Ganges Mahamudra – class 3
A comprehensive commentary on Tilopa’s mahamudra instructions to Naropa.





Non-referential ExperienceDownload

Verses 10-14; feeling tones; effort in primary practice; increasing capacity; where is mind?; mind without reference and its use in day to day life; wanting prevents opening; no wandering, no control, no working at anything; the light of the teaching; rebirth in samaras; energy of teacher; question: what’s the use of non-referential experience?




Section 1

Are we good? Okay. January 19th, today? 2010, I got the year right this time. Ganges Mahamudra, Part 3. Got a bit of feedback, there. Okay.


Section 2

One question, actually 2 questions. [Ken reads] Ken, could you clarify what you mean by feeling textures versus emotions?

I don’t think I used the term feeling textures, did I? No. Feelings versus emotions.

Student: You said that they were different but you didn’t really elaborate. Oh, it was probably in the Then And Now that I heard this but it may be relevant to the mahamudra teaching as well.

Ken: Ahh. I used the term feeling tones. This is in the five skandas, that particular map of experience. There’s sensory sense—and it is quite relevant to the practice that I’ve given you about opening to all experience. There’s a sensory sensation which are things like color, shape, sound, texture, taste and smell, of course. I know. Sweet taste or sour taste. There’s all these different ones, but accompanying those there is what in Sanskrit is called varga. There’s a feeling tone—and the best English is probably feeling tone, there’s another quality of: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. And the complete list is, there are five: the pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, physical or mental.

So, you know, when you touch something, there’s the touch sensation: rough, smooth, whatever. And then there’s pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, depending on what you’re touching. And then it’ll be either physical or mental. Emotions, at least in terms of the five skandas, refer to the emotional reaction to the sensation and that feeling tone. So if it’s pleasant, I’m likely to be attracted to it or desire it. If it’s unpleasant, then I’m likely to shrink away from it or push it away. So, it’s anger. And if it’s neutral, then I’m not going to pay much attention to it. And it’s a state of dullness. And so that’s the difference.

Now in terms of meditation that I’ve given you, when you open to sensory experience, as you are able to rest in just the experience of sensory sensations, you’ll notice, “Oh, that’s pleasant,” or “That’s physical,” or “That’s unpleasant or neutral,” or whatever. You’ll just start to notice those and you’ll also start to notice the reactions to those. Moving towards them or pushing them away or what have you.

This being able to be aware, of the pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, is in buddhist practice, particularly in the Theravadan tradition, regarded as crucially important. It’s how you actually cut the cycle of existence. Because ordinarily, and the way that most of us function in the world, that stuff arises and we just react to it, we don’t even notice it. When you notice it then it becomes an object of attention and so you start being able to experience that and now you’re short circuiting the automatic reaction. And that’s how you start stepping out of being trapped by the emotional reactions. So, it’s very, very important.

And there’s a teacher I know up in northern California, who doesn’t have people sit. She just gives them jobs to do whenever they’re doing a retreat around the centre. You now, cleaning this, and cutting that, and you know, dishes, toilets, gardening, what have you. And one of their first exercises is to note, “Do you like this or do you not like this, or do you not care?” And when they meet with her for an interview, they have to be able to say of every moment of what they were doing, whether they liked it or didn’t like it or not care. So really very, very acute attention.


Section 3

Second question was [Ken reads]: I have a practice question related to the instruction given in the first two sessions. I’ve been opening to all sensations for the first fifteen minutes of every half hour of meditation. Then the next fifteen minutes, relaxing in all experience, including thoughts and feelings. Then repeating the cycle. The way this has unfolded for me is that the first part is quite effortful. I’m actively attending to all visual input, actively listening to sounds and to the body. It’s as though I’m leaning into the sensory experience, reaching out to it. Then in the second part, I’m more receptive with the effort, if it can be called that, toward not doing. It occurred to me on re-listening to the class that I may have mistakenly drawn this distinction. Is this difference in effort an intended part of the instruction?

Well, no. [Laughter] But it is a way of practicing where you engage experience very completely and you can think of it as just, what’s the word I want? [pause] Almost overloading with experience. You’re just opening to everything. And when we do that, then we find that, and we avoid just shutting down. We find that the ordinary picking this and picking that and picking this, and picking that just can’t function, because there’s just too much. And so, now there’s a possibility of just opening to it.

And the other thing that’s she’s…Linda’s doing here, making an effort and then relaxing. This is actually a very effect method of practice. Because that opening and really engaging and then just sitting and relaxing and then engaging and then relaxing, it prevents one way of relating to experience from just getting set. And so you start opening up other possibilities, it’s like working the two poles.

When I gave you this instruction I wasn’t really intending for you to do that, It’s not so much of actively engaging, but just opening. I was thinking of a more gentle process. But some people may find that this way of working more productive. The main thing, if you’re really pushing yourself, is to watch for when something starts to harden in you. When something starts to harden in you, you’ve moved into suppression and that isn’t a good thing as far as practice is concerned. You can push all that you want as long as there’s a certain flexibility or softness.

On the other side, you can relax all you want, but what you have to watch for there is not the hardening but the going dull. Because if you’re going dull, that’s not productive. So, in either way of working there’s something to watch for which is going to make it counterproductive. With the pushing into experience, it’s the hardening. With relaxing and receiving, it’s going dull. And those are two things you want to watch for. Okay?


Section 4

Now, any questions or comments about your experience from the last week of meditation practice? You have the microphone ready, Steve? [pause] Nobody? Nobody meditated? Yes. Okay, up here. [Pause] It’s so good to have people who haven’t worked with me before, ’cause you’re still asking questions. These people, they’ve given up asking questions because they know, they’re just going to have a really hard time and they don’t want it anymore. [Laughter] Please.


Section 5

Student: Thank you for the meditation of last week. I’ve found that since I’m more accustomed to a closed eye meditation, initially the open eyes was distracting, but now, quite the opposite. It’s as if there’s a field—

Ken: Yes.

Student: …that I open into and even though I see double, that’s no longer a distraction. There’s a field.

Ken: Yeah.

Student: And that experience seemed to saturate the rest of the day.

Ken: Yeah.

Student: So that things that might otherwise have bothered me were a little less vivid in my attention.

Ken: This is very good. I found this shift quite frequently with people who’ve practiced for a long period of time with their eyes closed. And they’ve built up some ability and some momentum with that. And then they make the shift and now they’re in the experience and they find exactly what you’ve reported. That now it’s very difficult to become aware of a field with your eyes closed. But there’s this whole field of experience. I want to include the other senses, so it’s not just a visual field, there’s also the audio field and also touch and taste and smell.

And the other thing, just as you described, is that because you’re practicing with the eyes open, then you can do it anytime and now it actually makes a very big difference. Being in your life with some kind of attention actually works much better because of that. So, this is very good. Okay. Any questions? No.

Student: No, not at the moment.

Ken: Okay, fine.


Section 6

Dorian? Isn’t it?

Dorian: My question is, in the first part that that woman in the e-mail talked about reaching out for experiences, which is my experience also. I was watching and I was noticing that my awareness keeps jumping from sense to sense. You know, it’s hearing, then it’s watching, then it’s feeling, then it’s hearing, watching, smelling a little bit. And it’s getting very close but it’s still very, I don’t know what the word is—dilotonic—there’s a word like that or something?

Ken: Which? What’s the word?

Dorian: Never mind. Dilotonic, we have it in Hebrew, that’s my language. Never mind. Like it jumps from one feeling to another and I try actively to put some of it together, like, see and feel, or hear and see and it doesn’t really work. And I was thinking if this is maybe the capacity that you mentioned? I mean, this is part of this capacity you mentioned, to be able to open. When I feel that I open my awareness to everything, if I really look at it, it’s not everything, it’s nothing, it’s just opening and then there’s nothing. Which, maybe, is open awareness but—

Ken: Well—

Dorian: That’s my question.

Ken: Okay. You’re learning this and it takes time to train. And I started or introduced this to you using the breath, which is the kinesthetic sensations and the tactile sensations in the body. Another way that is often taught is to start with sight. And a slightly different way of training this—and you can try this if you want—is: start with a window, okay? So, there’s a window and it defines a definite frame because you have the outline of the window. You sit in front of the window until you can see everything that is defined by the frame all at once. Now it takes a little practice. And then you can extend it to frames, parking lots are really good for this because you have this nice rectangle. Shopping malls are actually quite good for this because you have those store windows and things like that, you already have the frame. You know, you go, like, to the Galleria, or something like that, there’s a big frame there and you can just start taking in everything.

And then you can start working with different kinds of frames. For instance, the outline of a tree. And you look at the tree until you can see every leaf and every branch, at the same time.

I’m not sure whether this restaurant is still there, but there’s a good restaurant on Ocean Avenue which had one of those waterfalls in the foyer and so, you had this water coming down. And it’s really very neat to practice this with waterfalls, until you can see every drop of water simultaneously. And then you can actually stop the whole thing and just see everything and you’ll really have a very different physical sensation when you do this.

So, you just practice this. And then as you’re doing so, then you might try sound. And any polyphonic music will work. I mean, and you learn to listen to all the music without following any single line. And then you just find you’re hearing so much more. And then you go down to the beach with your boom box and you look over at the sunset and you have your boom box and you work the two together and then you take in the waves, too. You know? Then you take a glass of wine along with that and you can have a good time. [Laughter] But, it is just practice. Okay?

Dorian: Thanks.

Ken: Okay? Anyone, questions or comments on your experience?


Section 7

All right, now. Yes, here we are. Where did we get to? I know we did, Do not think about anything beyond experience. Did we get to the next verse, Mind without reference is mahamudra. Instill this deeply and supreme awakening results.

Did we actually do that one?

Student: We stopped at verse nine.

Ken: Yeah, okay, stopped at verse nine, that’s what I thought. Okay.


Section 8

Things get a little hairy now. And, this first part is relatively easy. And it’s the way that we worked at that last time, and basically approached this as a series of pointing out instructions. Pointing out different aspects of mind. And through all of this Tilopa is using the analogy of space which works very, very well. But each verse pointed out a different aspect of space and he connected that with an aspect of mind and so you begin to go, like, “Oh”.

Now, there are really some very, very deep problems here, or challenges, not really problems. Ever since Descartes and maybe even before Descartes, we’ve thought about mind as something that exists in us. It doesn’t have that same sense in Tibetan and, I don’t know Sanskrit, but it doesn’t have it. But you remember those old, very, very old aspirin commercials, where you have this hammer going on inside your head? That’s where the pain is experienced. So, there’s this thing inside us, that’s our mind, that somehow sees out through the body, etc. etc.

And this is really quite a mistaken notion of mind because what mind actually is, is how we experience things. It is the experiencing. And when you look at it this way—I mean we’ve all heard this—“All this experience is our mind.” And we go, “Yeah, big deal, it can’t be that way. I mean, this light up there, that can’t be my mind. That’s out there and I’m here, you see? My mind’s here and that’s out there.”

But, if you think of mind as how we experience things, well, then everything we experience is part of mind—or part of mind is a very strange way to say it—but we see that light but it’s only the identification with part of our experience that causes us to see ourselves as separate from the light.


Section 9

Now, I was teaching this many many years ago and Chuck, who’s here this evening, came up with a very nice way of coming to understand it. You take the sense of touch and you can all do this right now, and just touch something. Okay? So, now, where do you experience the touch?


Anybody? This is not a trick question.

Student: In your fingertips.

Ken: In your fingertips, exactly. So now just move your finger the tiniest bit away from whatever you’re touching. What happens to the sensation of touch? Stops, right? Goes. Now you move it back. So, where is this sensation of touch? Or texture, here?

Okay, that’s mind. Okay? Now you can only experience that if you’re actually in contact with the object, right? But, the sensation of touch isn’t in the finger and it isn’t in the piece of cloth, in this case, but it arises when the two come into connection. So, when we talk about all experience being mind, we don’t mean that the cloth is in my mind or something like that, this is mistaken way of thinking. It’s that the sensation of texture is how I’m experiencing things. That is mind. And so, the experience of light is mind. Okay?

And what I’m trying to get is: take away from this idea that there’s this thing here which now sort of becomes big and includes all this, it is all this, all of this because this is how we experience things. Now, am I being completely obscure here? So.


Section 10

Now we plunge in. Now we’ve got several things I want to do first though. So, up to this point we’ve just been looking at different ways to look at mind and that was fine. But now we’re going to go into, “What are you trying to do in your practice?” I said I was going to comment on the challenges of translation in the course of our work together and this piece that we’re working on, and reading and looking at quite closely, let’s go back to where it came from originally.


Section 11

Tilopa, who is this guy who really existed at the very margins of society. He didn’t have much to do with society. He was, you know…if you paid any attention to him it was because he was very odd or strange. And so he was quite an iconoclast in that sense. And then you have this pillar of the established church of Buddhism in India. I mean, Naropa was probably very close to being the chancellor of the university or like a cardinal of the Catholic church. He was a very high ranking guy. And he chucked it all to hang out with this very strange person.

And so he’s just left behind society and all of the conventions of society and gone off and been put through one hardship after another. And at the end of all these hardships, when things have been really loosened up and he has some kind of experience and Tilopa sings him this song. So this is one really, really serious mystic talking to another really, really serious mystic. Okay? That’s where this song comes from. And now, here am I, who, you know, lives very much in the world, and I work and things like that, and I’m translating it for people like you.

How many of you are really weird mystics who have given up all the conventions of society? Anybody here? [Laughter] No. So, this is one of the challenges. Okay, how do we take this, which was a conversation between these two people, and translate it. But it’s not going to be a conversation between comparable groups of people, or, things here. It’s very different.

And another thing that’s different, and I think this came up in a previous question, if I can use the analogy of basketball, and if you don’t like basketball, then you can pick something else, but, you know, it’s Los Angeles, so we have to talk about basketball. Tilopa and Naropa could be viewed as like a conversation between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, or something like that. Or you know, one of the say, oh, I can’t remember his name, anyway one of the slightly more junior players, or say like Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, when Kobe Bryant first joined the Lakers, or something like that. He’s going to become a star, but he had a mentor or something. Okay and what are we like? We’re like people who play weekend basketball. [Laughter]

Now, does this mean that we can’t learn anything? No, it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn anything, but we’re not playing the same game. [Laughter] And it’s probably a good idea to remember that. That we’re actually not playing the same game. And some of you may chose to play that game. That would be fine, because that’s what you want to do. But we’re not playing the same game, but we’re very interested in this for our own reasons. And they may have some overlap, some similarity with Tilopa, Naropa, but they’re really quite different in other ways. And that’s something to keep in mind.


Section 12

So, and then the third aspect is—and I mentioned this before but I want to mention it again, because we now have to deal with a little more explicitly—is that Tilopa’s language and the whole thrust and the whole idea of mystical practice was based on this framework of transcending the human condition, you know. And so, you have this language like, going beyond.

But it shows up in other ways. And anybody heard this phrase, supreme awakening? Okay. You know, and supreme, like, it’s high, it’s a vertical movement and you’re going up, which is totally keeping in with this notion of transcendence, you know. You don’t really feel that you go down for transcending. Transcending always has this idea of going up. You know, flying in the sky or something like that, they’re very, very closely related. You know, or going into outer space, which is leaving the surface of the earth and so forth.

So I’ve offered the possibility…what we’re actually more concerned with…now we know we can’t transcend the human condition. It doesn’t matter what you do, the same thing keeps happening to us—we die. And you know, we get sick and we die. Everybody it happens to. And so, we’re moving, and I think there’s quite a significant moving towards regarding religious practice, as embracing the human condition.

So, that raises the possibility that all of those metaphors about supreme and high and everything like that. They may not be the best metaphors for communicating and describing how we are approaching this practice and what we want to do with it.


Section 13

So, in verse ten.

Mind without reference is mahamudra.


Now, I’m going to leave the without reference for the time being because we’re going to come back to that a couple of verses later. I’ll discuss it in more detail. But suffice to say, in this practice that I gave you, where you’re opening to all sensory experience, then opening to all thought and feeling and just it’s the whole field of experience. And there’s a couple of more steps which I’ll be introducing you to. But, the more that you open to, the less sense of being located somewhere. Did anybody connect with that? Okay.

And so, the more that you open to, the less reference you have. And you can expand this. A very simple way is to look at to look at the question of where are we? You know, and it’s easy to say, well, we’re in Santa Monica, you know. But then, where’s Santa Monica? Well, it’s in California. And you keep going on and you end up, oh, we’re on the planet Earth, that’s what we call it. Well, where’s that? It’s going around the sun. Well, where’s that? Well, that’s in this minor arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Okay, so, where’s that? We’ll, that’s in a certain sector of the universe, you know and so forth. And well, then where’s the universe? And you go…[Pause]

So, this is a way of pointing out if you expand your field of attention enough, you lose all reference. And location only makes sense in terms of location with respect to something else. So, this is why I’m giving you this practice, encouraging you to do it. Because it’s a way of coming to move into the possibility of experiencing mind without reference. Which just means being totally open to everything. And as you were pointing out, it takes some training, it takes some practice. So, it’s about practicing this way of experiencing things. And it’s a different way of experiencing things.


Section 14

Now. So, the next line.

Instill this deeply…

I’m going to have to change that and I will. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just that I want to reserve the word deep for the next phrase.

…and supreme awakening results.

Now the Tibetan here is bla med byang chub thob pa (pron. lamay jangchub tobpa)

bla med is the word for nothing higher, so that’s supreme.

jangchub is the Tibetan word for bodhi, which reasonably translated into English as awakening, that’s fine.

And tob pa is the word for obtain or attain. You know, if you send somebody a letter and you say, “Did you get the letter?” You say, “tob pa song, Yes, I got it.” So we could translate this as you get supreme awakening, you know.

Now, this is a very strange thing, isn’t it? Like getting this and just the use of the language there makes it feel like it’s something outside and then we get to it, right? Or we get it. And again, it’s this notion of moving from our current experience to something else.

So, I was thinking about this in preparation for this class and as I was nodding off to sleep last night, I went, “Oh, why don’t we read it this way: Come to the deepest awakening.” Now, I just want you to play with this.

Attain supreme awakening.

Come to the deepest awakening.

Did any of you have a difference when in those two phrases?


Section 15

Yeah, okay. Roger, how would you describe that?

Roger: Well, in the first place you’re talking about attaining something.

Ken: Yeah.

Roger: And in the second place you’re talking about coming to something.

Ken: Yeah.

Roger: So, one requires effort and the other one doesn’t, I think.

Ken: Okay. And do you have a difference, a physical sensational difference, that’s what I’m looking for, between supreme awakening and deepest awakening?

Roger: I think, supreme, like you said earlier, connotes something very high and deeply, it’s different, it’s a deeper understanding rather than something higher, lower.

Ken: Yeah, the reason I…Amy? Take the microphone, please.

Amy: The deeper, to me, is something you drop into.

Ken: Yeah.

Amy: Where the supreme is again, something outside of you.

Ken: Yeah, okay. Peri, then Nava.

Peri: Well, “come to the deepest awakening” sounds like an invitation and a sense like it’s right here. Attain just, you know, feels farther away, it feels elusive, it feels—

Ken: You gotta go somewhere to get it.

Perry: “I gotta go some place to get it.” And I don’t have it now.

Ken: Okay. Nava you had a comment.

Nava: Two things I felt. One, “Instill and then supreme awakening results” is a like a goal-oriented. It’s like I do that and then that will happen. So, that’s kind of two, two parts.

Ken: Right.

Nava: And then “Come to the deepest” is more personal.

Ken: Yeah.

Nava: It’s much more personal than “supreme” for me.

Ken: Yeah. Okay. These are very similar to the feelings that I had about these phrases. And It’s like, I’m more connected to it, I definitely feel more in the mind-body with something like deepest awakening. Oh. And as Peri said it’s like, “Oh, here.” And it’s something…it’s not something out there, it’s something that I can move into here, so. This is the kind of thing I’m toying with as we go through this.


Section 16

Now what does this actually mean? All you have to do is be able to let your mind rest…or let’s not talk about mind, because that just complicates things, is just to be able to rest in experience without any reference and you’re awake. Steve?

Steve: I just want to clarify for myself because it’s obviously a big statement, Mind without reference is mahamudra. So, you keep saying reference, I just want some other words. Are we talking about seeing things and how they compare to something else? Is how they interact with other things?

Ken: Let’s do it this way: Think a thought, any thought, it doesn’t matter. You know, think of a flower, you know, think of someone you know, think of a problem you’re working on, think of an emotion, it doesn’t really matter. Okay? Now, there’s the thought and in our ordinary way of experiencing, then there’s experiencing the thought, right? There’s the thought and there’s experiencing the thought. You with me, Steve?

Steve: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: Okay. Drop that framework. What happens?


Steve: I guess, there’s a more intimate connection with what’s just sort of—

Ken: What happened when I said, “Drop that framework”?

Chuck: Poof!

Ken: Chuck says, “Poof.” Okay. [Laughter] What happened for you, Steve? Something happened.

Steve: Yeah, there’s less articulation about it.

Ken: Yeah, okay, that was just touching no reference. Because you usually have the reference, that’s there, experiencing there, so mind without reference is dropping that. It means experiencing without reference, okay?

Steve: Is that a definition? Mind without defining? Or—

Ken: Well, there’s defining up here and reference down here, so, yeah. I mean, there are different levels in here. It’s possible to experience things without articulating what they are. But you’re still very much in the I/other frame of reference. And when you just drop that I/other frame of reference or experience or experienced frame of reference, then there’s just experience, that’s mind without reference, okay?

Steve: Okay. Thanks.


Section 17

Ken: So that’s all you have to do. [Laughter] Now, another thing here, this does not help you work things out with the IRS. Or the phone company or whatever. It doesn’t help you understand how to live your life. Probably doesn’t help you, you know, what to do with your children when they’re presenting the usual challenges and so forth. It doesn’t help you make money, it doesn’t have, you know, it’s not even clear that it helps you with psychological or emotional issues that you have. It’s far from clear whether it helps with that. I tend to think that it actually doesn’t.

So, this raises another question: do you have a use for this way of experiencing things? Now, Tilopa and Naropa very definitely did. This, for them, was what their lives were about. That’s what they wanted from their lives, was to be able to experience that. And that’s why Naropa chucked the whole academic thing. Chucked being this big debater and this guardian of the gates, gate keeper, and threw it all up, went to hang out with this really weird guy called Tilopa. Because he wanted to be able to experience things that way. He had a use for it. And one of the things that you have to consider is: do you have a use for this? And that’s a very interesting exploration so, I’m going to leave that as a kind of question for you to consider. We’ll take up some responses next week about: what use do you have for this experience in your life?


Section 18

So, now, up to this point, we’ve been discussing mainly how to look at things and a little bit about practice, that was in verse nine and the last half of verse eight and the first half of verse nine. Now we go into a very different thing. It’s like, okay, this is all about, you know, How much does this mean to you?

So, the first thing he says is:

You do not see the sheer clarity of mahamudra by means of classical texts or philosophical systems whether the mantras, the paramitas, vinaya sutras or other collections.

Now, this sheer clarity and I think we touched on this last week, it isn’t like, you know, blue lights and flashing…I mean, there is…there are things like mystic illumination where people have these experiences of intense light, and then you think, “Oh, that’s mahamudra”. No. Mahamudra is this natural radiance of mind, this knowing and being able to recognize it in everything we experience. And when we’re able to do that, then the usual reactivity just drops away.

Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, in his instructions, he just was constantly saying the Tibetan phrase, ngo shes tsam kyi ngang la zhak (pron. ngo shay tsam kyi ngang la zhak). ngo shes is the word to recognize. tsam is just and ngang is state. And then zhak is rest in this context. So, rest in just recognizing. And he just kept saying that over and over again and in his pointing out instructions, his summary of his teachings he says this over and over again. So when mind’s at rest, when you’re experiencing resting in your practice, you just recognize that. And when the mind, you know, there’s thoughts and stuff going on, you just recognize it.


Section 19

Now, the possibility of recognizing it is the natural radiance of mind. The clarity. And so this just recognizing is just touching that natural clarity over and over and over again. It’s not something made or manufactured, it’s always there. You just recognize it and recognize it. And when you’re attention decays either into dullness, in which case you lose the clarity aspect, or into activity, in which case you lose the stability aspect, as soon as you recognize that, you relax, then you just recognize it.

So, you can’t practice this by reading or studying or learning the classical texts. ’Cause they go on and on about everything under the sun. But, you know what it’s like when you’re reading, you’re reading and you’re trying to understand something, and, guess what: you’re thinking. Because that’s how we process information. We think about it, you know, “This makes sense, that makes sense.” “Yes, oh, I get it, that’s right.” And that way of relating to experience is totally different from what I was just describing in terms of just recognizing.


Section 20

Now, he goes on a bit here. The mantras…, that refers to all of the vajrayana or the tantric texts and there’s a huge collection of those. A really, really big collection. The paramitas are another very large collection. There’s all of the Perfection of Wisdom. paramit means perfection here. So it’s the Perfection of Wisdom sutras and everything like that. Another very, very big collection.

Vinaya—vinaya is the Sanskrit for discipline—so, it is the ethical codes. Another very, very big collection, I mean, you have no idea how much literature has been written on this stuff.

Sutras, you know, sutras on all kinds of subjects, all of these records of interactions, question and answer periods with Buddha. Dressed up and often times very, very flowery language. And that doesn’t even exhaust all the collections. Then there are all the commentaries on this, etc., etc., etc.

And there were people, certainly in India and also in Tibet who knew all of this stuff. I mean, one of my teachers, Dezhung Rinpoche, one of the greats Sakya masters of the last generation. He didn’t know the big canon which is like hundred and eight volumes of books, he didn’t know it by heart the way that some people in Tibetan culture did. But when you gave him a phrase he had a pretty good idea where to find it in that. That’s how much he knew. I mean, it’s like, you ask him a question you always got a two hour answer. ’Cause he just pulled stuff from all of these different things.

But this kind of knowing is not the kind of knowing that we’re talking about with respect to mahamudra. It’s a totally different kind and you’re never going to get it through that. And yet, people have expended years and years of effort in this kind of study. And many of them, I think, thinking that if they just study this stuff and understand it, it’s going to have this kind of result. And you had lots of people like Tilopa saying, “No, this doesn’t work. It doesn’t work that way.” And it continues to this day. So, I was very fortunate with my teacher. He liked us to learn stuff, but he never really wanted us to become scholars, or you know, “Dig through it, just learn what you need to practice and practice”.


Section 21

Now, we move to the next verse.

Any ambition clouds sheer clarity, you won’t see it.

Now, this is a real stickler, okay? Now a lot of people may take issue with my translation of this term as ambition. And I was looking up, reading a Tibetan commentary on this line this afternoon. And there’s some subtleties in here and this will give you an idea of why it’s impossible to translate Tibetan into English.

The word is composed of two Tibetan words, zhe and ’dod (pron: zhay and dö). zhe basically means any state of mind, but in this context it means a state of mind that attaches. And ’dod is the word for desire. So, you know what the commentary is here? zhe refers to your wanting conventional things, ’dod, that’s like the really obvious ambitions, and ’dod refers to your spiritual ambitions, the wanting for the more subtle things. So, I settled on ambition here.

Now, what’s the problem here? If your sitting and opening to experience, as long as you want something, you can’t open. Now, isn’t that a bitch? [Laughter] As long as you’re trying to get somewhere, you can’t open to what you’re experiencing now, ’cause you think it’s there. I want it.

A friend of mine went to see Munindra, who’s one of the very highly regarded Theravadan teachers. And this is a very bright guy, this friend of mine, and he’s a doctor and a professor of philosophy for a start. And he’s done three, months of retreat you know, every, every year. And he’s always going off to do one retreat after another. So he goes to see Munindra, this is many years ago, and starts talking to Munindra about his practice. And Munindra looks at him and says, “Do you understand the teachings and how practice works?” And he says, “ Yes.” “Are you ambitious?” “Yes.” And Munindra says, “What a pity.” [Laughter]

So, here we are and we’re told to work really, really hard at practice. But, now it says, any ambition and you won’t won’t be able to connect with the sheer clarity. So, what do you do?

Well, this is why Linda’s question about this pushing and then stepping back, pushing, stepping back. Actually this is very good way of practice ’cause you develop energy and ability by pushing, really opening to experience. And then you let it go. And you don’t do anything. But because of the momentum that you’ve built up from making that effort, you’re less likely to fall into distraction and dullness. So it actually creates the conditions for you just to sit.

Now, there’s a long, long history of people being really, really pushed in their practice and then something happens and they relax. I mean, we had this with Tilopa, Naropa, you know, Naropa making all of these efforts and then Tilopa, you know, slapping him with his shoe. And you know what happened in Naropa’s mind, he just went, “I can’t do anything right, I just give up.” Boing! [Laughter] ’Cause it’s often like that.

And there’s a story about Saraha, who’s a very early tantric master. And Saraha was an arms dealer. And actually he wasn’t an arms dealer, he was an arms manufacturer. He made arrows, which is like manufacturing bullets now. Not a very buddhist thing to do. But he was introduced to practice, he took it very seriously. And he was very ambitious. And so he used to always do this meditation on Vajrayogini—mentioned in the homage, in the invocation for this song—for 12 years. Twelve years day and night he mediated. And not even a good dream. That’s a long time.

So, you know, and these were meditations he’d be saying, Vajrayogini’s mantra and counting it on his rosary or mala, and you know, these were relatively complex practices, a lot to them. So he worked at this day after day for 12 years, didn’t have so much as a dream sign. Which is actually really incredible because usually you have something, you know, after a few months. And so, he went to his latrine, and said, “I’ve had it.” And threw his rosary down the latrine. Now, that’s bad enough in our culture. You have no idea how horrendous this is in Indian culture where you have all of this purity stuff, to throw your spiritual thing like that down the latrine. It was such a rejection, you know. He said, “I’ve, I’ve had it.” And goes back to his place and goes to sleep. And then he has this dream. Vajrayogini, appears in his dream, holding his mala and saying, “You have to let go of duality.” Because he was trying to get somewhere.


Section 22

So, this is what makes it very, very difficult. You practice and you do the practice. And any thought you have of getting somewhere is a thought. And you relate to it as a thought, like, “Oh.” And this is very, very hard because we all have this ambitious quality in us, you know, we wouldn’t be doing this otherwise. But, it’s a case of letting go, letting go, letting go.

That’s why this retreat I did a few years ago with this dzogchen teacher, he gave us such a wonderful instruction—do nothing. And it was a three week retreat. I was good for about 14 days, then I started getting itchy. Because to really do nothing…we can do nothing, we can all do nothing for a few seconds, right? And you know, most of you here can do nothing for a minute or two. Actually most of you here can do nothing for 10 or 15 minutes probably, you know. After that you get a little bit itchy in your meditation, okay? But imagine doing nothing for an hour?

Okay, go to a retreat, I can manage that, that’s all right. But here, our daily life, that’s hard, I’ve got a lot of things to do, I can’t do nothing for an hour. Okay, let’s do nothing for a day? Well, okay, I’ll do that, that’s…if we go on vacation. You see, we have to let go, then we can do nothing for a day. How about doing nothing for a week? Anybody getting a little itchy here? How about doing nothing for a month? A year? Six years? Well, obviously you’re going to be relating to life very differently. “How do I make my mortgage payment?” You know, “What’s going to happen to my career? What will people think of me?” All of that stuff you have to let go completely. Can you feel how you have to let go of ambition? Any sense of ambition here? This is what these guys were like. They didn’t care! About any of this.

And so, [pause] you can do this in small bits and build up capacity here, it’s like building up any other capacity. And it is actually freeing because you realize there is a whole ’nother way to live. And it isn’t the way that society has trained us, or indoctrinated us, or conditioned, whatever term you want to do. It’s very, very different and everybody will think you’re nuts. And which goes back to a point I wanted to mention earlier, I think. Was that here or over there? Ah, that’s later. How are we doing for time? Oh, I gotta move on.


Section 23

So. Now. This next section is about, how do you behave?. And there’s a huge amount in Buddhism about behaving properly and it’s very important. Because how we behave affects our ability to rest in our experience. The way I put it is actually pretty simple and many of you have heard me say this before. If you come into a situation and you know what the right thing to do is, and it’s going to cost you something. Maybe it’ll cost you some time, maybe it will cost you some money. Maybe it’ll cost you a relationship or friendship, maybe it’ll cost you a job? But you know what the right thing to do is and you do it, how long do you think about it afterwards? You know, most people say, “Hmm, not very long.” What if you don’t do it? Then it kind of eats at you for the rest of your life, right?

This is why behaving appropriately is important. It’s one of the primary conditions for us to be able to rest. If we aren’t behaving appropriately in situations and we’re always causing disturbance and pain and suffering for ourselves and other people, we simply won’t be able to rest in our experience. It’s very simple. And because we’re creating pain and as our experience deepens we understand that the suffering we create for others is very destructive. And that disturbs us. And so from this point of view, how we act in our lives is intimately related with our practice. And it becomes not only how we create the conditions so we can practice, how we act also becomes an expression of our practice because as we’re able to rest in experience, we sees things more clearly. We may not like what we see, but we see things more clearly and so our actions actually become more precise and more appropriate.


Section 24

So, we have all of these precepts. And probably should change the translation that of commitments you need to move up so it falls right after precepts.

Thinking about precepts and commitments undermines the point.

Now, this goes right back, this is why it was connected with ambition. We think, “I’m doing this, you know, and did I do the right thing today?” And you’re trying to do the right thing all the time. Well, that undermines the point of just resting in experience. Now, this is really important. Because we’re not always going to do the right thing. Sometimes we just don’t have enough knowledge and awareness, something just catches us unawares.

When we rest, then we have to feel all of that discomfort. What is that discomfort? It’s just another experience. But it doesn’t feel like that inside, no, you know, it feels much worse than that. And so this is another aspect of opening to all of our experience. We have to stop being our judge.

How many find yourselves judging yourself about how you do things? Yeah, so. You know. And you can’t just say, “Stop it, I’m not going to do it anymore.” It doesn’t work that way. But you see, “Oh there I am, judging myself again.” And if you stop judging yourself then you lose that reference point. Now you really get uncomfortable. Well, this is about no reference. Do you begin to see how deep this goes? So, it undermines the point of just resting in experience.


Section 25

Do not think about anything; let all ambition drop.

That’s so hard.

Let what arises settle by itself, like patterns in water.

And that’s the example, you know. You watch ripples form in water? What happens to them? They come, they go, they come. They take care of themselves quite happily. We don’t have to do anything about them.

Now if you go into my website, and you go into the translations section, you’ll find a song by Milarepa to Lady Paldarboom. And it’s very, very much about exactly this point. And Paldarboom is this young noblewoman who comes to Milarepa and says, “I want to study.” And Milarepa says, “Oh right, sure, you want to practice? Yeah, okay. Meditate on a mountain, meditate on the ocean, meditate on the sky, etc.” That’s all the instruction he gives.

So she comes back some time later, and she describes her experience and Milarepa goes, “Hmm.” And then she says, “Well, when I meditated on the sky, that was fine, but what do I do with the clouds? And when I meditated on the ocean, that was fine but what about the waves?” And then Milarepa says, you know, “Well, clouds are manifestations of the sky, so, just be there. Waves are manifestations of the ocean, so, just be there.”

And so it’s a good thing to read at this point because it’s, Let what arises settle by itself. You know, clouds form and disappear by themselves, waves form and disappear. Thoughts form and disappear, you don’t have to do anything. You know, when you can really just rest, then you have this experience, thoughts arise, and they go, they arise, and they go. You don’t have to do anything. And it’s like, “Oh damn, I don’t have to do anything.” And that engages a whole ’nother thing, “But, I want to do something!” [Laughter] Like patterns in water.


Section 26

Now the next line, it’s a wonderful translation point. There’s actually three instructions in this line. And it’s probably more accurate…rather than no place, to say no placement.

No placement, no reference, no missing the point.

No placement means we don’t put our attention on an object. And that’s why I’ve given you this practice of expanding awareness. It’s a way of practicing not putting attention on an object, but experiencing everything, without putting attention on something. You follow?

No reference means we aren’t holding on to a sense of experiencing. That’s the reference point that we like to take, “I’m experiencing this.” And everybody likes that one. I had this experience and so forth. So, no reference here means letting go of that.

No missing the point is you don’t do anything else either, you’re just there.

Now, this is actually Tilopa’s way—in this particular instance—of expressing the basic instructions for mahamudra, which can be summarized as: No wandering, no control, no working at anything. And the no wandering is the no missing the point. No control is you can take your choice, you can say no reference, and no working at anything is you are placing your intention on something.

Okay, this is the commitment for mahamudra. It’s those three things: no placement, no reference, no missing the point. Don’t break this commitment, it’s the light in the dark.

Now, obviously you have to have a use for this way of experiencing the world, so that’s something I want you to think about. And this is the old question, like, “Why am I practicing?” in a somewhat different guise, but I think it would be interesting for you to engage this. “I’m doing this, this is a way of experiencing my life. Why do I want to experience my life this way?” It’s something I’d like you to think about. It will probably clarify a lot about practice for you.


Section 27

When you are free from ambition and don’t hold any position, you will see all that the scriptures teach.

Now, we’ve just talked about all of the scriptures, that’s up in verse eleven. The classical texts, the philosophical systems, etc., etc. All of that whole body of discussion and commentary etc. is actually all about this way of experiencing the world. And experiencing life. And there’s, a saying in Tibetan, gchik shes kun grol, (Pron: chik shay kün drol) knowing one thing, everything releases. So, you don’t actually have to learn that much stuff. Develop the capacity and ability to experience this way and then you know what all these teachings are about.

And again, Rinpoche was invited by the Dali Lama to talk to the real big scholars that the Gelugpa tradition trains. And by Tibetan standards, RInpoche wasn’t regarded as a scholar. He was very well-educated but not at the level of a scholar. And they would ask him these extraordinarily intricate questions, you know, from different philosophical schools about the nature of mind and the nature experience and so forth. And Rinpoche would just answer straight from his practice, straight from his own experience. Just this is how it is.

And that’s really what this whole exercise is about, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not about learning lots of stuff, it’s about knowing what our experience actually is, how it actually is. And the reason is because, and that knowing isn’t an understanding, it’s a direct knowing, because when we know it that way, then we can truly rest. And we experience peace and we are free from the reactivity. Because when things arise we know thoughts to be thoughts, we know emotions to be emotions and so they don’t have the same hold on us. They just come and go like patterns in water. And that’s a freedom and it’s a peace. And it’s a clarity, it’s all of those things. I mean, these are different ways that it’s described.


Section 28


When you work at this you are free from samsara’s prison.

That’s what I was saying so much.

When you settle in this, all evil and distortion burn up.

And that goes back to what I was referring to earlier, when we do things and we see that wasn’t such a good thing to do and when we just rest this way, we can’t hold on to that. Either the motivation, the anger, the reaction that drove that thing or our being consumed by the effects of it something like that. It just burns up or resolves itself or dissolves or whatever metaphor you want to use. It’s very, very powerful, but it does involve experiencing everything that’s going on.

You know, many years ago I was on a phone call, one of my coaching clients, a person back in New York. I work, at that time, I was working with four or five different executives in this company and so and confidentially is a really important thing. ’Cause they’re always telling me different things about each other and so forth. And in this conversation,’cause I’d been working with this person for so long, I said something and I went “Oops.” I don’t think she actually got it, but from my point of view, I thought, “Oh, if I didn’t betray confidence there, it was really, really close.” So I got off the phone call and sat with it. I just felt so ashamed. It was like, “Oh.” And “Oh,” and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

So one of the principles here is of you got something obsessing you, you got to turn towards it not away from it. So, I just opened to the experience of shame. Now I don’t know how it is for you, but shame, when you open to the physical expression of it, or manifestation, it’s hot, like your body is, like, 500 degrees fahrenheit. And it’s sticky, do you know what I’m talking about? So, it’s like, “Oh,” and you know, we don’t like going there. And it just feels like burning stickiness. So, as I opened up I said, “I don’t wanna do this.” But, I went, “Oh no, you gotta.” And so I just really opened to it and then I had this intense flash of that 500 degree stickiness experience and then it left. Because I had experienced it. That’s like a pattern in water.

And this is what it means:

When you settle in this, all the evil and distortion are burned up.

It’s not that they go away nice and peacefully. They’re burned up because you experience all of the reactivity that drove you. All of the reactions to what you’ve done. All of the shame, the anger, the guilt, the grief, everything. It can be extremely intense. But that’s how they’re burned up, they’re burned up in your experience. It’s not like just something that goes away quietly by itself.


Section 29

This is called “The Light of the Teaching.” The foolish are not interested in this.

Now, the foolish here are all ordinary people. There’s no hierarchy involved here at all, you know. And from the perspective of these teachings, this comes up again and again in different spiritual traditions, what you’re getting here is: how much people like Tilopa and Naropa value this way of experiencing things. Because they experience freedom, they experience clarity, they experience peace and, you know, what better way to experience life. And it’s like, you know. And anybody who is not interested in that; they must be nuts. Not to want to experience life this way, from this perspective. And they are constantly swept up in the currents of samsara.

And I really want to be very clear, samsara is the way we experience the world under the influence of reactivity. You know, it’s all of the reactions going on, that’s what samsara is. I mean, you’ve all heard about the six realms and going around form birth after birth, but what it really is like, from my point of view, is it’s not about future lives and past lives.

There’s a story of a Zen master and this samurai comes to him and he says, “Teach me about heaven and hell.” Which we can say, the god realm and the hell realm, okay? And the Zen master looks at him and says “Why would I teach fools like you?” And the samurai just, “What did you say?” And he starts drawing his sword, he’s just consumed with anger and before he can draw his sword, the Zen master says, “That’s hell.” “Aah.” And then the Zen master said, “And that’s heaven.” [Laughter]

So every moment of our lives, every time a reactive emotion comes up, we’re in one of the realms. So, how many of you experienced anger today? How many of you experienced jealousy? Oh, I don’t believe you. How many of you compared yourself to somebody or other at some time during the day? Thank you very much. Okay? How many of you experienced greed? “I need this.” Okay. How many experienced the animal realm, doing things automatically? How many of you experienced the human realm, there’s something you wanted to enjoy? How many experienced feeling superior or inferior, it’s a different form of pride? Okay. There you are: six realms. Okay?

Now, in each of those realms you think you’re the same person, right? You’re not. When you’re in the hell realm you were relating to the world one way, just like that samurai, “I’m going to kill you.” That’s nice, I feel good. You see and experience the world completely differently when you’re in the god realm. You just were reborn. And so, you know, given the usual day, 100, 200, a thousand rebirths, this is samsara. And we operate under the illusion that we’re the same person. We operate under the illusion that we’re the same person. We’re actually multiple selves and we’re popping around each one all the time. And it’s all miserable. [Laughter] You know, every now and then we think, “Oh things are going well for now. I’m enjoying this.” Think, “That doesn’t last. I mean, am I the only one for whom life’s like this?

Julia: Yes!

Ken: Thank you, Julia. [Laughter]


Section 30

Okay, so, we’re swept up by this and,

How pitiable the foolish—

This is a terrible state of affairs.

their struggles never end.

And then we have this instruction,

Don’t accept these struggles.

Because most of us say, well, you know, that’s just life, you know, just live with it. Suck it up. It’s not a big deal, etc. And we just do it.

Now, how many of you have been to graduate school? Was this a pleasant experience? Now, in Canada you go to graduate school and it’s actually kind of fun, but I don’t know anybody in the States who enjoyed graduate school. Because they work you to the bone, right? And what were you told?

Student: Things will get better when we get out.

Yeah, but you know, ”Don’t make a big deal about it.“ This is what we’re told about our lives. ”This is life, just accept it, don’t do anything about it.“ And Tilopa and Naropa said, ”Screw that. That’s doesn’t make any sense. There’s another way of experiencing this. You don’t have to experience things that way, there is another way.“

Don’t accept these struggles, long for freedom. And rely on a skilled teacher. When his or her energy enters your heart your own mind will be free.

Now again, here we have a world view in which, you come into the presence of a teacher who is really deeply practiced and you feel different, there’s an energy field there. And depending on your ability you can open to that energy field. Now, this is rather like, you have an unlit candle here and a lit candle here and you bring the flame to the new candle, okay? And it lights, right? Now, is that the same flame or is it a different flame? Yeah, it’s an unanswerable question, of course. Because what happened was, with the heat of that candle it created the conditions in which the new candle could come to light. So, this is the energy of the teacher entering your heart. It’s a metaphor. It doesn’t mean that, actually, something comes, it’s a way of talking about it.

One could also say in their presence, something is lighted in you. We could use different metaphors and it’s very important because there’s a tendency, in all of our thinking, to forget that everything we express is a metaphor. It’s a way of describing our experience. It’s never the actual experience. But then we say, ”Okay“, we take the metaphor as being how things actually are. And that can create a lot of confusion.

What joy! Patterned experience is meaningless. It generates trouble. Conventional experience has no substance, focus on what has meaning in substance.


Section 31

I think this is as far as we are going to get this evening. This we…yeah.

I just wanted to say, we’ll come back to this verse, but just to give you an example, I can’t remember if I mentioned this before, but there’s a video on TED, we put it on the Ning sight about this Chief Belief Officer of Future Group in India, I can’t remember his name, but if you go to the video section on the Ning site, you can just look for this one by this India guy, he’s got a very Indian name, Devedutta or something Patuk, or something like that [Devdutt Pattanaik]. And he tells this wonderful story of Alexander the Great.

Now, Alexander the Great was intent on conquering the world. And I was reading another bit about him today which when he found he didn’t have any worlds left to conquer, he was very upset, he started to cry. [Laughter] But, he comes to India and, you know, he started off in Greece, he conquered Persia, some pretty interesting military tactics there. Then moved down through the Khyber Pass, which is a huge thing. And then into India and he’s conquered India, and there it is: he’s conquered the world.

And he comes across this priest and it’s not clear exactly which tradition, but from the description it seems that he was a Jain priest, who’s sitting there, doing nothing. He’s just sitting in meditation. And Alexander the Great comes up and says, ”What are you doing?“

”I’m not doing anything. What are you doing?“

”I’m conquering the world.”

And they both look at each other as if the other is completely nuts. [Laughter]

From Alexander’s point of view, doing nothing made absolutely no sense whatsoever. And from the Jain priest’s point of view, conquering the world made absolutely no sense. Lots of people have conquered the world. More people are going to conquer the world. After you’ve conquered the world, somebody comes along, conquers you, what’s the point? So, these are two very, very different ways of experiencing the world.

And that’s what I want you to explore, what use do you have of this way in your life. Because, you get clear about that, it’s going to make a huge difference in how you practice. Okay?

Now, I’m sorry we don’t have time for questions, but, bring them next time. Peter, could you…yeah, one ding and then the prayers and so forth, okay?