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.
Compassion, part 2 Download
Participants’ comments and questions on compassion meditation including: Should we say the verses used in these meditations aloud or to ourselves?; Does the line in the compassion meditation, ‘May I experience the world wishing me freedom from pain’, impose an unrealistic ideal upon the world?; difficulty in extending these verses to include others; the relationship between compassion, despair, and joy; What are you opening to when being compassionate towards others?; How does one find the balance between justice and compassion Commentary on social and adult expressions of the four immeasurables and spiritual longings passage from the reading assignment; meditation instruction for joy.
Ken: This is class five, I believe, of Wake Up…not Wake Up to Your Life…of the four immeasurables. Okay. Are the microphones handy? Okay. This is the second two weeks you’ve been working on compassion. I’d like to hear about your experiences, questions, insights, challenges.
Steve: Was it your intention that we say these things out loud or to ourselves?
Steve: Thank you.
Ken: Okay. Whichever works. It could be done as a vocalized prayer. The main intention, the main way this works, is as you repeat each line out loud or in your mind, your body’s going to feel something. And you observe that, and rest in that experience. It tells you either where you are open or where you are closed for that particular aspect of the immeasurable. And if you feel yourself tightening up, then you just rest in that. And when you feel it relaxing, if it does, then you repeat the line again, and see what happens. In this way you gradually open and open, until you can say that line and feel it in you. Okay. Other questions?
Student: My first question—I’m putting my foot in the water. The line, May I experience the world wishing me freedom from pain. I’ve grown up feeling fairly naive. And when I repeat this line for myself, I feel that there’s a tremendous amount of preference and prejudice. That I would like the world to be that way, but I sense that in reality the world is neutral, and I’m imposing my ideal.
Ken: [Chuckles] Okay. You’ve heard me talk about the world of individual experience and the world of shared experience. We grow up in a post-modern culture, or we live in a post-modern culture, which is pretty materialistic. It’s also materialist. By that, I don’t mean the acquisition of property. I mean the basic belief in our culture is that the things that we see exist independently. The matter is actually there. Okay? And yet we engage in this practice, which means we have somewhere in us some spiritual yearnings.
I see materialism in this way that I’ve just defined it, and fundamentalism—which is a phenomenon that is very widespread—I would say globally. I find both of these belief systems—because they are both belief systems—make the same mistake. And that is they equate the world of the spirit—the world of what we actually experience—with the world of shared experience. And all kinds of problems come from that.
On the rational materialist side, when you do that, you eliminate spiritual values from the functioning of the world—a spiritual sense. That’s what a lot of people in modern post-modern societies feel. On the fundamentalist side, you seek to make the world spiritual. Which, you know, like when you get into messianic cults and apocalyptic thinking and feel that you are the instrument of divine will or karma or whatever, and you just have a disaster. You know we have a current disaster in Iraq coming from exactly that confusion.
Now the reason I’m talking about this—which may feel like a bit of a digression from your point—is that you say, “You know, I’m not sure the world actually would ever wish me to be free of suffering. You know? At best it’s neutral.” Most of us, you know, if you’re a real pessimist like me, you don’t think it’s neutral at all. [Chuckles]
I mean, I taught a class on karma back in the late 80s, and I asked everybody what they thought karma was. Three-quarters of the class said that karma was the balancing mechanism of the universe that made the universe just. A total projection of human values on the universe. The Buddhist point of view is far worse. The universe is not just, the deck is totally stacked against you.
And, you know, you have just these self-perpetuating cycles that get you mired and mired in samsaric existence. It’s a miracle if you ever get a chance even to see a way out, let alone actually take it. But that’s a whole other matter.
So when you say, “I’m not sure that the world would actually do this,” you’re talking about the world as we know it in shared experience.
Ken: Yeah. That’s not what we are working with. What about the world that you experience? That change things a little bit? Now, the world that we experience—go a little further here. Are there any experiences that arise for you which you’d rather not have?
Student: Plenty. [Chuckle]
Ken: Yes. And it’s probably not too much of a stretch to suppose that you might feel that there’s a mutual antipathy there. Those experiences would be just as happy as if you weren’t around either. [Laughter] Okay. So, with compassion, okay, there’s hurt there. Whenever we’re pushing something away, there’s hurt. Can you be present with that hurt?
Student: I think I draw a distinction, that makes sense for me, between suffering, pain and harm.
Ken: Yes. We’ve talked about that before. Right.
Student: So pain, physical pain is inevitable. And the body goes through its changes, and that I can accept. And harm is, again, the world of shared experiences?
Ken: Well, in the world that you experience, I’m sure you feel that certain experiences will harm you, but do any of those experiences actually harm you? From my experience, there are definitely things that I feel would harm me, but the only reason is that I don’t have the capacity of attention to experience them. You follow? Like, I harden up inside, and now we have a fight. But do those experiences actually wish me harm?
Student: In my privileged life, I think not.
Student: But if I look at some other situations in the world—
Ken: No, we’re talking about what we actually experience, not people doing things to people. I mean, there are experiences which arise, you know, fear, something like that. But the fear doesn’t wish me harm. In fact, it’s the other way around.
Student: It teaches me to be present.
Ken: Well, it tells you that there is danger.
Ken: So, I remember, I’ve gone through this with a number of people. I remember going through it with one of my business clients. That he kept trying to push something away so he could just go on with his work. But I pointed out to him that that feeling that was arising was telling him something was wrong in this situation. And by pushing it away he was actually disregarding something that was arising in his awareness that was telling him something was wrong. And it was probably a good idea to pay attention to it.
See? So, from that point of view, the experiences that actually arise in terms of feelings etc., etc., are wishing us well. They’re telling us things about our world that we are hell bent on ignoring. [Laughter] You follow?
Student: I follow. I follow.
Ken: Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across it. It’s some time ago now. But John Cleese of Monty Python, Fawlty Towers did a series of recordings with his psychiatrist, a guy called Robert Skinner in England, called Families and How to Survive Them. And basically, it’s a very good exploration of the question, What is love? And they start off with this question, and they go around the whole thing, and they come back to them.
It’s not deep but it’s a very easily understood, very clear exposition of certain basic psychological principles. And the thing that makes it a lot of fun is that they use excerpts from various sitcoms to illustrate their points. They have these clips in there. Unfortunately, I had several copies of the tapes but kept lending them. And of course, I never got them back. I think you can probably get the tapes from somewhere. And as I say, it’s quite good.
But in one of the exchanges, John Cleese says to Robert, “You seem to be saying that every feeling is important.” And Robert Skinner says, “Yes, that’s right.”
Well, anger? Well, yes. Anger tells you that a boundary has been violated. Well, what about anxiety? Have you ever driven with someone who doesn’t feel any anxiety? Oh. Cruelty?
And Robert Skinner, “Well, that’s very interesting. I think as my ability to experience being cruel has increased, I’ve actually been more helpful to my patients and clients.” [Chuckle] Because cruelty is the intentional infliction of pain. While he doesn’t intentionally inflict pain. But when his clients are in pain, he doesn’t rescue them. So they actually work through things.
So now, of course, the extremes of these can be quite harmful. But every emotion that arises is actually telling us something about our world of experience. Often we confuse that. So that when anger arises, what we think it’s telling us, “That’s got to be destroyed,” when what it’s really telling us is, “You’re hurting. You’re really hurting.”
And so part of becoming present and awake is being able to know what the emotions are actually telling us and not what we project that they’re saying. Okay? And this is a way of undoing, forming a relationship with this world of experience which undoes those self-centered projections.
Student: It would be fruitful to go back and look at why I’m choosing the see the world as…you know.
Ken: Yes. I’m actually going to encourage you. Well, I’m not going to encourage you to go back and ask that question, Why do I see the world this way? Because what I’ve found…I mean I spent a tremendous amount of time asking that kind of question, and I found even when I could answer it, I found the answer was useless.
Because there’s a difference between being able to arrive at that answer—which is essentially an intellectual or conceptual process—and actually experiencing the feeling. When you can actually experience the feeling and be awake in that experience, then you see. It doesn’t come through a conceptual process; you just see what’s going on. So I’m going to encourage you to put the work into experiencing the feeling rather than to figure out why. Or as I like to put it, to experience and know the feeling as opposed to understanding it. Okay?
Student: Thank you.
Ken: Other questions? Michelle.
Michelle: Where’s the mic? Apropos that question. I have trouble with the second line on being present with everything I encounter when I apply it to people I care about. Because when I’m thinking in terms of people I care about, what if they don’t want to be present with what they encounter?
Ken: So when you’re extending compassion to others, May they be present with whatever they encounter. Okay. Now, what happens when you’re not present with what you encounter?
Michelle: Anything between obliviousness and disaster.
Ken: Yes. When we are not present with what is arising in our lives, then we’re reacting to it. And the reaction is always based on resonance with past history, so basically we are reliving the past. It never is really attuned with the present. And because of that mismatch, projection and so forth, then problems arise. And we create suffering for ourselves and others. Any different for anybody else?
Michelle: Presented in that light, absolutely not.
Michelle: When I view it as or when I experience it as imposing my will on other people, then it’s huge.
Ken: Of course. But you are not imposing your will here. You aren’t telling them to do anything. You know through your own experience that even when it’s painful, it’s better to be present with what you encounter than not. Because it produces—well, it stops suffering; it ends suffering. That’s what you’re wishing for others. That’s your expression of your compassion. You aren’t going out and saying, with your whistle and gun, “Sssssrrrrt! You are not present! Be present or else!” [Chuckles] You aren’t doing that. So I don’t…
How did you get to you’re imposing your will on them? That’s interesting.
Michelle: When I rephrase that line to something like, “May those I am close to be present with everything they encounter,” it sounds to me like I’m telling them what to do.
Ken: Well, here we have the ambiguity of English, because we have the same construction the hortatory and the aspirational. You know.
Michelle: I’m not a writer, and I don’t know anything about that.
Ken: No, well, they’re two different moods in English. But the hortatory is, May you live long. No, you know, May you be upright. You know, good puritanical thing. I think it’s Amish. But these are not imperatives. These are not urgings. This is an expression of your heart, you know? You see someone very angry and upset when there is absolutely no need to be angry and upset, and you’re saying, “May you be present with this.” Okay. It’s not about imposing will. How many others felt that you were trying to impose will in some way here? No? Maybe you have a messianic complex after all, Michelle. [Laughter]
Ken: Okay. Lynea?
Lynea: I’m a little confused about the relationship between compassion, despair and joy. Am I correct in thinking—
Lynea: Okay. So if one experiences…I guess I’m experiencing the feeling of heartbreak. And somehow I feel like that has me in a place of experiencing compassion. But if I lose the capacity to sit with that, then it kind of goes into despair.
Ken: That’s right.
Lynea: And then if I respond with joy—
Ken: If you bring joy into the picture—
Lynea: If I bring joy into the picture, it broadens it, but there feels like there’s some sort of contradiction or paradox in that much space. Does that make sense?
Ken: What’s the contradiction? What’s contradicting what?
Lynea: My mind is saying that joy is contradicting compassion, but then my experience is saying that it’s just sensation. It’s really uncomfortable.
Ken: Are you a fan of Eeyore?
Ken: Yeah. How much joy is there in Eeyore’s life?
Lynea: Not much.
Ken: No. Are you familiar with Marvin, the depressed robot?
Ken: Ah. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Lynea: Oh, yes. Oh, okay.
Ken: Yeah. There’s no joy here. Eeyore is actually quite helpful to people. So is Marvin. But there’s no joy because they’re despairing.
Now if you’re exposed to suffering—the suffering of others—and you don’t have the capacity to actually experience it in attention, then you do tend to slide into despair. The British equivalent of the Peace Corps, VSO, Volunteer Services Overseas, worked with people that were a few years younger than the average Peace Corps volunteer. And they would send people to third world countries. So these are kids in their late teens or early twenties. And they discontinued the program in the very difficult countries because the kids would come back after a year or two years there and just go into this terrible depression. They were in despair because they were exposed to so much misery and suffering. So they had to be more careful about that.
Joy. And we’re going to be getting to joy in the next two weeks meditation. Joy counteracts despair because you take joy in just experiencing.
Many years ago, I was asked go to Colorado to be one of a couple of participants in a funeral ceremony for a woman who had died quite unexpectedly of breast cancer. And she came from a very wealthy oil family, a Texan oil family. I’d met her a couple of times before, that’s why her husband asked me to come out. But I’d never met the parents.
And there were a couple of other people who were also doing the ceremony. And the ceremony was very much for family and very, very close friends, so there were only about ten or fifteen people at it. And there was a very good quality of presence in that. And it was a typical Buddhist ceremony, not making any bones about what has happened, somebody has died here. And going through the process, and the ceremony of purification. It’s based on Amitabha. It’s a very nice ceremony.
And we were all staying at a hotel because a lot of people had flown in from out of town. The next morning I had breakfast with the parents, because we were all staying at the same place, and as we were saying goodbye the mother said to me, “Thank you very much for coming, Ken. It was a really joy—” And she just stopped right in the middle of the sentence. Because she had experienced joy, and the joy of being completely present in the sorrow and pain of losing her daughter. Now that sounds paradoxical but because she was completely present, there was a completeness in that, a fullness, which was energizing. And it was.
And some of you—maybe many of you—know that experience. So even in the midst of tragedy, there is that fullness of being. And there’s a joy in being present. Because what joy is is radiant presence. And it contradicts our intellectual understanding, “No, this is a sad experience, so I must be sad.” No, you can be completely present in it, and feel all of the pain of that, and be feeling joy.
We have that kind of capacity. So when you bring that, it’s tremendously powerful because that allows you to be present with the suffering at a completely different level. But it doesn’t compute in our rational, logical mind. You think, “No, I shouldn’t be feeling this way.” But the fact is, when you are really present you do. And you’re not doing anything wrong.
And another experience I had, I was meeting with a group of colleagues. And I had done something stupid. And they were very, very upset with me. Really upset. We spent a whole weekend sorting it out. And it was pretty painful. And I said, “Yeah, you know, you’re right, I really screwed up here.” I mean, but they showed up, I showed up, and we got down to it, and repaired all the relationships. It was very good.
And even though it was really, really difficult, the next day when I was going to the airport, I felt completely light and clear because there had been that much presence in it. I thought “wow!” And I had to let go of any sense of self, any kind of defending of my action, and things like that. So it was really a very, very deep letting-go thing.
And I went, “Oh, so this is what non-self means. You just let go of everything. And it’s okay.” [Chuckle] You don’t hold on to anything. You don’t defend. You don’t do any of that. And that creates the possibility for things to work out. So, but if you go into despair, you’re holding onto your feelings very, very tightly. And it’s the very opposite. this make sense? Okay. Nava.
Nava: This is about what actually happens in compassion. And so if you’re near someone who is really suffering. And you get to that place that you open and open and open and open. What are you opening up to? I mean, what?
Ken: Yeah. Okay. What are you opening up to? Actually, you’re doing a little more than opening. Opening is the loving-kindness part. So, there’s somebody in pain for whatever reason, you know. Maybe they’re physically hurt. Maybe they’ve been beaten up in their job or something like that. Maybe they’ve lost somebody very close. Maybe they’ve just learned they have some terrible illness—something like that. Well, the pain and the suffering that they are experiencing both resonate with us. Right? Have you ever had that experience?
Nava: It reminds me, okay…it reminds me what I experience.
Nava: That’s all. I mean—
Ken: Well, it does, doesn’t it?
Ken: Yeah. So that’s one piece. Another piece is when we see somebody in pain, almost at a biological level, we go “ouuuh!” We don’t want to deal with it. And also, at another deep level, we want to help them. So there’s that push-pull going on in us. We want to help them; we don’t want to have anything to do with it. And then it resonates with maybe a whole bunch of old pains in ourself.
So suddenly it’s all very rich. So what compassion is is being able to experience all of that—and not believe any of it.
Nava: Not believe any of it?
Ken: Not believe any of it. Saying, well, “You need to do this, you need to do that, we need to get out of here, and you need to do this, and this is what is needed.” And in experiencing it, but not believing in it, we create the possibility of actually being able to see what is happening and seeing what is appropriate to do. Seeing what the other person actually needs. Not what we need, but what the other person actually needs, which may be very different. Because what the other person may actually need is just you to be there and be quiet. And that can be very, very difficult. Or they may need you to do something which is very difficult for you to face doing.
And that to me is what compassion is. It’s being able to…One of my teachers said a synonym for compassion is fearlessness.
Student: Fearlessness is what?
Ken: A synonym for compassion.
Student: Synonym. Okay.
Ken: Because you’re not going to be intimidated; you’re not intimidated by the experience. And so you don’t have to do something about it. You can just be in it. And it’s only by being in it that you have any chance of knowing what actually needs to be done. Because if you’re not in it then you’re just going to be, you’ll just be reacting to it on the basis of your own material. Does this help?
Nava: Ah, yeah. Okay. Two things. So, what is the connection? Is there a moment that someone else’s pain kind of [gets] in synch with your experience? I mean, you can’t measure it. It’s not something you can measure, but you actually don’t know someone else’s pain, right?
Ken: No, you don’t know somebody else’s pain. But it is possible to be able to experience the situation without your own projections. And then you act on the basis of what arises in that, in that seeing or that knowing.
Nava: Right. And that is the help. I mean, you used the word help, helping someone. So that is the help. When you—
Ken: Yeah. Ram Dass wrote a book many years [ago] like How Can I Help? which goes into this. Because many, many instances, what you think is going to help actually doesn’t. And so an essential component of compassion is letting go of your own ideas until you’re actually responding to the situation itself.
And that’s what Uchiyama talks about in the parental mind where you have this exquisite sensitivity, so that the whole world is speaking to you and saying, “This is what I need.” So he gives the example of that professor who can’t see the camellias, the flowers, that he’s burning up the camellia flowers. But you know the camellia flowers are telling him, “Don’t burn me.” They’re shriveling up and dying. And so when you have that kind of connection with everything you experience, then you respond with compassion. And it happens quite naturally. Okay.
There’s another question? Yes, Art.
Art: How does one find the balance between compassion and justice?
Ken: The balance between compassion and justice? [Pause] That takes us into one of the things I wanted to talk about this evening. I would venture—and I have to venture it, because I wrote it in the book—that justice is the social expression of compassion. So I don’t see any problem with a balance there. There are two sections I wanted to touch on page…the Adults Styles of Interactions to Solidify an Identify and World View on page 304-305 with a chart on 306. And then Spiritual Longings.
This is where the four immeasurables come to bear on certain patterns that we relate to in life. Now, the antithesis of the way of being present and of acting are, you find on page 304: manipulation, envelopment, control, and domination. Anybody here guilty of any of these? [Chuckles] You know? And those are what I call the bent aspects.
But if you start with equanimity, we manipulate because we’re trying to get what we want. With equanimity we’re able to let go of preferences, and that opens up the possibility of understanding. You follow? Because we’re letting go of our preferences and prejudices, then there’s more chance of being able to see and understand what’s actually going on. That, in turn, is the basis for creativity. We are not coming out of prejudice. It’s an open field.
And as you know from your own practice of the four immeasurables, with equanimity what we come to understand is that everything that every person does is because they feel at that moment that it is going to make their world better. They may be quite wrong, but at that moment that’s what they’re feeling. Okay? So what it does is it helps us to understand their humanity. To relate to their humanity. And when we treat people equally, we’re taking a humane approach to things. That was one of the Declarations of…you know..“All people have the right to”…how does it go in the Constitution?
Student: All men are created equal?
Ken: All men are created equal. Yeah. It’s not saying that they are equal, but they’re created equal. And this equality is—that’s the social expression of equanimity. It’s the humanity.
So, and then you come to loving-kindness. And I love this. My mean streak—I like asking other Buddhist teachers, What’s the social expression of loving-kindness? It’s courtesy. You know, treating someone with respect and warmth, that’s courtesy. That’s not about formal manners and things like that. It’s actually the social expression of loving-kindness. So loving-kindness counteracts the enveloping quality. Or, or it doesn’t counteract it so much. It’s the opposite of the enveloping quality. With the enveloping quality, you’re trying to bring it in to your world. [With] loving-kindness, you’re wishing that they’d be happy. That’s all. Very simply.
And what loving-kindness gives rise to is a way of relating to the world which is inclusive. You include, you include, and include. And that makes the world richer for everybody. And when you’re open to new possibilities, you include new possibilities, things like that. Much more likely that the things you want to do are going to be successful. So there’s an interesting connection there. But in the social expression, it just is courtesy. Now, that can become ritualized, and then can become cold. That’s all another matter.
But, I remember Rinpoche was quite impressed when he first came to the west with how decently people treated each other. They don’t do that in other countries. You know, have you ever tried to get on a bus at rush hour in Delhi?
Ken: In Delhi? I mean, you fight, ‘cause everybody is trying to get on that. You have no choice, you know—it’s all elbows and bodies and pushing. And if you don’t, you’re just going to stand on the sidewalk forever. But we don’t work that way. Unless you’re in New York, then people are always beating you out for taxi cabs and things like that.
Then you come to loving-kind…sorry, not loving-kindness, compassion. And compassion is the opposite of control. Just the way I was talking about with Nava. You don’t try to control what happens. You relate to what is happening and seek to work in that. That is what is truly beneficial. So, in terms of leadership qualities, that’s doing what is beneficial to people.
In my business consulting I remind and try to instill this philosophy in the people that I work with. That your job as a manager is to create the conditions in which your people can do their best work. So you’re really working for their benefit. And they go, “Gee, I never thought of it that way.” But when they start relating to their people that way, “What do you need to do your work? What do you need to do your best work?” Then everything starts to work much better. You follow?
Justice is the social expression of compassion. Because you have all of these different things, competing things. You know, this person’s hurt, this person’s been injured, etc., etc. So how do you relate to the suffering? And you relate to the suffering. Because suffering has always arisen out of an imbalance. And what you are seeking to do in justice is redress, redress the injury or address the imbalance. You follow?
Now this has become very contorted in our society, mainly because the original form of justice, which sought the re-balancing between the two partners—two partners, not partners, but the perpetrator and the injured party—tried to address that. And what they would do is they would bring their grievance to the king who was meant to be wise and things like that, and he would say, “Okay, then you pay this kind of restitution, or you do this—x, y and z,” and that takes care of it. So it was addressing the imbalance being created by the crime or the illegal action, or what have you. And that’s what was meant by the king’s law. Okay?
But as time went on, the state became the mechanism which mediated between the parties. But then the state had its own agenda in maintaining its system of laws. So it started to protect its system of law and the idea of actually balancing, re-balancing that relationship between the victim and the perpetrator has gotten lost. That’s why you’ve got victims’ rights movements now. Because the law’s agenda doesn’t coincide with the victims’ at all in many cases.
And what society deems as justice isn’t actually justice, because it doesn’t correct the imbalances. And after Timothy McVeigh was executed, the people in Oklahoma found that they didn’t feel any better. And you don’t feel better because that’s revenge. And it leaves its mark. So they set out to take a very different approach to Terry Nichols, who was also convicted of participating in that bombing.
And they started a movement which is the reconciliation movement which took as its slogan, “Reconciliation, not retribution.” And so people who had lost their families sat down and had some really hard discussions with Terry Nichols. And through that, Terry Nichols came to appreciate how much hurt…and changed.
Now this is addressing the imbalances. That’s compassion. And so people felt healed by that process in a way they had not felt that the execution of Timothy McVeigh had addressed what they thought it would, but it didn’t. But now there is so much sentiment, you know, in terms of, “That’s what justice is.” It’s a distortion. It’s making the other person pay. You forget what you need yourself. You follow?
And you notice that the word that we use in connection with justice is service. And that is the expression of compassion. In compassion, you become a servant. Or you serve the situation. You don’t seek to impose your will. But you serve. You serve what is true. That’s the expression of compassion. You don’t try to control it according to your own agendas.
And then you have joy. Joy comes from doing the right thing. Do you know what I mean? When you go into a difficult situation, and you do something, and it’s the right thing, you naturally feel joy. Okay? That’s why it’s linked with correctness, you know. And this is not like the puritanical sense of correctness. It’s just from doing the right thing. That’s what needed to happen in the situation. Now everybody can let it go and move on. There’s a joy in that. That ability depends on knowing, being able to see.
To live out of joy, you’re going to know what is, know how things are. So there’s that component of knowledge in it. And that’s what leads you to stand up in situations. You know, you know there is something wrong here, and you stand up and you address it. And that’s the right thing to do, so you feel good about it afterwards. Okay?
So what I’m trying to point to here, and what I was trying to do in this section of the book, was point out that the four immeasurables go far, far beyond emotions that we’re feeling. They are actually, when they’re practiced deeply, lead us to work with others in very specific ways, in ways which are truly beneficial. They lead us to be in society in ways. There’s the social expressions of justice and courtesy and so forth, and humanity. And they lead us also to interact with others in a way that’s not manipulative, not controlling, not dominating. Any of those.
And that’s what it means from my point of view to have a relationship with the immeasurables. When they are that active in their life that way. That’s a very, very long answer to your question. But have I addressed it?
Art: Yeah. Thanks. Though I just want to clarify one point.
Ken: One little point. Sure.
Art: One little point.
Ken: Yeah, right. It’s never going to be a little point. [Laughter]
Art: I had a brief reaction when we were talking about treating people equally. That seems perhaps to negate the uniqueness of each situation. Might it better to same we treat each person as an individual?
Ken: I think we are just saying the same thing in different words. What makes people feel that the law is unjust is when people are not treated equally in the eyes of the law. You know, that certain people get a certain kind, system of justice, and other people get another kind, another system of justice. When you say “treat people equally,” it doesn’t mean we do the same thing with everybody. Because there’s the person and then there’s the situation, and it’s relating to the whole. Not to treat people equally in that sense would be rather naive. And I agree with you. Okay?
Art: Okay. Thanks.
Ken: What else?
Art: I’d be opening a can of worms.
Ken: Oh, open it.
Ken: You sure?
Ken: Yeah, better open it.
Art: I’m really okay with it. And I can’t go too far with this but—
Ken: Don’t worry. I won’t let you.
Art: A judicial system that places people in conditions where they can’t be present.
Ken: Yeah. That’s why I said the judicial system—particularly in this country—has become an entity unto itself and no longer serves justice in a lot of cases. Susan and I went to a lecture a couple of weeks ago. What’s that guy’s name?
Susan: Philip Zimbardo.
Ken: The Stanford experiment.
Susan: Philip Zimbardo.
Ken: Okay. This is the person, Philip Zimbardo? This is the person who did the Stanford prison experiment. And what he did is he drew what I felt were quite chilling parallels between the conditions that he set up in the Stanford prison experiment and the conditions in which these soldiers were put into in Abu Graib. And from the results of his prison experiment, the behaviors that were exhibited in Abu Ghraib were completely predictable. That is what would happen in that.
But the soldiers were blamed as being a few bad apples, and there was no responsibility taken for the system in which that kind of behavior will be the natural result. And it takes quite extraordinary people not to. In fact, there were extraordinary people. There were people who were so disturbed that they submitted the photographs to blow whole thing sky high, which took a great deal of courage. Particularly in something like the Army.
Behavior follows structure. Structure dictates behavior. So one has to look at the overall system. And it’s one of the reasons why one of the things I’ve tried to do in my teaching is to make you, lead you, to be aware of the system in which you are operating, and the forces that that system is applying to you.
In any system which we live in, that system’s working on us to encourage and reward the behavior that make the system work. And those may be quite contrary to our ethical and spiritual values. So, it’s very, very important that we don’t believe the system. Because in that way we don’t live awake, we live asleep. So it wasn’t too bad a can of worms, was it?
Art: Thank you.
Ken: Okay. It’s good. Last question, Catherine. And then…
Catherine: I don’t know if anybody asked last class, but I’ve been curious about practicing the second line of each one in succession. May I know all things without judgement. May I open to what arises. May I be present for everything I encounter. And think about equanimity, you know. And I’ve seen, you know, similarity between the first lines of each, the second, the third.
Ken: Yes. They were carefully constructed that way. [Laughter]
Catherine: That’s what I thought, Ken. I didn’t know if anybody asked this question, but then I thought you know, this would be an interesting practice to do the second line, to do the third line and think of each immeasurable as I go through.
Ken: Nobody asked that, while you were away.
Catherine: Okay. That’s why I came back.
Ken: Yes, we appreciate that. I think it’s a very interesting idea. And let’s consider it in a future.
Art: Actually, that thought came to me when I was at Vajrapani.
Ken: Do you want to use the mic please? Art just came back from doing a few days’ retreat. Go ahead.
Art: Yeah, I did a brief retreat on the four immeasurables. And that thought came to me. It was like, I wonder what it would be like to structure the verses in that order. So.
Catherine: Great minds think alike.
Ken: Okay. Thank you.
A few words about spiritual longings. I identified four spiritual longings which permeate all religions: the promise of eternal life, the promise of eternal bliss, the promise of universal selfhood, and the promise of purity. Sound familiar? Okay? Well, and there are a tremendous number of myths about all of these in every, every religious tradition. They’re all myths, you know.
They represent very, very deep longings, and they’re also ways of avoiding how things actually are. We pursue eternal life because we don’t want to die. That’s a straight exercise of preference. [Chuckle] But we are going to die. So when we develop equanimity, we’re able to look at our death with equanimity. And that actually allows us to live completely, because we no longer live in the fear of death.
Now, if you didn’t fear death, would your life would be richer or not? If you weren’t concerned with survival, what would it be like? Did anybody see the movie,Thank You For Smoking?
Ken: There’s this wonderful line, which we’ve all heard, “Why did you do this to me? I’m just trying to pay the mortgage,” which is all about just surviving. And so their concern with surviving led them to do things which were ethically, very, very questionable. And that was their justification. “This is what I need to do to survive.” If you aren’t concerned with surviving, then you can actually live true to your ethics. You know. The downside of that is you may not survive, but you aren’t going to survive anyway, so what’s the big deal? [Laughter]
Promise of bliss. You want to be high perpetually. Well, there’s always a crash. Loving-kindness is the key to opening. I’ve talked about this with a number of people, there doesn’t seem to be any limit to how much you can open. So that’s why you just keep going and going and going. And the experience of loving-kindness is itself blissful. So it’s not about something out there. It’s something that we can create through the immeasurable. And then we won’t long for something that is actually unattainable.
Universal selfhood. Yes. “Put me in control of the universe and everything will be fine.” [Laughter] How often has that worked? You know, I mean, it’s one of the great themes of literature, isn’t it? And what was one of the English lords, All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Student: Is that what you meant by that—universal selfhood?
Ken: Well, that’s one way that people take it, you know. “I’m going to be one with the universe, and be able to create.” It’s a naive interpretation. “[I’ll] be able to create whatever I want.” And the other—but you are quite right—the other thing is that I’m going to be one with everything. And there’s only one small problem with that. What happens? And we went through this, I think while you were away Catherine, what happens? Yes, it was with you, Molly. What happens when you become one with the everything?
Student: You become nothing.
Ken: Yeah, you become nothing. Remember that? Okay? That was, as far as one’s concerned, you didn’t read the fine print. That’s not what you bargained for. [Laughter] So when people are yearning for universal selfhood, they’re yearning to feel something rather than just being it. I mean, the actual result of becoming completely awake and compassionate is you cease to be a thing. And what you are is simply an on-going response to the pain and suffering of the world. And actually very few people really want to do that. They want to feel like they’re somebody. Do you follow?
And then there’s purity. One of the things I’ve become aware of is that when anybody talks about pure practice, or pure food or pure ethics or pure anything, they’re angry. Anger is the motivation connected with purity. And the purer they want things to be, the angrier they are. You know? It’s a desire for total order in some way. But there is chaos.
Student: How about fear?
Student: How about fear?
Ken: Well, yeah. The desire for total order comes out of a fear of chaos. And this is where this corresponds to the immeasurable of joy. Joy is just joy in the messiness of being. And you know not everything works out. Okay. But that’s how things are. And you can take joy in things just as they are, without them having to be a certain way. Which is what purity is about, having to be a certain way.
So even at this level, the immeasurables play a very important role in cutting through these four forms of idealization. And these are very powerful because there are whole religions—as you very well know—that are based on achieving exactly these things. It’s one of the things that makes Buddhism somewhat different.
Student: Did you come to these four on your own, or are these four represented in Buddhism in some way?
Ken: The two sections here, on the adult styles of interaction and spiritual longings, I came to from reading a Buddhist interpretation of the I Ching and combining it with and realizing that what he, what this person was talking about—and this was all in connection with the first two hexagrams—was corresponded to something I picked up somewhere else and that made the bridge to the four immeasurables. And I just went, “Oh, there are the correspondences right across. Wow!” And it’s just like, I just love that kind of stuff. And that’s why I put it all together.
So I can’t claim that I came up with it. But it’s just that all of these, you know, I mean, new things come because you take two old things and put them together. That’s all. So.
But you have in Buddhism the thing called the four Maras, four demonic obsessions. Now there are a couple of lists of these. But one of them is: obsession with mortality, obsession with emotional reaction, obsession with existence, [Ken recites these in Tibetan to recall the last one] and obsession with—it’s called the divine child. And they actually correspond.
And there the four immeasurables are used as very specific antidotes to those. So, again, equanimity is the antidote for the obsession with death. But the eternal life is very much…that’s a very easy bridge to make. When I started seeing these connections, I just went, “Okay, let’s just put this down and see what matches where.” This one came out of that. Okay?
All right. Now, let’s turn to the joy meditation. We’re meeting in two weeks, which is May 1st I believe. And that’ll be our last class. Now again, if any of you has better wordings or ideas, this is my first draft of these. I’m very open to input.
When you feel joy, things go well in your life. You know. And you feel fulfilled. So that was, that’s how I arrived at the first line, May I enjoy the fulfillment of my aims. You could probably have made it a little more abstract and said, “May I enjoy the fullness of being.” But I wanted to make it quite concrete. In the same way as in compassion, May I be free of suffering, harm and disturbance. May I enjoy the fulfillment of my aims. I could have used another word like intention, but that seemed to bog things down, it doesn’t have the same poetic thing. But if you have any suggestions about ways to refine that, I’m quite open to it.
As I mentioned in connection with this, joy has a connection with knowing how things work. So that’s the second line, May I know how everything works. That is, really understand. Because when you connect with things—when you really connect with things—you know how they work.
This is not an intellectual figuring out. It’s an immediate kind of knowledge, and that’s what’s being talked about here. You know, there are some people who just know how people work, and everything goes swimmingly for them. And there are other people who know how computers work, and everything just goes swimmingly for them. [Chuckle] But not everybody who knows how people work know how computers work. And so…
May I experience the world celebrating my efforts. Joy is about celebration. The classical way of approaching joy in Buddhism is celebrating the success of others, celebrating the good works of others. That’s it.
So, what happens in you when people celebrate your success?
Student: I feel good.
Ken: Yeah. What else happens besides you feel good? You feel joy.
Ken: Yes, you can feel some humility, too. But there is something else that happens.
Ken: Well, yes, I know, but now you’re running into conditioning. Fear and embarrassment and things like that. Let’s just leave the conditioning out. There’s something else that happens.
Student: You celebrate theirs.
Ken: Well, there’s the reciprocal thing. Yes, you feel empowered, don’t you? Yeah.
Ken: You feel energized. “Right, wow, yes, yeah!” Keep doing. And go further. So, May I experience the world celebrating my efforts. That’s a way of coming into a sense of power. Okay?
And May I enjoy things…that’s why the “atta boy” and the “atta girl” is a really good thing to do sometimes. [Chuckles]
May I enjoy things just as they are. That’s kind of a relief, isn’t it? They don’t have to be different. That’s real joy.
So when you say to yourself, “May I enjoy the fulfillment of my aims,” what comes up for you? Any sense of disappointment?
Ken: Yeah. All those places where we just didn’t know how, or didn’t understand or weren’t successful and things like that. And so it just puts us in touch with all those aims. Alternatively, it could go, “May I enjoy the fulfillment of my aims.” You can think “Oh, yeah, that would feel good.”
May I know how everything works. What happens when you say that?
Student: It just puts me on edge.
Ken: Microphone, please.
Student: Yes, it just puts me on edge.
Ken: Why’s that?
Student: Because there’s too many things that I don’t know how they work. And I—
Ken: Ah. You think you have to become a super-PhD.
Student: Well. Or at least figure out a lot more than I’ve figured out so far.
Ken: Yeah. What if you just knew? See? How would that be?
Student: That would be great!
Ken: That’s what we’re aspiring to here. That’s what you’re wishing.
Ken: And it feels different, doesn’t it?
Ken: Because what I said earlier is this knowing how things work isn’t a conceptual understanding. If you think of it as a conceptual understanding, “Oh, God I got to go back to school now for the next twenty years!” Not fun. At least, not for most of us anyway. But if you think, “Oh. I just know how this works! Oh!” And there’s a freedom and a lightness. Okay?
Ken: May I experience…Yes.
Student: Could we go back one?
Ken: Microphone. Yes.
Student: Could we go back one to May I enjoy success. I don’t like that word success.
Ken: Oh, I took the word success out.
Student: Oh, you did.
Ken: Yeah. And now it’s, May I enjoy fulfillment of my aims. What don’t you like about success?
Student: Well, it’s focusing on the results and whether, you know, whether or not you are successful isn’t the point, somehow, in my way of thinking. It’s that you can’t be invested in the results. Right?
Ken: Yeah. I’m not quite happy with this line even with the “fulfillment of my aims,” because what I’m trying to get at here is the…Let’s change it. May I enjoy the activity of life itself. Deborah, can you send a new one to Franca, please? We’ve got this up on the website. Now, we’re going to have to change it. Franca’s in India. Well, I may be able…Pardon?
Student: The activity of life itself?
Student: That’s a big word, activity.
Ken: Yeah. Got another one?
Ken: Okay. But do you—
Student: You’re trying to feel it.
Ken: No, what I’m trying to get at here, is when you’re engaged in the doing of the task and the doing of the task is meaningful to you in and of itself, regardless of the result, then you feel joy.
Ken: That’s what I’m trying to get at here.
Student: Can you use the word engagement? [Unclear]
Ken: How would you put it in a sentence?
Student: May I enjoy the engagement of life itself.
Ken: Mmm. Doesn’t have—
Student: Doesn’t do the same.
Ken: No, it’s not quite. Yeah. We have to be very careful, because one of the things—I think I’ve talked about this before—is that English is a strange language, ‘cause it has two roots. It has the Teutonic/northern European root and the Latin root coming in 1066 in the Battle of Hastings. But the power of English is in its Anglo Saxon roots, not in the Latin roots. And so engagement is just too French for me. [Laughter] I’m going to get into all kinds of trouble on that one.
Yes. Microphone please. [Laughter]
Student: How about, “May I act in accordance with my intentions”
Ken: Oh, I mean, that’s very good, but you’re getting into something quite different there.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. So, “May I enjoy the activity of life itself.” And that’s everything, like brushing your teeth. Okay? [Unclear] I think that’s better.
Student: Yes, it’s got some less—
Ken: It’s less goal-oriented.
Ken: I knew this line wasn’t right, so. If you can shoot me another one, I’ll see if I can get it up on the website so that people who are listening get one. But anyway, May I enjoy the activity of life itself. Okay?
May I know how everything works. Well, we went through that one. Caroline, does that take care of that? Okay. Thank you. And I very much appreciate this input, because this is how we get to a good result.
May I experience the world celebrating my efforts. We may want to do something with efforts.
Student: Again, I think it’s the goals coming in there.
Ken: What about May I experience the world celebrating what I do. No?
Student: No, efforts is better.
Ken: Okay. Efforts. Pardon? [Laughter]
Student: Too French. [Laughter]
Ken: Yes, I’m going to pay for that comment, I can tell. [Laughter]
And May I enjoy things just as they are? What happens in you when you say that.
Student: [Sighs loudly]
Ken: Okay. So this is your practice for the next couple of weeks. And then the usual extension, but take, put the principle amount of time on cultivating this for yourself so you get the feeling.
How many of you are coming to the mind training retreat?
Student: When is it? I don’t know about that.
Ken: The mind training retreat starts in four weeks, May 15th. Five day retreat, and this is the preparation for it. Molly, are there still any places left?
Molly: Possibly. Yeah.
Ken: Okay. It’s up at Mount Baldy. And details are on the website. And so, and then that’s why I opted for this six session course, because it just fitted in perfectly to prepare for that. So I’m very glad to have been able to go through it. Because what mind training does is condense the four immeasurables down to a very simple meditation on the breath. But you’re doing all four every time you breathe in and out. It’s quite [wonderful]—but I’ll talk about that up at the retreat.
I think that’s it then, isn’t it? Except we have a couple of announcements which we don’t have to record. I mean, any questions? Everybody clear about their practice and so forth? Okay.
So this concludes our fifth class. And meditations on joy.