Comments on the teacher-student relationship, the responsibilities of the teacher and student, methods that teachers use to reveal presence, provide instruction, and point out student’s internal material
Yesterday evening I covered more ground than I actually was planning to, so we’re changing the format and do guru today, yidam tomorrow, protector, and that will leave Sunday to try to put it all together—or not. We’re not going to make any pretense of having an organized presentation here because there are so many different streams and lines of thought and considerations. It would be very nice to have them sorted out and all very clear. So if this seems a bit jumbled, it probably is.
What I want to try to do is, on the one hand, you might say, demythologize Vajrayana, because there’s a great deal of myth about it. And on the other hand, try to convey the power and sense of the practice or these practices, or this approach to practice, in a way that you can relate to without going through what are sometimes quite considerable cultural distortions. Do you know of which I speak?
Student: Some, yeah.
Ken: The last few years, one of the central questions I’ve pondered is: In the post-modern society in which we all live, what is the appropriate form of the guru-student relationship? And to answer this question or to explore it I think we need to take a look at both the cultural form of the guru-student relationship in India and Tibet and also its soteriological function, that is to say its spiritual function.
In 1989, when Kalu Rinpoche died, I was in a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh. I’d been asked to come to the retreat. My expenses had been paid. When I got there, I said to an organizer who had invited me, “I know that there’s a string attached, I just don’t know what it is.” “Oh,” she said. “You’re giving the presentation on Wednesday night.” This is Monday. I said, “Oh. And what do you want me to do?” “Upset the apple cart,” she said. “Oh.”
Rinpoche died Wednesday morning. Interesting coincidence. So I gave a talk, and the next morning, Thich Nhat Hanh, who was not present at it, swept the whole thing under the rug. It was kind of interesting to experience.
Ken: And then he was asked by someone in the audience, “What’s the relationship between culture and dharma?” He said, “Well, culture is like the salt—it gives flavor to the vegetables.”
And of course, the question that immediately popped into my mind was, “What if there’s too much salt?”
There is the possibility of there being too much salt. I think there has been in the past. And that’s just natural. It just has to go that way. So, you don’t have to add quite as much salt anymore. And that’s what I mean about demythologizing.
In every spiritual tradition that I know of, the teacher plays a very central role for ninety-five percent of the people in that tradition. There are a small number of people who have experiences of spontaneous awakening, such as Krishnamurti, apparently, and Ramana Maharshi. Eckhart Tolle seems to have come to something quite interesting through extraordinary depths of depression, which makes it very interesting. Byron Katie is another person I’ve met who’s an interesting lady. Generally, there are two things such people tend to say: you don’t need a teacher and you don’t need a path. And from their experience that’s exactly right. They didn’t have a teacher and they didn’t have a path. Something just happened.
Well, if you’re one of those people, fine. Or you can just sit around and hope that you’re one of those people and see what happens, which to me is kind of like buying a lottery ticket. Or you can work with a teacher.
I have some knowledge of some of the approaches in contemplative Christianity, both Orthodox and Western. A little more perhaps in Sufi. And I’ve certainly had lots of conversations with people in Zen, in Theravadan, and in my own training—the Tibetan tradition. As we’ve talked about before, the flavor of the teacher-student relationship in all of these traditions varies. One may not think of Christianity as having a particular teacher-student variation, but it definitely does. The teachers are usually called spiritual directors, and they are generally not part of the hierarchy. A Catholic priest friend I had many years ago, his spiritual director was a layperson who lived out in Riverside. And he would drive out from Antelope Valley to Riverside quite regularly to see this person.
The teacher has three functions, three responsibilities: to reveal presence to the student; to train the student in the methods and tools that the student will need for his or her own growth; and to point out—to put the student in touch with—the internal material that is in the student’s way. On the other hand, the student has two responsibilities: to practice the instructions as they are given, that is, without editing; and to make use of the instructions and the understanding in his or her life.
One of the aspects that I think tends to be a bit overlooked in the monastic tradition is that practice produces real behavioral changes. One of the reasons I think it gets overlooked in the monastic tradition is that there isn’t a lot of range of behavior. You get up in the morning and do the prayers in the temple; then you go and you have breakfast, and you go about your monastic duties. There’s not a lot of variation in behavior.
As to the responsibility of the teacher to reveal presence, this can be done in two ways. Some teachers emphasize one, and some teachers emphasize the other, and some do both. One is through their behavior. The other is by creating conditions that elicit an experience of presence in the student. One form of that, of course, is pointing-out instructions. And there can be a combination of those, of course.
I remember Jack Kornfield telling me about one of his teachers. He studied with Ajahn Chah for a while, who told Jack, “I want you to go and study with this monk,” at such and such a monastery. He arrived at this monastery and there were a lot of monks walking around. One of them was smoking a cigar and cursing viciously as he threw stones at the dogs. Jack went [Ken mimes astonishment].
So Jack went to the abbot and told him that Ajahn Chah had sent him to study with so and so. Jack was very surprised when he was directed to the cigar-smoking, stone-throwing monk. But he said that even though this person’s behavior was deplorable, it really made a difference in his meditation. He was able to direct Jack’s attention in such a way that he made it his practice of meditation very, very precise. He could name a cell in your liver and tell whether the cell next to it was hotter or colder than that one. So clearly, this guy had something, but it hadn’t translated into other areas of his behaviour. That’s an example of pointing-out, as opposed to, “Hang around this guy and you’ll learn how to throw stones at dogs and smoke cigars.”
On the other side, Yvonne Rand told me many times about being around Suzuki Roshi and later around Tara Tulku, who was her main Tibetan teacher, and the way that they interacted with people. Particularly with Suzuki Roshi. In the way that he did everything, there was a demonstration of presence and attention, just ongoing. So, these are both methods by which presence is revealed.
Then there’s the actual instruction. One of the things I came to appreciate fairly slowly in the Tibetan tradition is that it wasn’t uncommon for those two roles to be divided between two people. The head of the Karma Kagyu Order, Karmapa, was an extraordinary person. If you were around him, it was like being around the sun, or a thunderstorm, or a hurricane. It was just really powerful, whatever it was at the time. And it could change [Ken snaps fingers], just like that. Because there was no clinging. There’s nothing stuck inside. Quite extraordinary. But very few people actually received any meditation instruction from His Holiness the Lama. But presence was revealed in all kinds of ways just by being around him, in Black Hat ceremonies and so forth. The actual meditation instruction and training came from somebody else, as in, this is how you do it; this is what you do.
Then there’s the third one: the student’s internal material. There are different ways that teachers do this. In the first stage of the Zen tradition—that is, about ten or eleven hundred up to about the thirteenth, fourteenth century—Zen was heavily associated with the samurai tradition. Most of the way that you were shown your internal material was through conflict. And what’s very important here is that the purpose of engaging that kind of conflict wasn’t to win or lose. It was to create the conditions in which you saw, felt, or experienced something. Right there. And that was it. When that happened, the conflict wasn’t pursued any further. So it’s never about winning or losing. This has degenerated to activities like dharma debate, but the real intention of that is so that you see and you react. So it served both as a way of pointing out internal material and of revealing presence.
The Therevadan tradition is another whose essential method of instruction is also based on power. And they don’t go into this conflict business at all—not directly. You come in and you say, “I’m experiencing this and this and this, and this and this, and I keep getting trapped in this.” And they say, “Can you experience it a little bit longer?” “Yes.” “Good, do that.”
Student: Ken, so there the power would be an ability to stay present in action?
Ken: Patient endurance, exactly. So, their teachers were extremely unhappy.
In 1990, we had a retreat here with Jamgon Kongtrul. Were you here for that, Deborah?
Ken: A good friend of mine was managing the retreat, Jon Parmenter. We had 55 people here, and a few people stayed across [at] Snowcrest Lodge and quickly realized that the accommodations there were worse than they are here. And the accommodations here weren’t as good as they are now. We had people stuffed in every nook and cranny.
Of course, there were lots of inconveniences, so people would come to Jon and say, “This is, this this this,” you know. Jon would listen very patiently and say, “Mmmm. That’s very uncomfortable. Yeah, that’s quite inconvenient. Do you think you could experience this for another 48 hours?” Which would take to the end of the retreat. And the person would go, “Yes.” “Thank you.” That was it. So, very simple solution. [Laughter]
The second method is the primary method of Christianity in both the Orthodox and Western traditions. It’s one of the primary methods of Hinduism and is also present in the Tibetan tradition in several forms. It’s the ecstatic approach, which is opening. And it usually takes one of two forms and sometimes a combination: the two forms of devotion and loving-kindness.
Theravadan tradition, for instance, uses loving-kindness quite extensively. It doesn’t use devotion as a discipline. It isn’t practiced very much at all. Tibetan tradition, of course, uses devotion. One can say that Vajrayana is primarily a devotional practice. And that’s why I’m going to come back talk about this in a minute. But I want to complete this.
Third method is through insight, which consists of pointing the student’s attention into experience. This is the method that is used in Korean Zen, for instance. A large number of the people who wake up spontaneously teach some form of insight practice. It’s the predominant method. So, Ramana Maharshi: “What am I?” Korean Zen: “What is ’this’?”
One of the challenges in the insight approach is that unless there is a developed capacity to stay in the experience of the emotional turbulence that arises when these questions are asked, the method of insight almost always degenerates into logic and intellectual gamesmanship. And that is a problem that has permeated Buddhism for centuries. It’s produced some extraordinary philosophy. The great epistemologists, like Dignaga and so forth, produced stuff that the West is only now catching up to. And they did that in six hundred to eight hundred AD.
And the Tibetan monastic colleges developed very powerful lines of argument, etc., derived from the works of Nagarjuna and others. But I think it was the eighth or the fifteenth Karmapa, who was sitting on the roof garden of Sera monastery and looked at the college, which was a separate building, where logic and reason were studied and taught. At this moment, he saw a building in which snakes with flickering-flaming tongues were coming out of every window. That’s how it arose in his experience. So he ordered the college to be destroyed. He realized it wasn’t helpful for practice. That kind of intellectual exercise actually breeds a lot of anger, which is what he saw.
Insight—as most of you know—is one of the primary methods that I use. One of the primary things that I try to teach is how to know what is true by question. And particularly in the Tuesday night class, people [say], “Don’t let him ask you a question.” We had that last Tuesday.
The fourth method is compassion, through service. It’s one of the primary themes of the Mahayana. You use the energy of compassion to transform reactive patterns into attention. It is wonderfully and beautifully expressed through bodhicitta. The great work on this is Shantideva’s Entering the Way of the Bodhisattva or Entering the Way of Awakening, which is really an epic poem about bodhicitta. That’s really what it is.
It’s beautiful, it’s wonderful, marvelously inspiring, and it’s also got a lot of useful stuff in it. It’s using the way of serving the needs of the world as a way of opening to presence. So teachers who use compassion get their students to do things. I came across the essential gesture of compassion-in-training in a conversation I had with someone who’s training in the Gurdjieff tradition. When your practice is through service, you just do what you’re told. You obey. And in that act of obeying, you’re going to run into all of your internal material. And that’s where you do your work.
It is one of the methods in Christianity. The Catholic monks take only three vows: celibacy, poverty, and obedience to their superior. For many years, my Catholic priest friend and his abbot, his superior—they hated each other. I mean they really didn’t like each other. They didn’t understand each other in any way, so there was constant friction and tension. But because of his vow, this was his practice. So his superior would tell him to do something he knew was just wrong and irritated him. But that’s what service meant, so he did it. And he dealt with all of the internal material that came up from that. That was a key component in his practice. Eventually, his superior retired and then one his best friends became his superior and that worked out much better. But it was a valuable practice.
John of the Cross, who was viciously tortured in the Spanish Inquisition, is one of the great Christian saints. He was tortured by the star chamberlain. And when this whole thing worked through, when that whole madness in Christianity finally wrapped up, the spiritual authority said, “We’re sorry.” By this time, John’s body was broken and he was in ill health. “There’s not a lot we can do,” they said. “But at least we can say where would you like to spend the rest of your days. You have your choice of monasteries here in Spain.”
John said he would like to go to such-and-such a monastery. And the authorities said, “Why do you want to go there? The Abbot hates you.” And he said, “Yes, that will help me in my practice.” So he wanted to work even more deeply. That’s the path of service—you just do.
Guru, part 2 – GDP 2 Download
Devotion reveals student’s internal material, difference between faith and belief, three types of faith and how they transform the three poisons, commentary on guru yoga and related prayer (text available on the website), questions from participants
All of these are viable ways. The one we’re going to focus on here is the path of devotion.
In the Tibetan tradition we have several words: we have devotion, which in Tibetan is mos gus (pron. mugu), and we have faith. The Tibetan for that is dad pa (pron. depa). And we also have the English word, belief. The first distinction I want to make very clear is that I see faith and belief as opposites. That may not be how they’re commonly understood in English. But I find it’s helpful to look at faith as the willingness to open to what arises in experience.
Sharon Salzberg’s most recent book is called Faith. It’s actually a very personal book, in which she describes how she came to essentially the same view of faith, through various incidents and challenges and interactions with teachers in her life. You get a good sense of the things that have shaped her understanding. It’s very good. I asked her for whom she wrote this book, and she said, “For those in despair.” That fits. Often we have to be driven to despair in order to open to what’s right there—because nothing else works.
On the other hand, belief—in my view—is the effort to interpret experience to conform to what’s already inside. One often runs into a rigidity when people are functioning on the basis of belief, and a very different kind of stability when people are functioning on the basis of faith. That’s something to look at and observe.
In the Tibetan tradition there are three kinds of faith.
First is clear, open faith. It’s a kind of radiant clarity. It is similar but not the same as falling in love. You know how when you fall in love everything just opens up. Everything’s beautiful—it has that same quality. And, like falling in love, it can and does incite projections. But it’s important to cultivate, and that’s what we are going to be focusing on today. But it’s difficult because it cannot be contrived. It is essentially a clear, open appreciation, though that language in English doesn’t carry the emotional and deeper quality of it. The language is too intellectual, but it is accurate.
The second kind is the faith of longing. This is an expression of our yearning. In the sutras, there’s a story of the always-weeping-one. He just wanted to be awake and to be present so much. He could never find the right teacher or the right instructions, and so he was always in tears. That’s why he was called the always-weeping-one. But he’s an expression of this intense heartfelt longing. And it can take different forms: longing for clarity, longing for peace, whatever. But it doesn’t matter. It’s all about longing for presence, basically.
This form of faith can be used to transform the energies of emotions into the clear, open faith that I just spoke about. And that’s basically how it’s used. The prayer that we did this morning, The Far-reaching Cry to the Guru, is an expression of that longing. And that’s how such a prayer is used. You feel this intense longing. You use prayers such as this. There are hundreds of these in the Tibetan tradition, if not thousands, to give rise to this longing. Through really feeling that deep, deep longing, something begins to open up, which is this clear, open appreciation of the wonder, the magic, whatever you want to call it, of presence. And that’s what gives rise to insight and understanding.
The third kind of faith is the faith of confidence. It comes out of a rational appreciation of how things work. People will say, “How does this practice work?” Or, “Why should I do this?” This is not an expression of clear, open faith. It’s not an expression of yearning. It’s an expression of a desire: “I want to be able to understand this so I can feel confident in what I’m doing.”
In terms of actually moving you forward, confident faith or faith coming from confidence, is not such a big step. But often it’s the first step that many of us require. When we begin to understand and feel that, okay, this make sense, then it lays the basis for that longing to start to arise. And out of that longing matures this clear appreciation. The clear appreciation can also mature out of the confidence as well. So basically, the second two kinds of faith—longing and confidence—power the first: clear, open appreciation.
As an aside, this may be helpful to some of you: In one way, these three kinds of faith are ways of transforming the three poisons. It’s easy to see, for instance, that cultivating longing is a way of transforming desire or attraction. You shift the focus of the desire from an object which you think is going to satisfy you to presence, which is something that never satisfies you. It never satisfies your emotional needs. But you can use all of that energy to long for that, and it begins to transform internally.
Faith coming from confidence is how we transform aversion. There’s a very close relationship between aversion and the rational process. When we approach things rationally, it’s actually a form of anger energy. You know about this do you, Guy? That’s why academics are such loving people. [Laughter] But you use that anger energy to dissect things and generate this basis of confidence, which allows you to move forward to some kind of opening.
Of course, that leaves clear, open faith to be the transform of indifference, which is exactly what it is.
So, time to look at practice.
I’m going to go into this in more detail later, but: guru, yidam, deity, protector. We call them the three roots. They seem to be distinct, but at a deeper level they actually define a spectrum. One could say, a spectrum of energy from emptiness to form. So, when one’s doing guru practices, you’re working with respect to the nature of things, the nature of experience—dharmakaya—for those of you who know that term. The ineffability of experience itself. And the essential practice at the guru level is a practice called guru yoga. If we put this into English, it would be guru union.
The guru is simultaneously a teacher, a person that you actually interact with, and a symbol of the ineffability of experience, of this totally open, indefinable quality of presence. And in a practice such as guru union, you are seeking to join—that’s how it’s literally said—your mind with the guru’s. Well, if the guru’s mind is presence, then you’re seeking to join with presence.
I want to make a point here which is often overlooked. We say, “Join our mind with the guru’s,” but the word for mind in Tibetan and in Sanskrit is also the word for heart. You may feel that this practice has a little different flavor if you think of it as joining your heart with the guru’s heart. It translates a little differently in English. Feels different, doesn’t it? And when you do that, it becomes much less intellectual. More like, “Oh God! What would that be like, for those hearts to actually join?” That’s how it comes across to me—maybe it comes across to you differently.
In the booklet on page 9, there is a translation of the Prayer to the Guru that’s used in the Karma Kagyu Ngöndro, or foundational practices, or groundwork. This is my latest translation, that I actually quite like. This is set in the whole context of practice with many, many, really very beautiful prayers.
May I realize mahamudra as ground,
the basis of all, yet free from such concepts as existing or not-existing;
and free from positing, negating, accepting or rejecting anything in samsara and nirvana.
May mahamudra as path become apparent,
the path which completely surpasses destination, traveler or path;
which neither rejects the obscured, obscurations or the obscuring, nor conceptualizes the realized, realizer or realizing.
May mahamudra as result become apparent,
result which is the inseparability of basis and result, which is neither rejection nor attainment;
but no conceptualization of goal, attainer, or faith in attaining; not existing, yet the nature of all that is.
Well, just from that, you know, this is like, just being there—nothing else.
What I’m trying to do here is not actually give you formal practices in guru, yidam, and protector, but the flavor; and working very directly with your own mind. With the guru practice, you’re really working with the nature of your mind. And that, of course, is inconceivable in expressing it.
The guru—however you want to think of that—is a symbol of that ineffability of experience. In the Kagyu tradition, it’s imagined as Vajradhara, the Primordial Buddha. In the Nyingma tradition, as Guru Padmasambhava. Very frequently in the Gelugpa tradition, it’s Je Tsongkhapa.
You can, if you wish, take any figure living or dead. Many people take someone like Milarepa as their guru in this sense. And with respect to that figure, or symbol, they cultivate these three forms of faith. Each of you will probably start at a different place. For some of you, I know from talking with you, you know something about that clear, open appreciation and you let yourself feel it. And when you let yourself feel it, at some point you’re going to feel what doesn’t want to go there. What holds back. Now you’ve reached the edge of your practice. And that’s where you work. You use that clear, open appreciation to open to those areas of you that don’t want to open. Follow?
For others, it’s going to be about longing. Let yourself feel that longing, and you notice the prayer for the Far-reaching Cry to the Guru? Its devotion pierces your heart. And that’s how you practice with that—you let that longing go right through you, all the way. And you use the symbol of the guru, whatever form you take, as a way of helping you to focus that longing so it can go right through every piece of you. So in a certain sense, you’re completely destroyed by your yearning, your love. And you know, that’s a little intimidating.
For others, you’re probably going to start with confidence. How does this feel to you? Does this make sense? [Unclear] bit by a few questions about this. But you also are experienced people. There’s nobody who’s starting practice here. You all know what you have learned or been able to do or understand through your own practice. That is the basis of your confidence.
So, you bring that to mind and you rest in it, and as you rest in it, you will start to feel the parts of you that don’t really want to go any further. You’ll say this is fine, we can just stay right here. But you can’t. So you use that confidence as a way of opening to those parts. Does this make any sense, Denise?
Ken: I don’t know; this is the first time I’ve done this. If you find it helpful, as I said last night, memorize this prayer.
Student: Which one?
Ken: The one on page nine. It’s relatively short [Guru Yoga Prayer].
Treasured teacher I pray to you.
I chose to translate the word Rinpoche as treasured in this way because I think this captures emotionally the sense of how we treasure our teachers. They are a treasure for us. That just seemed to make more sense than Precious Teacher, which works, but doesn’t work the same way. Maybe it’s the alliteration that makes it better.
Student: More accurate.
Student: More accurate.
Ken: Yeah, I think so. In most translations, you’re going to see the Tibetan phrase byin gyis rlobs (pron. jin gyi lop ) translated as, Give me the blessing. Well, ethnologically it’s wrong. The word bless is from an old English word bledsian, which is derived from, to sprinkle blood on, to make a sacrifice. And it has come to mean, to make something holy.
The Tibetan phrase itself, byin, is the idea of “being given,” and rlobs is like a wave. When you give something, there’s an energy in that. So, this is like praying for a wave of energy. And we’ve all experienced that, so that’s why I’ve chosen:
Give me the energy to let self-fixation go.
In older translations that I did, what’s very common is the use of the term ego-clinging, to let go of ego-clinging. I’ve moved away from that because ego is a very precise term in psychology. It means the opposite—it has nothing to do with what ego has come to mean popularly and in Buddhist circles. It’s much more about self-fixation. I find that we fixate on an idea that I am some thing. And that’s what you’re praying to let go.
Give me the energy to be free of need.
Interestingly enough, in several translations, this is translated—I’m not quite sure how they got there—as to know that samsara is futile. That’s not what the Tibetan says at all. We have this idea that we need something from outside. And so we’re always looking outside. But when we’re always looking outside we’re simply reinforcing the dualistic framework through which we interpret experience: “I need something out there.” One way of moving away from that dualism is you pray for the energy to be free of need. And there’s a transformative quality there which creates the conditions in which you can perhaps begin to rest in just what you are.
Give me energy to let ordinary thinking stop.
The actual Tibetan is chos min (pron. chö min), which means non-dharma, and I remember a conversation I had with Trungpa Rinpoche in the 70s when I was still not terribly fluent in Tibetan. And I said, “What is the Tibetan for ’cutting through spiritual materialism?’” It was [the title of] one of Trungpa’s books. “Oh,” he said. “Chos min gcod pa (pron. chö min chö pa).” “What?” “Chos min gcod pa, if you translate it literally, means cut non-dharma. So spiritual materialism is what is not dharma.” Well, that makes sense. This is an example of Trungpa’s wonderfully poetic way of doing things.
Ordinary thinking is the kind of thinking that takes us into distraction, a duller state of mind. You notice that this isn’t about stopping thoughts—it’s about stopping thinking. There’s a big difference there.
Give me the energy to know mind has no beginning.
In the usual translation, mind is unborn, which is fine. But somehow I wanted to try this translation. No beginning is like whoa!
Give me the energy to let confusion subside on its own.
This is a key element. When things are experienced completely, they release into awareness and become what they originally were, which is the energy of awareness. And it’s our reluctance to experience things when they arise that prevents that process from taking place. So, you’re really praying for the ability to be able to experience everything, because then all your confusion would just release. It’s actually very simple—it’s just a little difficult.
Give me energy to know that experience is pure being.
I took a little bit of a leap with the Tibetan here. Everything that appears in experience, that’s what the literal Tibetan is. And pure being—I cheated here. I’m being honest with you.
The word is dharmakaya in Tibetan and I usually translate dharmakaya as the dimension of what is, but that just didn’t fit here. But dharmakaya is synonymous with dharmata, which I translate as pure being. So I did that. It doesn’t change anything in terms of meaning. But it’s not an absolutely literal translation. Again, this is taking the previous idea where you have the capacity to experience things so that they can just return to what they are. The next step from that is when things arise you already know what they are. That is, you know experience as pure being as it arises. Then there’s nothing to release. It just is.
So, you can use this prayer if you wish. Or some of you may have verses or phrases you’re already familiar with. The purpose of using a prayer is simply to give an expression to the feeling of devotion and faith in any of the three ways that I’ve described it. Your actual practice—once you let your mind settle—is to take teacher as symbol of what is, dharmakaya, however you want to think of it, in whatever form teacher takes for you, and then let yourself feel the three faiths. Whether you start with clear appreciation, with longing, or confidence—this I leave entirely up to you. But the practice is to feel those three faiths, begin to feel them in you. I want you to work with all three, but each of you will find your own path. I’ve gone quite a bit over, so we’ll just take a few minutes for questions. Susan?
Susan: I think what might be confusing me is I’m used to instructions where you have to do it as an object of meditation. This seems like it’s more of a mahamudra practice.
Ken: Well, you can take a symbol for the teacher, like Milarepa or whomever. You have your own longings, you have your own appreciation, you have your own confidence. Just feel it, and let yourself feel it more and more deeply. That’s the practice. When you get distracted, you come back. And if you get really distracted, then you may find saying the prayer over and over again helps you to stay in that.
Susan: Usually I see some thought processes coming up where I don’t know which faith I am…
Ken: That’s right. So just pick one and do it. And then you may find, okay, that’s fine, and then you pick another and do it. But don’t be moving them every minute or two. When I say pick one, do it for at least half of one of our half-hour periods, ten or fifteen minutes, if not for the whole period. Just keep coming back and doing it so it really deepens. And you’re going to hit some material inside. Other questions?
Student: Do we have to use the same teacher for each practice; do we have to stick with one?
Ken: I think for the purposes of this retreat, pick one and stay with it. The reason I say that is if you move around a bit it, it allows things to slip through the cracks. If you stay with one, then things are going to come up in reference to that with a consistency which will allow you to work with it. Okay. Any other questions? Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Of the ideas that we’ve studied, the symbol of the teacher as the embodiment of these faiths…
Ken: Not as an embodiment of the faith. As an embodiment of presence, with respect to which these faiths arise in you. It’s your working contact with presence.
Student: How do you keep from experiencing the duality while longing for something?
Ken: It’s like falling in love. You let that longing penetrate you so completely that all sense of separation dissolves. That’s the fruition of blind faith. That is the actual form of practice in the Christian tradition. It’s what the whole love of God is about. You use the love of God to dissolve the separation with God. And you also find Rumi talks about this all the time. I didn’t bring Rumi with me.
Okay. It’s five to eleven. Let’s take ten minutes and then we’ll adjust the periods from there.