken: Thank you.
Ken: So you can, by becoming nothing, you become everything. Or by becoming everything, you become nothing.
Ken: So, as we mature in our practice, as we practice it becomes possible to include more and more of our experience. Right now, or before you were practicing these lines, before you started that, there was a very profound sense of separation. And “There’s all of them out there. And they are thinking something, and I’ve got to take care of that.” And you can feel separation. But if you now include it all—
Ken: It begins to shift, right? That’s the point of this line. Did I tell you about the guy who thought he was a kernel of corn?
Ken: Oh, this is very important. [Laughter] There was a person, poor man who thought he was a kernel of corn and everybody was a chicken. So you can imagine what his life was like. Well, of course he ended up in a mental institution and a psychiatrist worked with him for many years. And gradually got him to the point where he understood that he wasn’t a kernel of corn.
And so the psychiatrist said, “You’ve been here many years. You’ve never gone off the grounds. But you know you’re not a kernel of corn.” He said, “Yeah.” “Would you like to go out, off the grounds and just look at things, a bit broader horizons?” And the patient said, “Yeah, that, thanks doc, that would be a really nice thing to do.” He said, “Okay if I come with you?” He said, “Yeah, I’d be very happy if you came with me.”
So they walked out of the hospital grounds and they’d just gone a short distance down the street and they came to a bus stop and a whole bunch of people waiting at the bus stop. And the guy just took off. And the doctor couldn’t possibly keep up with him. So he called the police.
And they then found him much later that night, huddled in fear in some drainage ditch. They brought him back to the hospital and cleaned him up and put him to bed. The next day he came in to the doctor’s office and the doctor said to him, “What happened there? You know you are not a kernel of corn, what happened?” He said, “Doc, it’s like this. I know I’m not a kernel of corn. And you know I’m not a kernel of corn. But those damn chickens, they don’t know that.” [Laughter]
Ken: Very good. Okay. Last question.
Ken: Yeah, last question, and then I want to discuss a few things.
Michelle: I had just been reading that same excerpt that Sean referred to about habituated patterns becoming ingrained today when someone emailed me a psychiatrist’s analysis of George Bush’s personality. And—
Ken: I don’t think I want to read this.
Michelle: Well, basically it was this person said that Bush actually fits a very specific type of narcissist whose cocoon is so thick that he’s literally unable to step outside his own experience. So, what this person said was that he can feel enormous pain and fear, like the fear that his position in history will not be secure. But he’s completely unable to feel compassion. And therefore if he had to throw thousands more Americans and tens of thousands more Iraqis down the drain, he would do that because his own interior fear is so great.
And what stuck me in reading this was my own ambivalence about aversion and attraction. Because there is something very satisfying about despising somebody like this. So, could you say a little more about the difference between liking people and wishing them to be happy.
Ken: I’m going to talk about the satisfaction of despising. Which I think is implicit in your question. We have to ask—or I think it’s good to ask—what does that serve? It’s like the mark of Cain. It’s a mild form of revenge, but any form of revenge leaves its mark.
If you despise someone, when it makes you feel better too. Well, you’re ignoring. You are ignoring the pain that is present. And understandably, because when you look at, what is it, 600,000 people who have died in Iraq since the U.S. occupation? Half a million before that, in the years of the sanctions since the First Gulf War. Those are pretty serious numbers. And it isn’t one man. Because the system chose that man. So I think it’s good to keep a big picture.
And the other thing about despising is that it allows the illusion of separation, which isn’t present either. You know? We may feel that we don’t have any power over what happens, but individually, each of us has only a little bit. You know, a thimbleful or something like that. But those thimblefuls add up, a lot. And so clinging to the illusion of separation is a way of ignoring. One can analyze Bush at a distance. I am not sure what purpose that serves.
I’m always mindful of Thich Nhat Hahn’s poem called Remember Me By My True Names. And the line which I find very powerful is, “I am the ten-year old girl who throws herself into the sea after being raped by a sea pirate,” and “I am the sea pirate who is too blind to see what he’s doing.”
Wherever you look, there is suffering. So in the context of equanimity, you don’t make any distinction. There’s suffering here and there’s suffering there. And the suffering there is probably more problematic because you can actually see the results of it. It’s causing a lot more suffering. But if we can’t relate to that suffering, then as Eldridge Cleaver says, “We are part of the problem.”
I mean, to put this in a very different context, one of my students many years ago was interested in working with families in which there was abuse. And in one of the intake interviews the interviewer asked her, “You come into a room, and there’s a young child four or five who is crying and bloody on the floor. And there’s a mother gripping the sink with both hands, holding on as tight as she can. Who do you go to first?” And she said, “The child.” And the interviewer said, “You’re not ready for this work.” So who do you go to first?
Ken: So, we talked a little bit just now about these very, very deep-seated, very deeply conditioned emotional patterns of ignoring attachment to a self-image, self-centeredness, and ownership. And as I described, probably our work on the four immeasurables is not going to go there immediately because these are very different things, but you seemed to touch into it a bit this evening, Sean. And where you find yourself completely stymied. It’s just like—awwwkk! and there aren’t any words. And this is usually indicative that we are hitting stuff that is very deep and in some cases pre-verbal.
And the second section that I wanted you to read was on the adolescent strivings. How many of you recognized anything about yourselves in that section? Yeah. I think it’s very problematic in American society because I think a lot of people never really grow out of adolescence. As some of you know, I do a certain amount of business consulting, and, well, particularly here in L.A., you know, the saying is “Hollywood is high school, with money.”
And you just have all of this petty stuff just go all over the place, except there’s millions of dollars behind it now. But I see it in other contexts where people are so attached to proving themselves. Like they’ve been accumulating wealth or power over people for, like, twenty, thirty years. And it’s still not enough. It’s questionable whether it can ever be enough.
And the whole business of respect and so forth. And all of these, you have these eight worldly concerns. Gain and loss, and happiness and unhappiness, and fame and obscurity, and respect and disdain. But they’re all social agendas. And that’s what we are encountering in our adolescent years. We’re learning how to play the game of the world, of our society, so they become very important. You know, we’ve got to show that we’re competent. And make them play the game. But it actually has nothing to do with who we are as individuals, who we are in the world of individual experience. And some people never mature out of that. And that creates problems.
So, that’s a good area to check. Our sense of gain and loss is primarily measured in terms of money. And if you look at the way that everything is measured in money in our society now, it creates huge problems. But you can almost view it as a society that’s stuck in an adolescence. And to give you an example of the kind of problems that it creates: the gross national or gross domestic product, or whatever it’s called, measures economic activity. Good parenting doesn’t generate economic activity. Childcare does. Therefore, if the health of the nation is judged in purely economic terms, which it tends to be, then it would be better for everybody to be in childcare than have good parents. This is absurd. But that’s the kind of ignoring that obsession with gain and loss produces.
And the antidote to that is equanimity. Why equanimity? Because when we’re calm and we are not making judgments, we’re not caught up in prejudices, then we have a better chance to see things as they are. And to see that gain and loss are just fluctuations in experience. We still have stuff that we carry around in our wallets, but that’s actually a very small percentage—for most of us—of the money that we transact in our lives. What does money consist of now? Numbers besides your name on a spreadsheet. And depending on what those numbers are, you can or can’t do various things. You know, it becomes very, very tenuous.
Similar considerations for the others. Happiness and unhappiness. You know, we’re very concerned with that. But we only can be concerned with them if we don’t know something about ourselves. That happiness and unhappiness are simply experiences and don’t fundamentally affect what we actually are. So we kill ourselves and the world trying to avoid unhappiness. It’s the death of many, many relationships. You know because, “I am not happy with you any more.” Well. Loving-kindness, that warmth, that brings a very, very different quality. So you can go through these.
The second thing that I want to comment on a little bit is Uchiyama’s parental mind. Here he’s coming from the level of mind of awareness. And a couple of passages, which I find very helpful. Reference to Molly’s question earlier. Page 51, end of the first paragraph:
Since there is no longer an “other” to be dependent upon, we have neither a need to be swayed by someone, or something we think exists outside ourselves nor do we long for things that we project as being apart from ourselves.
And what he’s talking about is relating to the totality of our experience. Living in that world rather than living in the world of shared experience in which there is a sense of I and other. It’s a very different way of approaching life.
And, again, on the top of page 52:
…the Self inclusive of the whole world—[he’s using capital S—big Self as a kind of, we might say, buddha mind or what have you]—inclusive of the world world is nothing other than the very things, people, or situations that we presently encounter and know.
That’s what our life consists of. But what we want to do is pick and choose. No, I don’t want that, I want this part. I don’t want that, I want this part. But it’s all us. It’s all our experience. It’s all our life. And we don’t get to pick that, actually.
But, how well do we relate to it? And then he goes into this example of this academic who burns the camellia bush when he’s raking up leaves. Because there’s a lack of awareness operating there. He’s not taking care of the world of his experience. He’s just burning up flowers needlessly. And then again, on page 53, When you put a pot down roughly, banging it around on concrete or a tiled sink, it cries out in pain.
I mean, one may think, “That’s kind of stupid.” But what’s it like? What would it be like to negotiate your life—and this is the extraordinary sensitivity that I was referring to earlier in reference to your question, Art—where everything, everything—the other person in front of you, the carpet, the flowers, the car, whatever—you treat as being what it is, with that kind of care?
What would it be like to live like that? I mean, it would be very inconvenient in terms of our habituated patterns. But it would also be quite extraordinary. Because everything becomes alive. You see, one of the things that happens in the world of shared experience is that the world dies. Because in the world of shared experience, there’s I and other. Now, in that world, where is the consciousness? In the I. So the world is dead. There’s nothing there.
What about the world of individual experience? Where is the consciousness? There’s no differentiation. Experience and awareness are not differentiated. They’re not separated. So everything becomes alive. And the way this carries into our lives. I mean, he talks about the Japanese bureaucrats. How many of you have noticed bureaucratic tendencies in the way that you conduct your lives? Either your friendships or your work? We’re not taking care of our world of experience when we’re a bureaucrat. We’re not alive in our world of experience when we’re a bureaucrat. So, this parental mind, which is compassion at the level of mind of awareness, becomes a way of bringing life to our whole world of experience. Okay?
Now, I want you to continue with compassion. And the reason we’re doing more time on compassion is because compassion is in many respects the most important. And I hope from some of the discussion that we’ve had this evening that you can actually get a better sense of how compassion feels and operates in the world of our experience. And how it’s a way of opening and being really clear and present in it.
And as some of you have already run into, true compassion involves a heart that is breaking constantly. I mean the archetypal symbol for compassion in Tibetan Buddhism is Avalokiteshvara, who, two tears from his eyes become White and Green Tara. There’s tears in his eyes because he sees the suffering of the world. He’s got a broken heart. He’s a bodhisattva, but he’s got a broken heart. So if you think that you’re going to have a whole heart when you become enlightened, just forget that. It’s not going to work that way. As we become more awake, we get less and less choice in what we’re aware of. It goes further than that. I can’t remember where the quote comes from, but it is, The illusion of choice is an indication of a lack of freedom. So you can chew on that one. The illusion of choice is an indication of lack of freedom. Real popular, that one. Okay.
Student: The same meditation?
Ken: Same meditation. Same four lines. Take them deeper. Yes, Molly.
Molly: Are we supposed to go out? Not just focus on ourselves.
Ken: Yes, that’s right. Yeah. And you’ll find that—thank you. Michelle. What would it be like to wish George Bush to cultivate compassion. What would it be like for you?
Michelle: I knew this was coming.
Ken: Okay. Good. Work with it. Okay. Thank you, Molly. Yes, start taking this out. Because I mean it’s very interesting. When we start wishing that others—people that we may not like very much—actually have compassion, we find that it’s very, very hard to hold onto the way that we prefer to see the world. I mean dharma practice is—if we’re serious about it at all—is massively inconvenient. So, have a good two weeks. Rory, can we conclude with the prayers, please? Thank you.