Does right livelihood mean having a noble profession? Is right action determined by intention or outcome? These teachings explore walking the eightfold path. Recorded during a 2010 class in Los Angeles.
Participants’ comments and questions on compassion meditation including: joy, passion, excitement, and fun; what is meant by the line “May I experience the world celebrating my efforts”; sympathetic joy; is “the world celebrating my efforts” a form of external validation; how impermanence may appear to contradict cause and effect; how can I “enjoy the activities of life itself” when life becomes sticky; what does one do if you can see a situation clearly but may not have the capacity to act as the situation demands. Commentary on energy transformation passage from the reading assignment; what participants got from the class; where to go from here.
Ken: Okay, this is our sixth and last class on the four immeasurables. So actually I only have one thing to do, which is to go over the whole topic of transformation of emotions from reactive emotions into expressions of natural awareness. A couple of other things in connection with that. But first, I’d like to get your questions, insights, challenges from your work with joy. The verse, the line that’s connected with joy. You all look so joyful. Don’t all speak at once of course.
Joe: Two things. The word enjoy has become devalued in my personal usage to mean something much like a backhanded compliment. You know, I can find myself saying, “Well, I enjoyed it.” So I had some translating to do there and I’m not sure that I’ve completely finished finding out what exactly joy—what that verb means in terms of joy itself. And I’d like you to say something about that. And I’ll put the other one out there too.
I’ve found it useful recently to—when I’m on the cushion—try to find the truth of whatever it is I’m working on. In terms of the immediate experience I’m having, even if it has to do with, say death.
I ask myself, “Can I die right now?” Or “how can I experience death right now here on this cushion, experiencing what I’m experiencing?” And I was able to do that with the first line, “May I enjoy the activity of life itself,” and the second, “May I know how everything works.” But when I got to the third, “May I experience the world celebrating my efforts,” I found myself lost in trying to find out what this world, this thing the world is.
Joe: That’s it.
Ken: That’s it. [Chuckling] Okay. At our last class I forgot to mention the chapter in here to read. So I guess you didn’t read it, did you?
Student 2: Chapter 8?
Joe: Chapter 8, yeah.
Ken: Passion in Life?
Ken: What did you understand from that?
Joe: Oh god, it feels like a test.
Ken: There will be tests.
Joe: What percentage of our realization will each test be?
Ken: Thirty percent.
Joe: Thirty percent. I don’t know. I don’t know what I made of it.
Ken: Well Uchiyama, I find, is not the…he’s written two other books. But this one I think is his best. And perhaps because, in many respects, it’s the most difficult. In the other ones he’s good but rather more limited. At least that’s how it appeared to me when I was reading them.
Sorry, I’m in the wrong chapter. Here we are. Chapter 7, Having a Passion For Life. First off, what he says about Theravadan Buddhism; I’m sure the Theravadans would have a few things to say about that, the passion for life. It’s actually quite a subtle thing that he’s referring to. I find what he writes at the end of it very relevant. Particularly in today’s world. Page 59, last paragraph, or last two paragraphs:
When your passion embraces the wholeness of life you naturally look around to see what is cool and needs to be taken care of. He’s referring to the duck who sits on its eggs and turns them over when it’s too hot.
What often prevents us from seeing and taking care of our life in its widest dimensions and covers our passion for life is fanaticism—political, philosophical as well as the following of a blind devotion to some new discovery or knowledge about one aspect of a subject. So, this I think is a very important point.
And the preceding part of this chapter, he’s actually talking about different forms of fanaticism. And if you look at page 58 in the paragraph where he’s quoting from the Tenzo Kyokun, second to last one,
Do not be absent-minded in your activities, nor so absorbed in one aspect of the matter that you fail to see its other aspects. Future students must be able to see that side from this side as well as this side from that side.
Now, this is what I find again and again in working with people. They only see this side from that side.
Student: They only see this side from that side? Not this side?
Ken: Well, what I mean is they only look at things in one way.
Student: From their side.
Ken: Usually. Unless they are co-dependent. Then they see things from the other person’s side. And either way, it’s imbalanced. Or they get into one thing and forget everything else. And there’s a great deal in our society and in our ways of functioning which basically reinforce both of those tendencies. One is the impression that one needs to specialize particularly in one’s career. One has to get really good at one thing.
Look at the practice of medicine. You have doctors who are specialists in one area. And they really don’t know much about how the rest of the system functions. So when you get elements that cross systems, it could be very, very difficult to get good treatment because, you know, the endocrinologist says one thing, and then the gynecologist says another, and you know.
And they each have very different and arguably equally valid points of view. But there isn’t necessarily an understanding of the whole system. Or an appreciation or way of relating to the whole system. There’s some movement away from that that’s begun. But it’s still very much an aspect of medicine.
But it’s also an aspect of almost every other area of life. You know, you get people who specialize in this and people who specialize in that; people who specialize in this, and not that much training in looking things as a whole.
And then people sometimes become very, very adept at seeing how to make situations work for themselves. But then don’t actually consider how other people may be experiencing that or may be viewing it. And this is at the bottom of so many of the culture clashes we experience within this country and between this country and other countries—really very, very challenging ones.
Now, the way through all of that, very simply, is just not to make any assumptions. That sounds very simple. Well it sounds very…you know, say don’t make any assumptions but it is simple in one way but it’s also not particularly easy because we’re often not aware of assumptions that we make.
And one of the things that I think is very important here is, you’re asking about this third line. May I experience the world celebrating my efforts. And you say, “What world are we talking about?” I could be glib and say, “Well, the only world there is.” But I’m sure that probably wouldn’t help you. Does it? [Laughter] This is a test.
Joe: When I imagine the world celebrating my efforts I can—at this point—only imagine it as something totally separate from myself.
Ken: Not that one. That’s the world that doesn’t exist. That’s the world we think exists. That’s the world of illusion.
Joe: Yes. This is my question.
Ken: Well. Let’s start right here. You were listening to the Dalai Lama last weekend, so this is important, because everything he had to say about interdependent origination applies actually to what we’re talking about. Is why people don’t understand it because it doesn’t apply, or it doesn’t apply in an obvious way to the world we think exists but doesn’t?
Now. We’re sitting in a room, you’re sitting in a room, I’m sitting in a room and there are a number of other people here. Right? That’s….
Joe: Yes, I’ll buy that.
Ken: [Laughter] Too bad. Because that’s not what’s happening. That’s how you and I can talk about it. But what do you actually experience?
Joe: Green, dark, angles. Smell.
Ken: Emotions, thoughts, ideas. Right?
Ken: How many people there?
Ken: Okay. What is the relationship between that world and you?
Joe: This is an even deeper question that I’m struggling with. I don’t know what that relationship is.
Ken: Yes. So, let’s go a little further then. Where are you in that world?
Joe: In the world we’ve just described?
Joe: I am…I am nowhere in it.
Ken: Oh. Okay. Consider that. What are you experiencing right now?
Joe: Oh, hot flashes.
Ken: And if you relax?
Joe: Well, I have no questions if I relax.
Ken: And what do you experience when you relax?
Joe: Nothing. I mean, not nothing. I find it hard to express verbally. I mean—
Ken: How much joy is there in that world?
Joe: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know what joy is.
Ken: Don’t step into your intellect, please. That won’t help.
Joe: How much joy?
Ken: How much joy? You experience this world of sense impressions in which you don’t even know where you are in this world. Well let me put it this way. Is there no joy?
Student: No what?
Ken: No joy.
Joe: It is not joyless.
Ken: That’s interesting, isn’t it? Now what do you experience?
Joe: The paucity of the word joy. The misleadingness of the word joy.
Ken: Oh. Why do you say misleading?
Joe: [Sighs] Because I mislead myself.
Ken: Yeah but go on. Go a bit further than that.
Joe: I have an expectation of—
Ken: Ah. What’s your expectation?
Joe: That there is, I suppose, an ecstatic quality to it.
Ken: Ecstatic or excited?
Ken: Ecstatic or excited?
Joe: I would stick with ecstatic but it could be excited.
Ken: Because I think most people’s expectation about joy is that it’s exciting.
Joe: Certainly heightened.
Ken: Heightened in some sense. But the joy we were just referring to, what’s that like? The joy that is not joyless.
Joe: I don’t know how to separate out something called joy from what it is I am experiencing.
Ken: Well you don’t necessarily have to separate something out. You could look at it as an aspect of the experience, couldn’t you? As you say, it’s not joyless. So there’s something there.
Joe: Right. Yeah, I suppose to me joyless describes something that I have more of a feeling for than joy does.
Joe: So I can say it’s not joyless, but I’m not sure that I can say that it’s full of joy. But I see what…I do see what you’re getting at. Yes, yes. I mean—
Ken: What happens when you relax and let that feeling in?
Joe: It’s so hard to relax when you’re holding a microphone in your hand.
Ken: I’m sure you’ll find a way. That’s right. The walls come down, don’t they?
Joe: I so much want to say, “Yes.” But I do see what you mean. Yes. Yes.
Ken: But there’s part of us that just doesn’t want to go there. Right?
Joe: I suppose. I’m not sure what the there is that I don’t want to go to.
Ken: But you can feel it.
Joe: I can feel that I’m making a mistake trying to categorize this thing called joy. And I’m getting all heady about it, you know?
Joe: Again, I suppose I want it to be something that it just isn’t.
Ken: I think that’s probably true. I didn’t refer you to this in the reading, but if you skip up to chapter 14 he returns to this theme of fanaticism. Page 93, second to last paragraph. Well, let’s start with the second paragraph, actually. The same time I added that I do not live my life to have fun. I think, maybe, there’s that quality that people connect with joy, is like having fun. That make any sense to you?
Joe: Certainly the way I experience the word enjoy is more like—
Ken: Yeah. Like to have fun.
Joe: —to have fun.
Ken: Yeah. The way I experience the meaning and value of my life is by throwing all my passion for living into everything. And then at the end of the paragraph: It is vital here when talking about the meaning of life to clearly distinguish between emotional feelings of pleasure or joy and devoting oneself to that passion for life.
Then he goes on and describes how people normally live their life playing with various toys. Beginning with, as he says, …the first toy people clamor for when they are born is their mother’s breast. Then, it is on to teddy bears and electric trains, and as we get older bicycles, watches, cameras, and finally, jewelry, clothes and the opposite sex. Then tea ceremonies and visiting temples. He’s talking about Japanese culture here.
And I love this one. Because it’s a question I love throwing out in groups of Buddhist teachers, or my version of it. [p. 94] Essentially, what is the difference between rich widows crowding around some famous priest or guru, and teenage girls clamoring after some rock star? Where do you differentiate between getting drunk on alcohol or becoming fanatic over some “born again” religious experience?
And then a little further, (this is in the second to last paragraph) A life which relies on toys for its value means nothing more than one is being led around by those toys, thus losing sight of living with true purpose or intensity. To live the buddhadharma is to live without the necessity of having to be constantly entertained by toys.
So, if you return to this line and as I said, we may have to change the line but, May I experience the world celebrating my efforts. That’s like an instant feedback, isn’t it?
Joe: Like a what feedback?
Ken: Instant feedback.
Ken: Okay? And when you do what is appropriate for a situation, what do you experience?
Joe: Well, I do know joy in that situation, yes.
Ken: That’s what this refers to. Because when you do the right thing in a situation, doesn’t the situation celebrate in a certain way? Maybe celebrate isn’t quite the right word but do you know what I mean?
Joe: Yes. Yes.
Ken: Okay. What would it be like if everything you did was like that?
Student: All is right with the world.
Student: All is right with the world.
Ken: All is right with the world. What would that be like, Joe?
Joe: Well it would be…what word can I find. It would be—
Ken: Joyful? [Laughter]
Joe: Joyful. Oh, that one!
Ken: Oh, I just sort of—
Joe: Pulled it out of the air. So, in my searching for this to exist in a particular way on the cushion when I am not involved in interchange with a—
Ken: Oh, you want to do it on the cushion?
Joe: I want to figure out how I can experience the world celebrating my efforts.
Ken: Well. Okay. So when you’re on the cushion, that’s a particular situation, isn’t it?
Ken: What’s the right thing to do in that situation?
Joe: Stay there until it’s time to get up. Is one thing.
Ken: And when you do that, what do you feel? [Laughter]
Ken: Even no matter how bad it is. If you actually do that, how do you feel?
Joe: I’ve done it. I’ve done it.
Ken: You’ve done it. And what do you feel?
Joe: Joy! [More laughter]
Ken: But you do, don’t you!
Joe: Yeah, you do. I do.
Joe: Yeah. It’s true. It’s true.
Ken: And it’s not the kind of joy you were looking for. But I’m going to suggest the kind of joy you were looking for may be a toy.
Joe: Okay. Let me…yeah. Let me look for that.
Ken: Okay. You know. And so that’s what I was trying to get at in this line. It may not be the best way to get at it. So if anybody has other suggestions, I’m happy to consider them.
Joe: Well, I’m not sure. It’s just in my world obviously. It set up this separation I was looking to heal in a way, I guess.
Ken: Yeah. Given today’s world and its penchant for healing. I like to avoid that whole vocabulary.
Joe: Oh I wasn’t suggesting using that. I actually…that’s what I was trying to do.
Ken: Yes, but well, let me throw this out and see if it fits with your experience. That there’s a restoration or a finding of balance, in some way.
Joe: Implied in that?
Ken: Well in that experience.
Ken: Yeah. And I think this is very important. Because you can only find balance by considering the whole. You can’t find it just by considering parts. And I think when you go into a very complicated situation there’s many aspects to it. And you struggle with it. And if you don’t know what the right thing to do is. And you think of this thing. And that’s why it’s important to see this side from that side and that side from this side. That’s what that whole section is referring to, in my mind. And so you can actually experience the whole. And then you find a way to be in or with the whole, which is in balance. Then you experience joy. And everybody else does too. Do you follow?
Joe: Yes. Yes.
Ken: Okay. Chuck.
Chuck: When at that point you not only experience joy but you go back to the first one where it says you know how everything works because you are in balance.
Chuck: I was wondering how that had to do with joy and now I see.
Ken: Okay. Good. Good. So you okay with this?
Joe: Yes, one final thing. When I’m doing primary practice, I suppose what I was looking for, you know, when I’m trying to just experience everything I’m experiencing and drop the distinction between inside and outside…never mind.
Ken: Oh. no, no, no, no, no. You’ve walked off this cliff. We’re going to float to the bottom gently—except there isn’t any bottom, so.
Joe: Into that experience I put, you know—
Ken: “No inside outside,” that’s the last thing you said.
Joe: May I experience…no inside outside. May I experience the world celebrating my efforts.
Joe: And I am no longer there once I say that, you know.
Ken: It’s cool.
Joe: Thank you.
Ken: Yeah. Because you look at this and when you consider it the way I’ve been trying to approach it, when you consider the world celebrating your efforts or taking joy in your efforts, what happens to you? What happens to you as feeling something separate from the world?
Joe: I’m sorry. As soon as what?
Ken: What happens to the you that feels separate from the world?
Joe: When I imagine the world celebrating my efforts?
Ken: Or when you feel…yeah.
Joe: When I experience the world celebrating my efforts.
Ken: What happens to the you that feels separate from the world?
Joe: Well, if I remember correctly, I don’t feel separate from the world when I—
Ken: Right. The you that feels separate from the world disappears. It’s gone.
Joe: When I experience the world celebrating my efforts.
Ken: Okay. Okay. Cathy, then you.
Cathy: Can I ask, can you go back to the world again because I think this is where I had my problems when I saw the world as that world out there that I’ve experienced many bruises, and spears, and things like that. And I would get to that part and I’d go, “No. I really can’t imagine the world celebrating my efforts.” But it sounds like you’re saying that I am the world celebrating my efforts. I mean, if I can get to that point, why wouldn’t I bring myself joy by as you were telling him. I’m sitting on the cushion for however long and I do that and—
Ken: Well. I want you to forget everything I said to Joe.
Cathy: Oh. [Laughter] I get it. Joe and I get a different one.
Ken: We have to go at this. For you we have to go at this completely different. [More laughter]
Cathy: It’s a different world out there. I knew it. I knew it.
Ken: So you have this world which you’ve experienced as bruising and—
Cathy: When I was younger I believed they did celebrate my efforts. But as I got older I realized that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Ken: So you experienced all of these bruises, and bumps, and things like that.
Cathy: I mean not all, every time. But yes.
Ken: Yeah. Okay.
Cathy: Because I know how things work. [Laughter]
Ken: How did you learn that?
Cathy: Well, that was the second thing. And I thought, “Okay, if I know how things work then how can I ever believe in the third thing?”
Ken: And the third thing is?
Cathy: World celebrating my efforts.
Ken: Ah. So how do you learn how the world works?
Ken: It’s from those bumps and bruises, right?
Cathy: And some other good things.
Cathy: Yeah. I mean, yes the goods and the bads. The ups and the downs.
Ken: So the goods and the bads, all right?
Ken: Well, I mean this is probably a completely ridiculous way of looking at it but would this be the world’s way of telling you how to be?
Cathy: I don’t know. I can’t buy it.
Ken: Why not?
Cathy: Well do you think the world is all good? Or is this the balance—is the world the balance? And who is the world anyway?
Ken: No. You only get to pick one of those.
Cathy: Okay. Well whichever one sounds—
Ken: No, no. You got to pick.
Cathy: Oh, you mean between balance and the world? Who is the world?
Ken: I raised the question, the possibility that in that interaction with the world you experience, you learn.
Ken: And as you learn, you learn where you aren’t acting on the direction of the present, if you wish. Because whenever you don’t act on the direction of the present, sooner or later you experience a bump. And you get bruised. Okay?
Ken: What happens when you do act on the direction of the present?
Cathy: Things go well.
Ken: And what does that feel like?
Cathy: Good. That feels joyful. And I don’t think anybody’s out there celebrating my efforts over it but…I guess I’m celebrating my efforts.
Ken: How do you know things go well?
Cathy: In little ways.
Ken: All kinds of little ways.
Cathy: From my environment. From myself, from my family, from just the way I feel about things.
Ken: Could you regard that as the world celebrating your efforts?
Cathy: That’s a good point. Okay, so that world for me is the bumps, the ups and the downs and—
Ken: Just tells you where you’re out of tune.
Cathy: The balance and the imbalance. And it’s not just those specific people that I can think of that are not celebrating my efforts.
Ken: You can take that up with them later. You know, tell them to get on board with the—
Cathy: And I’ve heard joy referred to as sympathetic joy.
Cathy: And that was the question I was thinking. What does that mean?
Ken: In the way that joy is usually presented is you take joy in the good works of others. And one always does feel good when you take joy in the good works of others. And that’s the way that it’s usually presented, in the four immeasurables, and in the Brahmaviharas in the Theravadan tradition.
I’ve chosen to come at joy a little differently because I find that the frequency and the intensity with which people feel deficient in relationship with the world around them, I feel needs a more direct approach. And so Wake Up To Your Life very, very directly focused on that. And these verses, not quite as directly, but you probably noticed that when you did this, you came running up against the feelings of, “I’m not enough” or “I can’t do this” and things like that—the ways that we feel deficient. And that’s what prevents us from actually experiencing joy.
Cathy: Right. It’s easy not to experience it. I mean I think it might be accidental when we do experience it. The more I think about it.
Cathy: It’s when we’re feeling really free and we’re not. I don’t think you can plan joy.
Ken: It’s a result in that sense. But you can cultivate, the way you can with everything. You can cultivate an effort and the result of that effort is joy. Not that one’s doing it for that but it is the result. And certainly you can bring your attention to that sense of deficiency and come to know it as a fiction, which it always is.
Cathy: Thank you.
Ken: Okay? You have another mic here?
Student: Well, what comes to my mind is that, you know, when I say, May I experience the world celebrating my efforts, I have a sense of friendliness, a blended feeling, no separation, calmness, and yet I question, you know. My question is, So there’s no need for any external validation because I’m getting it? Right? If the world is happy for my efforts, that is a form of external validation.
Ken: Well, except in the way that I was talking with Joe. The world that’s celebrating isn’t actually the external world.
Ken: It’s just the world you experience.
Student: Yeah. So we make it ourselves.
Ken: Well we make everything ourselves, don’t we?
Student: Yes. And “May I know how everything works.” It’s all about clarity and—
Ken: Yes, which I found very interesting because if you go to that chap…I think it’s…no it was in something else I was reading. In The New York Review of Books, in the current issue, there’s a review of a book which I think the title is Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. And it’s a rather interesting look at what happened to the Crow Indians and the approach that their last great chief—who’s name was Chief Plenty Coups—the direction he pointed his tribe to when they were herded onto reservations and their whole way of life is destroyed.
And there he talks about a certain kind of courage, when you have a sense of a good that is possible but you have no idea what it’s actually going to look like in the future. And he comments that this kind of courage relies or is dependent upon a certain lucidity, a clearness of vision. And I think you’re referring to the same kind of thing here, that when you see things clearly you see how they work. What happens to your relationship with all of the social conventions?
Student: They don’t come into the picture.
Ken: Well actually they do come into the picture. In the sense you may have to violate a whole bunch of them.
Student: Yeah. But you don’t need them to proceed.
Ken: Exactly. That’s the lucidity.
Ken: Okay. The connection.
Student: I had an interesting experience this week in getting clarity on a certain issue and what was interesting to me is that it seemed that the defining feature of it was that I had been feeling guilty in a certain way. And when that guilt was alleviated, albeit from the affirmation of my feelings from unrelated people to the issue, suddenly, you know, the burden lifted and I was able to see clearly what to do.
Ken: And what did you experience at that point?
Student: Oh, clearly joy.
Ken: Thank you. Yeah.
Ken: Right. You get the connection there, Joe? Okay. Good. Okay. There’s…yes?
Student: I pretty much noticed that every time I sat down until today, every time I sat down with this and started on the first line that all the other ones that we’ve done—compassion, equanimity—I felt some kind of resonance. And I felt none at all. None. And I also sat down today to try to see if there was some sort of coming together of all of them and, you know, to feel that. You know, I sit down and I do the work.
I had a yoga class the other day and we were doing some very simple things but in a complicated way. [Unclear] explaining in detail some things that we do all the time. And I noticed that no matter what I do in yoga—and I do Iyengar Yoga—that I’m never aligned. My right foot feels longer or shorter or whatever. I’m never aligned. And it’s the same way that I felt with the joy. You know, I’m not lining up with this one. But as I’ve listened to this class I’ve gotten a little better.
And as I looked at it with that idea of the alignment and not ever getting it right, I thought, “In your body, when you’re not aligning, there’s resistance.” And I said, you know, “Where’s this resistance, here? And where am I not aligning with the joy?” It’s just resistance.
And it’s the same with all the other ones. You know, almost as though these are natural conditions that we have that we cultivate and bring into our mindstream in a stronger way through the meditation. And then articulating it like, “May I know….” that second line that we did. I always had to read it because I could never remember it. “May I know how everything works.” That is so natural to me.
And during one of my meditations, something where I was getting in a bad situation with somebody came up, what you were saying to her. As soon as I was done I was on the phone saying, “This is what I think is going on.” And I was right. You know, It’s just interesting.
Another thing, “May I know how everything works.” I was in a restaurant leaning on the counter with my legs crossed in a very casual way and the lady was taking a long time. A really long time. She was opening the drawer, she wasn’t getting my food. And I kind of nicely said to her, “What’s taking so long?”
And she just jumped all over me. Because she was doing something, I don’t know what. It was like as though when you start calling your…the attention of what your awareness is with other people, they don’t like it sometimes. You know you have to learn when to pull back. It’s just been, you know, all of this to resistance and tempering it.
Ken: Do you have a question here?
Ken: Oh. [Laughter]
Student: You know I do have a question but it was more of an observation of my experience of this. It’s just been so interesting to me to discover this.
Student: May I ask a question or should we wait about this book? About the reading in the book.
Ken: Go ahead.
Student: On page 62. Is that it? He talks about the contradiction between cause and effect.
Ken: Ah, yes.
Student: In impermanence.
Ken: Ultimately the law of cause and effect operates clearly and impartially apart from my will. Without exception one who commits evil actions falls, while one who performs good, prospers. And impermanence. Yes.
Student: I believe he explains it probably fairly clearly But I have no clue what that contradiction is. I don’t get it.
Ken: Oh. First off, cause and effect is a bit of a misleading translation, probably. It’s much more a process of evolution. When you start this process then these things happen. It’s not necessarily that one thing causes another. So cause and effect should be understood in very general terms of cause and effect. Not like the mechanical cause and effect we tend to think of.
Student: I understand the explanation—that part of it, yeah.
Ken: Okay. But that process doesn’t always unfold exactly as it seems that it should. Yep. Things happen. Somebody dies. Accidents happen. They can be completely unexpected. So, yeah on the one hand you have a very ordered view of the universe where things are just unfolding in a certain way. And another where things just happen and there are interruptions and disturbances for no reason. That’s the contradiction. For instance, and you remember—
Student: I don’t see how that’s a contradiction to impermanence. I mean it almost validates impermanence.
Ken: Well, do you remember the passage on making the gruel for tomorrow?
Student: Yeah. That’s part of it, yeah.
Ken: Well okay. So, you sit down, you start grinding the grain, etc., and boiling the water, and preparing the gruel. But you have no idea whether the result of that particular action will ever be experienced by anybody. Because there may be a fire and everybody will die in the night.
Student: So, what’s the contradiction—between the expectation and the reality?
Student: I’m going to prepare for tomorrow but nobody may show up.
Ken: That’s right.
Student : You know, so is that the contradiction? That you can’t…the lack of predictability?
Ken: Yeah. On the one hand you’re acting in such a way that you’re trying to do something in a very predictable, ordered way and the other one is you have no idea whether it’s going to come about.
Student: Okay, I’m sorry but where is the contradiction relating to impermanence there? Is it—
Ken: Well, the evolution of actions would say, “Well this follows from this and this follows from this and this follows from this. And that’s true. Except that—and that’s the contradiction with impermanence—this follows from this. But impermanence comes along and blows the whole thing up.
And if you go the other way and say, ”Well, everything is impermanent so it doesn’t matter what I do.“ But it does matter what you do because sometimes impermanence doesn’t come along and blow the whole thing up. And then you’ve got to deal with the consequences of your actions.
Student: I kind of see impermanence built into cause and effect, then. That’s maybe where I’m getting mixed up.
Ken: Perhaps, but as far as I understand Uchiyama that’s the contradiction. He says that one is the process of evolution and one’s the process where things suddenly change for no apparent reason.
Student: Okay. So, that’s very simple. All right.
Student: Thank you.
Ken: You’re welcome.
Lynea, Julia? Julia, you had one, then Lynea.
Julia: Yes, I wanted to say first I really appreciated the change to line one and that changed my whole experience of this meditation. And I found myself…I’m just going to recount my experience because it precedes my question. I found myself at many times saying, ”May I enjoy the activity of life itself“ being extraordinarily liberating. Both in terms that I took more and more time to do what I was doing with attention, and enjoyed that, and found it very freeing. And I found myself not doing a lot of things.
I think where my question comes in, actually relates to the previous thing about the lady at the counter in some degree. The distinction I found gritty or where I had a discernment problem was between enjoying things as they were with some sense of free energy and pleasure-seeking in the sense of wanting to draw a boundary around things that were getting difficult. So…
Ken: Okay. What’s the question?
Julia: I think it’s one more question about what does it mean, ”May I enjoy the activities of life itself“ when life itself gets sticky?
Ken: When life itself gets sticky.
Julia: [Laughing] All right. Got you. You answered my question. Thank you.
Ken: What did you understand?
Julia: That it’s not life itself that’s getting sticky. That it’s me that’s getting reactive.
Ken: Well, what I was going to—you’re quite right—but what I was going to say, I wasn’t going to put it in quite those terms. You wrote that piece on grandiosity, right?
Ken: Well, the phrase, ”when life itself gets sticky,“ it can be regarded as connected with that because it’s not life itself that gets sticky. It’s that one part of our life has gotten a little sticky and now we regard that as all of our life.
[Several students commenting at once]
Julia: So that goes, sorry, that goes right back to that sense of deficiency where you generalize something.
Ken: Yes, and also goes back to seeing the whole. Because what happens then is we just collapse down. And this becomes the whole world. And we do. I mean, it literally becomes the whole world. We lose touch with absolutely everything else. And it’s also why it’s very important to be able to see this side from that side and that side from this side.
Ken: Yeah. So I mean we have no idea what was going on in that waitress’ world. Have no idea whatsoever. And I think this takes us back to equanimity which I think is really important—very, very important. Everything everybody does, everything everybody does, is because at that moment they feel it will make their world easier.
Ken: And when I say it’ll make their world easier it’s their whole world—no inside, no outside, you know. It’s what they’re experiencing inside and what they’re experience outside—that whole combination. And they’re just trying to find their balance in that world. And it may be because of their conditioning a totally fruitless effort and it doesn’t…But this is how they’re creating their own suffering. And we never know exactly what’s going on there.
So, that’s why the last line here is, May I enjoy things just as they are. Okay? Here I have a completely, unresponsive waitress. That’s what’s going on in my world right now.
[Several students talking at once]
Ken: Okay. Well, you can actually kind of get into it. Say how long can this go on? I’m not under any time pressure—four hours later. This is very interesting. Okay?
Lynea: Is it possible…I feel that it’s possible to see a situation clearly but not have the capacity to meet it?
Ken: Yes. Very definitely. That’s all too possible. [Laughter] In fact, that’s quite common.
Lynea: Okay. So in that case—
Ken: What do you do?
Lynea: Yes. If you have a choice that involves causing less harm for instance, whatever that might mean.
Ken: But you don’t have…but you don’t have the capacity?
Lynea: At least you perceive that you don’t have the capacity.
Lynea: How do you know when you act if you’re meeting the situation or if you are bringing your garbage into it? You know, what do you do?
Ken: Well, a couple of things. You bring all your attention to a situation. You see things as clearly as you can. And we can only see things clearly to the limit of our perception. And then you act. You serve what is true to the limit of your perception. And then one of two things happens. Things work out. That’s cool. Or they don’t work out. And when they don’t work out, what you couldn’t see is always revealed to you. So, now you have the next step.
Lynea: Can I ask another question about that?
Lynea: I understand the limits of one’s perception part. When I think of capacity—and maybe this is just how I’m experiencing things—it relates to an ability to be emotionally, physically present in it. And—
Ken: Well. I had a couple of experiences recently of running into situations which exceeded my capacity to stay present. I got caught. I got caught very deeply. But it was just as I was explaining to you, I know how I got caught. And that’s become the next bit of work in my practice which is primarily about capacity. I couldn’t see. There’s also a component of even though I could see, the conditioning that was kicking up was so strong that I couldn’t act. And so those are things I’m working on now. And it’s very, very much about building capacity.
Lynea: So if you see a situation and you want to meet it do you just bust through your heart to do what you know if you’re perception is appropriate?
Ken: There’s an instruction that Rinpoche used to give which when I first heard it I would consistently discount it. It’s like, ”stupid instruction.“ But, as many of Rinpoche’s instructions over the years, I began to appreciate, there’s actually some wisdom in them.
And the instruction was, ”If you encounter a situation in which you can’t do something then you pray to be able to do it.“ And it was like, ”That’s a dumb instruction.“ But actually that’s all you can do. And what you’re doing there is setting an intention.
And by setting that intention you’re setting in process—or in motion rather—the process by which you’re going to build the ability, and develop the skills, etc. so when that situation does arise, you will be able to do what you know to do. And so it’s actually, in a way, quite a deep instruction. Okay? All right.
Let’s turn to the energy transformation section. Page 308, following. You can say that all spiritual work is a process of transforming reactive, conditioned energy into natural free-flowing energy. And that natural awareness is simply the balance and free-flow of energy.
Now the example I give is one that many of you have done with me. You know, take some incident over the last week where you got irritated with something. You can take your inattentive waitress. And just take a few moments and bring that situation in mind and feel how angry and irritated you were. You know, let yourself feel a bit churned up by it. When you feel good and churned up by it you say, ”I’m angry and I’m glad!“ What happens?
Student: You stop being angry.
Ken: Yeah. In fact, most people just laugh as we heard a few people do so. And it’s immediate. Why is this?
Student: You can’t hold two emotions at once.
Ken: It’s a little more than that, actually. What’s our usual attitude to being angry?
[Several students commenting at once]
Ken: Yeah, it’s not right, judgmental, things like that. What does that do to the anger?
Student: Adds to it.
Ken: Tightens it all. Yeah. Okay. And what do you say, ”I’m angry and I’m glad!“ It’s just like…[students laugh] See. Suddenly you take all the restrictions off and wshooo! It just opens up. And now when you take a look at the situation that you’re angry about, how do you see it? Oh, it’s something that happened but it wasn’t enough to get all bent out of shape. Right? Yeah.
Ken: So you actually see the situation more clearly because it’s not through that distorting lens of anger. Have a mic here.
Student: Would that also be that you have loving-kindness toward that situation or toward that emotion?
Ken: Well. You can do the same thing with desire. Think of something you really, really wanted. And, I mean, you can almost do the same thing. It’s like, bring that up very strongly and just open to the experience of desire completely. And what happens? [Pause] You open to the experience of desire completely, all of it. And then you look at what you wanted. What happens? Julia.
Julia: The longing dissipates.
Student: The what?
Ken: The longing dissipates and a different kind of appreciation of the object or the person arises. It’s actually something you can now enjoy because the need to own it or possess it—that longing. And what’s one way of looking at this is that the desire arises from a sense of incompleteness. So you’re looking for something. And when you just open to the experience of desire then, in a sense, you’re moving into the wholeness of experience so you no longer need something to complete.
So what a lot of people get confused by is that they think that the anger is transformed into the natural awareness. And there’s a lot of vocabulary like that. And that loving-kindness is the remedy for anger. I find this kind of vocabulary a little misleading and problematic because I find it leads people to make the wrong kind of effort. It’s more that the energy that is locked up in the anger is freed by experiencing the anger completely. And that free energy is experienced as mirror-like pristine awareness.
And that the energy of desire is locked up in the desire—that wanting feeling. And when it’s released through being experienced completely in the field of attention, then there’s just that natural appreciation which is distinguishing pristine awareness. So you don’t make one thing into the other. You make a certain effort and the result of that effort is a natural transformation.
Now I may be splitting hairs here but I find that what I want to, if possible, prevent you from trying to do something that’s actually impossible and then wondering why you can’t do it.
Student: Could you do sadness? Sadness.
Ken: With sadness, the way that I usually recommend people work with sadness. There are two common ways that we exit from feeling or knowing what’s actually going on. And sadness is one and anger is the other. So, if there’s a situation for which you feel very sad about, I want to suggest that there’s also an anger connected with that situation too. Would that be true?
Student: Is that the good girl’s sadness?
Ken: Can you hand Cathy the microphone?
Cathy: I’m wondering if that’s the good girl’s anger is sadness?
Ken: Well, the good girl isn’t allowed to feel anger.
Cathy: Right. That’s me.
Ken: So there’s an anger. What happens if you experience the sadness and the anger at the same time?
Cathy: I’m glad. It moves me up.
Ken: That’s right.
Cathy: It moves me up to somewhere where I can deal with it.
Ken: Yeah. And that’s how I recommend people work with sadness. Is they look for the anger and then experience them both simultaneously. It also works for the anger because there’s usually—
Cathy: What about a sadness due to tragedy to someone’s death in the family where, you know, we’re working with people that…?
Ken: Oh. Okay. That’s a little different situation, you’re quite right. So, experience that completely. What happens?
Cathy: It starts to dissipate.
Ken: But what arises?
Cathy: I think hope. I mean I think—
Ken: Not exactly hope.
Cathy: Well, it’s alleviating trying not to feel it.
Ken: Yes. But when you feel it completely what arises? It’s not comfort.
Cathy: A feeling that it’s going to stop. It’s not going to be forever.
Ken: There’s a positive feeling there.
Ken: What is that?
Cathy: Yeah. I was just thinking that. Yep. I was just thinking that…I’m right with you, Ken.
Cathy: Thank you.
Now. Last thing I want to refer to here is on page 310. In four paragraphs I go through what’s being transformed, what’s doing the transformation. What I want to point your attention to here is the result of the transformation. Equanimity—I didn’t say is explicitly, I said it implicitly—sees through the patterns of prejudice. It’s equanimity which allows you to see what’s going on because your prejudices fall away.
And joy, joy is radiant warmth. A radiant warmth that doesn’t depend on conditioned personal agendas. So, you love the world, the world of your experience. So there’s no sense of alienation from it. You reject nothing in the world, and you’re rejected by nothing in the world.
Compassion? Compassion radiates presence into the environment. And you can feel that.
Student: Compassion what?
Ken: Radiates presence. So to take Catherine’s example of there’s a tragedy, a great loss, and when you’re simply present with the loss, there’s a sense of presence. And I was reading, very briefly, an account of the memorial service that was done after the Virginia Tech shootings and the school student body, and faculty, and staff had convened in the main sports arena. It was closed to the media. And when they came out they were hit by a media barrage. ”What did you experience, etc., etc.?“
And it was the last thing they wanted because there had been a process where as a group, a very large group—several thousand people—they were experiencing the sorrow and the pain of what had happened and they were there in it. So there was a natural presence of compassion. And then they just came out into this totally different world. But that sense of—I mean I don’t think holiness is too strong a word—comes out of being present with the tragedy.
And then joy. Well, as we were talking about, particularly in my interaction with Joe here, it brings you into presence. And in bringing you into presence, you know what needs to be done and you have the capacity to do it, just naturally. And that celebratory—that may not be the right word to use but—that quality which we can sense.
Ken: Okay. We just have a few minutes left. What have you got out of our six classes, twelve weeks together? Let’s go around. Just name one thing. Can we hand the microphone around so we can hear?
Student: It’s right here.
Ken: Okay Jenny, we can start with you.
Jenny: I actually had a glimpse of what the word sangha means. And I think part of it was in the third line where we’re experiencing the world wishing these things. I all of a sudden realized that we’re all wishing this for other people. And we could actually receive that wish and share it, and have that be. So I didn’t feel isolated for once in the room. It was kind of cool.
Ken: Okay. Catherine.
Catherine: I loved it. And I enjoyed the practice and I enjoyed the two weeks between and even when I was away from here I was still here. And I’m going to keep up this practice for awhile. I hope you’ll speak about that before we leave—about suggestions for continuing or do we just continue.
Joe: After the first meditation I never got past wishing these things for myself so what I got out of it was a job for the future, I think to a large extent. But also this exploration of the world and self and that relationship was very fruitful.
Lynea: Better understanding of my own experience of the four immeasurables.
Student: Yeah, I feel the same way. And it’s instead of having…the other way it was more exterior this was more interior looking at what was going on.
Student: I think I got a few more episodes of being present throughout my day during this last six weeks.
Student: I feel like it was almost like a prayer for me, like a tool that when stuff came up I could recall one simple line that would help direct me.
Julia: I can’t really put words to it but I feel a tremendous sense of space and energy.
Student: I got that all practice is really just about changing my experience of the world.
Student: A new appreciation for why it’s called practice.
Student: I think I came to understand that in some areas I have more capacity than I understood. And in other areas I still need to develop a lot of capacity. But basically I developed more trust in just relaxing into the processes of the change and movement.
Student: I think I feel more equanimous about things—just a little less attachment and a little less aversion.
Student: I had a real appreciation. I loved all of it. Even the hard part—parts, plural. But I particularly loved the joy meditation and was stunned at how it felt to start your day with joy. And wonder why I don’t do it all the time—if you can do it.
Student: I think for myself it started with the mahamudra class. And then so to go from the mahamudra right into the Four Immeasurables is just the right time in my life. So, it’s just been a natural unfolding.
Student: I learned the importance of consistent meditation. And I was given the opportunity to see how I could really be changed by this practice through the meditation and through the application of principles.
Student: Yeah, I didn’t really know what to expect in coming to this class and I feel that I learned things, you know, nothing really clearly in my mind of, you know, ”That’s what I learned.“ But just little things here and there. Sort of like the experience of, you know, as people asked good questions that it seemed to me really extraordinary the way everyone was talking together in this room in a very thoughtful way. And all of the questions were answered I think very carefully and very thoughtfully. And so for me it was a good learning experience.
Student: I feel thrilled, honestly, because I feel like the immeasurables now feel like tools to create more space around some of the ways I like to experience things.
Steve: I learned that we’ve been using the wrong program for a year to record. [Laughter]
Ken: Thanks, Steve.
Steve: But I also, going from the mahamudra, and the practice questions, and then this, had a real sense of continuity of practice. That it’s not about that we were doing Four Immeasurables or mahamudra, that it all became much more one practice. So, maybe more of a connection with just what dharma is for me.
Ken: Okay. That everybody? Michelle?
Michelle: Yes, I think so.
Ken: Following up on Catherine’s questions, where do you go from here? Well, the way that I approach teaching is, in classes such as this and in retreats, I see my job as teaching you the tool which means not only just telling you what to do but also taking it to the point where you experience the tools. So you don’t just know about the tool. You know how it works and you know what it feels like when it’s working.
And when that’s happened, then you have the tool. Then you have the practice method. And what you do with it then is up to you. There are many, many methods of practice in Buddhism—hundreds, if not thousands. It’s what happens when you hang around for twenty-five hundred years. What’s important is for you to find the methods and practices that really speak to you and then you practice them until they completely permeate or they become the way you relate to the world.
Obviously you can’t do that with every tool—there’s just not enough time. Our retreat teacher, his tool was mahamudra. And that’s just what he did. And after he taught a third three-year retreat he was then given permission to go and I think he’s been in retreat for the last twenty years. Probably just practicing mahamudra. And he was pretty good at it, way back twenty years ago. So I have no idea what he’s like now.
And four immeasurables just didn’t work for him at all. I got into a big argument with him about that. He just looked at me and said finally, ”Ken, they don’t work for me.“ ”Oh, okay.“ And different practices work for different people. That’s why we have many different practices.
Even within the four immeasurables you may find one speaks more to you than the others. I think it is important to develop a gesture with all four. You’ll find in the end that compassion has a special place. Because compassion more than any of the others brings us into presence and as I was saying earlier radiates presence into the world.
In a couple of weeks many of you are coming to the spring retreat which is on mind training. And mind training—one way of looking at taking and sending, Mahayana mind training—is that it combines all the four immeasurables into a very simple breath-based practice. And so that’s what we’re going to be looking at in taking and sending.
And it’s very simple to describe. You practice equanimity by doing taking and sending with all sentient beings—not just a preferred group. When you’re giving away your own happiness and joy and goodness and everything, that’s the practice of loving-kindness. When you’re taking in their pain and suffering, and negativity, and fears, and hatred, and so forth, that’s the practice of compassion. You’re being present with that. And taking joy in this process of exchange is the practice of joy. So there are all four just right in the practice. And so it’s a very wonderful practice.
What I found when I did the three-year retreat, I practiced taking and sending quite a bit before doing the three-year retreat but in the three-year retreat we had two months on taking and sending which was a very long time given the program. And I spent the first month just doing loving-kindness and compassion because Kongtrul said you really need this as a basis. So I thought, okay, let me do two weeks on loving-kindness and two weeks on compassion.
And I found that it really changed everything—changed a tremendous amount. And it certainly changed my whole relationship with taking and sending. So I’ve always felt it’s a very, very important preparation for taking and sending as well as being a very potent practice in its own right—four immeasurables.
So, as we continue to work together I’ll keep throwing out tools and practices. And it’s good to learn a number of different practices and then so that you find, oh, this one I connect with or this one—that doesn’t do anything for me. The right practice for you isn’t necessarily the one you like best. It’s the one that you can’t get out of your head. So, it’s the one you can’t ignore. It can be extremely inconvenient. You can run from it for several years but you keep having to come back to it. That’s the practice that you do. And I think it is in the end when you find a practice that really speaks to you then practice it. Make it your main practice and practice it very deeply. Because it’s by going deep into one practice that we change things.
There was a saying in Tibet which basically coming from a spiritual materialist attitude, ”In India they practiced one deity and saw a hundred; in Tibet we practice hundreds and we don’t see any.” Meaning of this or one meaning is that it’s better to take one practice and go very, very deep into it. They just keep going. And in any of these practices you can go to any depth. So, that’s what I suggest.
By all means, learn these. Again as I say if any of you have suggestions about how to improve some of these wordings—very, very open to it. I’m glad that we found that way of changing it in our last class—the joy meditation to, enjoy the activities of life, but there may be other refinements. Because they seem to be beneficial to people and we do what we can.
So thank you very much for your time and I want to thank Catherine and Rory for taking care of the logistics, and Steve and Lynea for all their work in recording which makes it possible for these to be up on the Internet. And for Art in all his hard work in actually getting them there. So thank you all very much.
This concludes the sixth class on the four immeasurables.