I’d like to take up any questions for a few moments. You have some notes?
Student: A small question, it’s not actually a practice question, but in the devotional prayer on page 15. [Far-reaching Cry to the Guru Prayer] The second verse from the bottom, it says, When I practice I feel sluggish and sleepy. That I understand. And then the next sentence is, When I don’t practice, my senses are clear and sharp. And I was just wondering about that. Because from personal experience, when I don’t practice, it’s more like I’m coming off a two-day cocaine bender. [Laughter] Bet you know what that’s like. [Laughter] I was just wondering whether you could comment, ’cause it’s a little confusing for me.
Ken: Well, individual experience varies, of course, but many times when we sit down to practice, all those parts of us that don’t want to be there come up in different ways. And one of the ways they come up is you can’t focus or you know you’re just doing it half-heartedly, going through the motions. You aren’t really clear and awake. As soon as you stop, you know, yeah—feel awake and alive—and you never experienced that?
Ken: Anybody here experience that? [Laughter]
Student: Can you explain what it means to magnetize a little more clearly. I don’t understand that.
Ken: You’re kidding. What was the last play you produced?
Student: It was a play a couple of weeks ago.
Ken: Yeah, okay. Any of the actors ever step out of line?
Student: Do you mean during the performance?
Ken: You tried talking to them, and it didn’t do any good? You tried cajoling or bribing them? Did you get them to do what you wanted?
Ken: How’d you do it?
Ken: A little more than insistence, wasn’t it?
Student: Yeah, okay.
Ken: That’s magnetizing.
Student: I took refuge in mind itself.mind itself, is that citta?
Ken: Actually it would be cittata.
Student: Which means?
Ken: cittata. Well—the mind itself, sems nyid There are different ways of approaching this. But, it’s the is-ness of mind.
Student: By mind, that means mind and heart?
Ken: Yeah, in Buddhism, mind is used in different ways. Citta, in Tibetan sems, it’s used in different ways. But in this context, it’s used for all mental and emotional activity. So it’s all of that stuff.
Student: Including perceptions?
Ken: Yeah, yeah, everything. And Guenther argued—reasonably—that mind in this context could be translated as experience. Or experiencing. Okay, what is the is-ness of experience?
Student: It’s how you experience it, or what it’s doing to you.
Ken: Yes. What is that?
Student: Pure being?
Ken: Empty, luminous pure being.
Ken: Now, that’s the ultimate refuge.
Student: The what?
Ken: The ultimate refuge. If you put it in terms of the three marks of existence, there is nothing that changes, because there is nothing there, it’s empty. Suffering doesn’t arise, because there’s no reaction and there’s no sense of being a thing. You with me? Okay. Other questions? Kate.
Kate: The Short Vajradhara Prayer. As always, my literal mind doesn’t get this. To this meditator who does not yearn for comfort and wealth, And has severed ties to this life, well, if this meditatoris referring to me—I do yearn for comfort in life, still.
Ken: I’m sorry to hear that. [Laughter]
Kate: I know, me too. And then it says, Give me the energy to stop longing for money and prestige. And it sort of presupposes that they are figuring that you already do that. I just don’t get why that it says there that you don’t yearn, and then, give me the energy to stop yearning.
Ken: Okay. So, you start practice, and you say, “Oh, it’s just about being present. Getting rich, getting famous—ah, that doesn’t mean anything, just work at being present”. You sever it, you know, you cut through it, right? How long does that last?
Student: Not too long. So, you just keep doing it, you mean? Oh, okay.
Ken: They’re very realistic here. [Laughs]
Student: So it’s about the going back and forth.
Ken: Yeah. “I don’t yearn for comfort and wealth. I severed the ties to this life.” But it keeps coming back doesn’t it? So, give me the energy to stop longing. This is the direction I am going, but the claws keep coming out and keep grabbing. And you can be grabbed in many, many different ways.
There are many of my colleagues and other teachers that I know of, they’ve been seduced in various ways. And, you know, The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. It’s true.
Student: The price of freedom is eternal…?
Ken: Vigilance. I think it was Roosevelt said that?
Student: Thoreau? Or Emerson?
Ken: I don’t think Emerson would have got that far.
Student: Wordsworth. [Laughter]
Ken: No, I think it was one of the presidents.
Ken: No it was before Kennedy, definitely. He may have quoted it…
[ Discussion on the origin of the quote.]
Ken: One of the impressions that you get from most Buddhist traditions—but particularly the Tibetan, I think, more so than the others—is that you get to a point where things just take care of themselves. I have not seen any evidence for that. Jamgön Kongtrül, author of this long prayer, quite an extraordinary person, and his autobiography has been translated into English, you can get it. And it’s a typical Tibetan autobiography, with long lists of empowerments and teachers, and ceremonies that he did and things like that.
But, interspersed in all of this stuff, you get a feeling for the person. I think that he lived to 89 or so. He was born in the beginning of the nineteenth century, I think it might be 1812. Died at the end of the century. And very shortly before his death, he says, “I am quite concerned about dying now.”
And don’t forget, this is one of the great lamas of the nineteenth century. [Ken paraphrases.] “My mind is very clouded and confused. A couple of years ago, my mind was really clear, and if I had died then, I think I would have been okay. But I’m really not sure what’s going to happen now.’
I read this in retreat, and it was like, [Ken makes a facial expression of shock]
Student: Was it discouraging?
Ken: Well, yes and no. It shattered the illusion for me. And for this I’m quite grateful. And you can say this was discouraging if you wish. You don’t get to a point where everything is hunky-dory? And on the other hand, I was left with the appreciation—it doesn’t matter how far you get, or what you get to—you still have to meet the next experience. And Uchiyama, in Refining your Life, makes the same point in a very, very different way.
He describes this experience he had when a cut on his foot became infected, and he got blood poisoning. And he was in excruciating pain and horrible fever. And unable to go to a doctor, because he was very unusual as a Japanese monk, he actually earned his living from begging, in the 1950’s, which hadn’t been done for about a century. He took dharma somewhat seriously.
He couldn’t possibly go to the doctor, because he had no money. A woman who lived in the neighborhood eventually gave him some licorice bulbs, which he packed around the cut in his foot, and it drew the poison out. So he got better.
But then he writes, ”I would only be fooling myself if I thought that getting through that experience would be any help if I were to encounter a similar intensity of pain and suffering again.“
You can hear things like this, and you can go, ”Well, what are we doing all this for! It doesn’t help!“ Well, it does, but not in the ways that we usually hope it will. You know what I mean? I’ll just speak for me. I don’t know about any of you—I have my suspicions. There is always a secret part of us that goes you know, ”If I do this, everything is going to turn out okay. Life will go well, I’ll be happy. I won’t have any more problems.“ You know, this part of us; I think that all of us is always hoping for that.
And then we find ourselves in some kind of crisis or really unpleasant situation. Maybe our spouse quite unexpectedly breaks up with us, or someone close to us is dying very painfully. Or we get very ill—I mean these things happen. And everything is up. You know, all our hopes and our disappointments and our fears, it’s all there. But we’ve trained, and because we’ve trained, we’ve come to some kind of understanding. While it’s very, very vivid, something in us knows that the only thing to do here is experience it. And so we do. We don’t fight experience. We may not enjoy it, but we don’t fight it. It’s there.
Whether we’re insane, or depressed, or frightened, those are the easier ones to work with. When we’re being admired, loved, center of attention, those are the more difficult ones to work with. But it’s all just an experience. And we still have to do things: take care of this person who’s ill; work through the challenges of the situation in which we’re terrified; put our life back together when our spouse leaves us or child dies, or something like that. We still have to do. But there’s a knowing, I think, in which we know that it’s okay, whatever it is, it’s okay. It’s just there. Okay.
Student: Yes, sort of along those lines, I was wondering if you would give a little bit more commentary on the points raised in the first part of Tsulak Trengwa’s prayer How I Live The Practice. Specifically, how one comes to see reactivity as awareness mind?
Ken: That’s the easy part. [Laughter]
Student: That’s the easy part?
Student: What’s the hard part?
Ken: Well, it may be just me.
Student: And also, of these practices you’ve given us, what’s the best one to do?
Ken: Yeah, I am going to talk about that today, this afternoon.
Student: Before that, before you do that, based on what you said, did you make it sound cleaner than it really is? In that, if we have an effective practice, we perhaps go less insane than the person who doesn’t? Or go insane for a shorter period of time? Or?
Ken: That’s about right. [Laughter]
Student: Is that what he said? I didn’t hear that.
Student: Ken, that’s not true! [Laughter]
Student: Ken, that’s not accurate.
Ken: Okay. What do you have to say?
Student: Well, I think that you could go just as insane, but you would be more aware. [Laughter] I mean, I’m entirely serious. The entire Vajradhara prayer suggests that, for example. That at the same time that you know that you aren’t performing the practice, you are aware of what your yearning is.
Ken: And what is the consequence of your being aware that you’re completely insane?
Student: Then there isn’t harm that comes from the activity.
Ken: Yeah, and I think that’s what April was pointing to.
Student: But I don’t think that you can think that it’s not going to happen that hard to you. I think that’s a mistake.
Ken: I agree with that, yeah.
Student: Certainly, that was the mistake I made. [Laughter]
Ken: Okay, Chris.
Chris: You just said the same thing.
Ken: Yeah. I mean, it all comes up, but there’s that knowing there. And…
Student: But you think that knowing is going to protect you.
Ken: No, no it doesn’t.
Student: It helps with the despair, I think. It helps avoid—
Ken: This is what I meant earlier, when I said—
Student: Yes. [Laughter]
Student: No, because, you see, when you experience despair, you have to experience fully. You don’t need any rationalization and make it less or better, right?
Ken: Has anybody got a coin here? [Laughter] You know, because you are talking about heads and tails. But you’re actually talking about the same coin. Okay? Josephine and Chris are looking at it from the sides, and saying, ”It’s heads.“ And April is going, ”NO, it’s TAILS!“
Student: How can it be helpful to have a distinction?
Ken: Well, you have your experience, don’t you? Right, that’s it. You have your experience. This is what makes different schools of Buddhism. [Laughter]
Student: When you’re in the sangha as well? I mean, when you are in that place, even if people that you practice with aren’t right there with you, you have that energy, I think, that assists you when you are in that place.
Ken: One can draw on that. But the energy, ultimately is your own load. Deborah?
Deborah: It occurs to me that rather than looking at it as a shorter period of grieving or less intense grieving or less despair, you might look at it as not generating as much karma on the activity later on because it’s experienced fully in the moment.
Ken: This is what Josephine was saying. That’s right.
Student: It also makes it more interesting. [Laughter]
Ken: Yes, I have said that to a few students—
Student: And they hit you!
Ken: …but only when there are no sharp objects in the room. [Laughter]
Student: The other thing is it makes it much faster.
Ken: Not always. And the reason—
Ken: In the sense that because you’re not resisting experience, things can unfold. But there isn’t anything intrinsic in that which means it’s going to take place more quickly. There are things that just take whatever time it is to unfold. And being enlightened doesn’t necessarily speed that process up. Being awake in experience doesn’t necessarily speed that process up. So I understand where Chris and Josephine are coming from because on one hand, all it does is reduce reactivity. It can be just as intense and insane. On the other hand, because you aren’t resisting experience, then one may not be prolonging the process. And that gives the sense that it moves faster. So, as I say: heads and tails, we are talking about the same coin.
Student: I would never underestimate the resistance.
Ken: Very wise point! Yes.
Now, The eight concerns dissolved like a rainbow, The poisons of reactive emotions…, which line did you want there? [How I Live the Practice]
Student: Yeah those sort of…first lines:
With everything that arises through the gates of the six sensory consciousnesses
I know that everything, good and bad, is a friend of the natural.
The eight concerns dissolved like a rainbow,
The poisons of reactive emotions became a friend, and
Thinking that attached to reactive emotions released itself into its own nature.
Ken: Well, let’s take desire. Okay?
Pick someone or something that elicits desire in you. And for the purposes of this exercise, the stronger the better. And it can be any form of desire: desire for praise, desire for recognition, sexual desire, desire for affection, desire for a particular possession, object. Think of the object, and let your desire come up. Don’t put any restrictions on it. Really feel it.
Now, move into the experience of desire itself. Don’t protect yourself from it in any way whatsoever.
How does it arise in your body?
In addition to the desire, what are all the emotions connected with it? Longing, resentment, all kinds of things. Unworthiness, intimidation, entitlement, all of it. And all of the stories in your head, about this person or object that you desire. And about desire itself. So it’s all there. And take pleasure in feeling this intensity of desire. What do you experience?
Okay. Now, look at the object again. What do you feel with the object?
Student: It’s not there.
Ken: Bring the object to mind. Look at it. What do you feel with the object?
Ken: Anybody else?
Student: Warmth and compassion.
Student: There’s a connection.
Ken: Yeah. But it’s not a connection based on trying to own the desire.
Student: No, no.
Ken: That’s the transfer.
Ken: It’s a bit more than equanimity. Appreciation, you know everything about it now, you can see it actually more clearly. Right? That’s discriminating pristine awareness.
Student: Fire element.
Ken: The transforming fire. That’s what it means when it says, The poisons of reactive emotions become a friend. By experiencing it completely, then that kind of transformation takes place with every reactive emotion. Or every emotional reaction. I should change that.
Now, The eight concerns dissolved like a rainbow. Well, the eight concerns: happiness, unhappiness, gain, loss, fame, obscurity, respect, and disdain. Oh, we will do this a different way.
Become your yidam. Whether it’s the embodiment of awakened compassion, awakened anger, but you are totally awake in this quality. You are this quality, totally awake. Awakened pride, total equanimity. Awakened jealousy, and you see exactly what needs to be done and you just do it. Okay. In that, how concerned are you with happiness and unhappiness?
Student: Not really.
Ken: But they arise, don’t they? Like the mist in the morning, or rain.
Gain and loss. You inherit a million dollars, and the tax man taketh away. [Laughter]
Ken: All of it. What is it to you, when you are awake and present as the yidam? Well, we have this illusion, you know, that we own a house, or a car, or something. It’s not true. All we are doing is we’re paying somebody somewhere, something, for the use of it, for a period of time. Even our closest relationships are just experiences. They come and they go.
Fame, obscurity. What are these to you as the yidam? What they are, actually, are other peoples’ ideas about you. Not about you at all. They’re other peoples’ ideas about you.
Respect and disdain.
Student: Same thing.
Ken: Same thing. And so, with that knowing, you can meet what arises in experience, not ignoring these things, because they arise as just part of the experience, but they aren’t any hooks any more. You don’t try to avoid one and lunge after the other. Okay? Does that give you a rough idea of this?
Student: Then the transforming quality and the energy of those things, becomes pristine awareness?
Ken: We never transform anything.
Student: I am not saying we do.
Ken: Yeah, I know, but I’m playing safe here.
Ken: We don’t transform anything. When we experience things as they are, a transformation takes place. But we don’t transform anything.
Student: But this does happen.
Ken: But it happens. And all of you have experienced it.
Okay. Well, I was going to talk about something else this morning, but this is good. So I’m going to—
Student: Ken, there was a question. Is that all right?
Student: I’m struck by the similarity between what we’re working on here and taking and sending. And what you just said reminds me again. Partly, they’re both tools that we can learn to apply to reactions that we notice coming up…
Student: Do you have anything more to say about the similarities?
Ken: Well, as Kongtrül says at the beginning of The Great Path of Awakening, Taking and sending has its feet firmly in the Sutrayana, but partakes of the Vajrayana. And it’s a wonderful bridge action. In essence, all practice of attention transforms experience—Theravadan, Mahayana, and Vajrayana. And it doesn’t really matter which you practice, when you know how to practice.
I had a rather dismaying conversation with an old friend, who has practiced many, many years in the Theravadan tradition. He is very bright, very knowledgeable, and for the last few years he has been doing a lot of work in dzogchen. And he says that he is just stunned at the differences between these two approaches. And he said, ”They’re totally different.“ And I sort of go, ”That’s very interesting, the more I practice, the more similar they seem to me.“ He said, ”No.“ ”What do you see as the differences?“ And he says, ”Well, the spiritual ideal: one is this monk withdrawn from the world, the other is this mahasiddha who engages all experience, everything!“ So I didn’t push it any further. Don’t be fooled by the forms.
Shantideva, the author of the Bodhicaryavatara, was a monk in a monastery and everybody thought that he was a bit dim because he just showed up for meals and ceremonies, you know, regular prayer services in the temple; nobody saw him doing much study or anything like that. He didn’t seem to have much to say about anything. And in this monastery there is an annual festival which is sponsored by the major patron of the monastery, one of the local kings. And it was the custom that one of the monks delivered a discourse. So the monks of the monastery decided to have some fun. And they thought that they’d have Shantideva deliver the discourse, being kind of a dim idiot. It made for an entertaining time to see what he came up with.
So they approached him and said, ”Would you be open to this?“ And he said, ”Okay.“ So they put him up on a big throne, and things like that, and all the monks and all the patrons, everybody is gathered around, and all the monks are going [whispers] ”This should be good!“ And Shantideva just sat and looked at everybody and said, ”Would you like to hear a discourse on some traditional text, or would you like to hear something new?“ And there were smirks, and sniggers, and things like that. ”Oh, why don’t you say something new?“ Heh-heh. [Laughter] And he started into the Bodhicaryavatara.
Student: He started into what?
Ken: The Bodhicaryavatara, Entering the Way of the Bodhisattva, this great epic poem about bodhicitta.
Student: Didn’t he rise off the ground?
Ken: Yes, in the tenth chapter, he rises up into the air and disappears. [Laughter]
Student: That’s good.
Student: That’s a good ending.
Student: Special effects.
Ken: He knew how to make an exit! [More laughter]
And this is the internal work. It’s not about our performance. It’s internal work. And this is one of the things that I wanted to talk about this morning. All of you have been exposed to, or practiced actually, a number of different practices. And in our time here together, I’ve introduced you to—the best I can—to the experience of guru practice, the experience of yidam practice, and the experience of the protector, protectors and dakinis. Now all of you—most of you—already, even with the short exposure, feel some connection in some areas and realize that there isn’t a connection in other areas. And that’s how it is. The reason there are a multiplicity of practices is because there are a multiplicity of emotional reactions, and combinations thereof. And certain approaches untie knots for one person, and other approaches untie knots for another.
In the second three-year retreat—a retreat director, Lama Tenpa, who I’ve spoken about before—when we got to the section on the four immeasurables and taking and sending, he told everybody to do another practice. It’s the special shamatha/insight, Rinpoche taught. I felt terribly sad about this. Really sad, because the practice of the four immeasurables, and taking and sending, had been a really very important part of my experience in the first three-year retreat. It made a very deep difference in me. And like a true bodhisattva, I took Lama Tenpa to task on this, and I got quite angry with him. And said, ”You cheated these people out of this experience. It’s a good practice, but they really needed this!“ I got quite worked up about it.
And eventually he just looked at me and said, ”Well, those practices worked for you, Ken. They never worked for me.“ And it’s true, he didn’t do those at all. His primary practice was mahamudra. And that’s why he was teaching and helping people do this. Because he wanted to get into the direct experience of mind. Because that’s what he thought helps people. So there are these differences.
It’s one of the reasons why I don’t feel at all comfortable with trying to give you all the same Vajrayana practice, and do it all together. There’s just too much individual variation at this level of practice.
So in the time we have—and also after the retreat—but right now, what I want you to do is to focus on the guru practice, or the yidam practice which speaks to you most powerfully. Within the framework of guru practice, there is the faith of confidence, the faith of longing, and the faith of clear, open appreciation. These are very intertwined, but in my conversations with you, I also know that some of you feel more resonance with one expression of faith than another, in many cases. And so you mine it. In the faith of longing, you follow the longing. You don’t try to put an end to it. You follow it, and let it take you deep and deep and deep into your own heart. Because as it takes you deep into your own heart, it takes you deep into the heart of the teacher and the guru. Takes you deep into the heart of buddha.
Clear, open appreciation: you fall. And you fall, and you fall, and you fall. The confidence: there is always that next step, and then the next one. And in those practices, you can’t help but engage your emotional material. It’s there. It rises in many, many different ways. In clear, open appreciation, it’s almost like discovering depths of feeling of an openness and an absence of self you didn’t know was possible. In longing, you didn’t know that you could feel anything, any longing, that deeply. And by experiencing this completely, the energy of all of that emotion is transformed into attention of open awareness. And that’s one of the essential methods of the Vajrayana.
In the Therevadan tradition, one uses loving kindness to transform experience into attention and power attention. In the Mahayana path, you use compassion. That’s what bodhicitta is about. In Vajrayana: it’s faith and devotion. If, as is the case for some of you, the resonance is more with the yidam, then you be the yidam one hundred percent. Let him or her take you over completely. If you’re working with a trait in you, as some people are, you experience that trait with all the stuff connected with it. If it’s a feeling of superiority, you don’t hold back. You’re the ruler of the whole universe. Everybody, without any exception, bows down to you. And you go into that completely.
If you are using an ideal, like compassion, you are compassion. Every cell of your body, every corpuscle in your blood, every beat of your heart, every breath you take, every morsel you eat, is the expression of compassion.
And if you take a reactive emotion—anger, jealousy—then you are that, through and through. Greed, you take everything in the world. Everything. Everything is yours; it’s all yours. And you relate to the world from that perspective. See what happens.
So that’s how I want you to work and discuss, of course, any of the questions or experiences which you have in the interviews. If you run into something that is intractable, invoke the protectors as you wish. But you just do that occasionally. Most of you have experience of that now, so you don’t need to do it a lot.
I also want to say a few words about afternoon practice. I probably should have been a bit more precise. When I said do nothing, I didn’t mean, ”Do nothing.“ I meant, ”Do nothing.“ Is that clear? [Laughs] Longchenpa, lived in the thirteenth, fourteenth century, spent twelve years in a cave, not too far from Lhasa. He wrote some of the Seven Treasuries while there. But most of the time, he did nothing.
Now, I want you to take this in. In the afternoon period, you go and sit somewhere. And do nothing. And in a relatively short time, you may find some voices inside you saying, ”This isn’t very productive. What’s the point of this? I should be working at something. This isn’t helpful.“ Any of you know these voices?
Well, you’ve been sitting there for five minutes. How shrill will the voices become if you sat there for the whole day, a week, a month, or twelve years?
Student: Wouldn’t they get used to it? [Laughter]
Ken: Wouldn’t you get used to it? I don’t know whether you would or not. Most people don’t. The voices eventually take over, and they get up and start doing something. That’s been the historical fact. Those individuals who actually can let those voices talk, scream, rage, and continue to do nothing, be no one, not try to get any emotional need met, not be the least concerned with their survival, they are actually pretty rare individuals.
So, that’s what I want you to do in the afternoon. Deborah.
Deborah: Do you consider that noticing sounds, smells, feelings, sights, is doing something?
Ken: As long as you don’t do anything with them.
Student: I have a similar question…
Ken: Claudia first, then…
Claudia: This is a practice question…
Claudia: …related to protectors.
Claudia: It’s my experience that not only do we not control what or how the work is done. But when it is done. And so, especially in this kind of environment, that work continues whether we want it to or not. I wondered if you could comment on that.
Ken: Yes. [Long pause. Laughter] Don’t forget, when everything falls apart inside you, and you are experiencing total chaos and confusion, and you are convinced that you cannot endure one more second of this, you are experiencing exactly what you came here to do. So be grateful. [Laughs] And give yourself a pat on the back. Your efforts have been effective. Congratulations. Doesn’t feel like it at the time, I know. But your purpose in coming here was to be awake, was to wake up, right? What prevents us from being awake? The habituated patterns that have formed around experiences that we have not been able to experience in attention. When all of that’s happening, you are experiencing one of those. And that’s what you came here to do.
Ken: Last one. Carolyn.
Carolyn: Because I found working with the protector quite intense…what happened to me was all of the holdouts—”I don’t want practice to change”—they became vividly present in the fear…
Ken: All of the holdouts?
Carolyn: Mmm-hmm. I want to understand if offering all the richness in the world can be done not like the verbal offering, but by knowing that everything that I attach to is what I think is the richness of the world. And that’s there.
Ken: Say that again, please.
Carolyn: Everything I want, everything I hold on to, everything that I get attached to, I believe, I think of as the richness of the world. So in being aware that that is true, am I making that offering to the protector? In going to my fears, my deepest fears, is that what I don’t want to lose, and therefore want to protect from the practice, protect from changing, am I in the charnel grounds?
Ken: You have these yearnings. Experience them completely. You have these fears; experience them completely. Don’t form any ideas about what you may or may not be doing. Just do it.
Okay. We will close here. Interesting night!