Guru, Deity, Protector
Teachings | Basics, Training
Contemporary perspective on the three pillars of vajrayana practice.

Opening talk of retreat, part 1 – GDP1Download

Retreat structure and intention, comments on the Vajrayana path – how it is different and the same, how it is based on compassion and emptiness, which naturally evolve into mindfulness and presence.

» Want to read the transcript or listen to specific sections of this teaching? CLICK HERE

Section 1

Last year, many of you were here, and we spent a few days here, working with a Vajrayana method, creation stage practice, in the context of Avalokiteshvara, Chenrezig, this thangka or painting, that John so kindly brought for us. The embodiment of awakened compassion. And a few people from that retreat, this practice really clicked with them. They made that part of their practice, and that’s been a significant method of opening and deepening their practice. And that’s how I left it. It was a personal choice, whether you use that practice or not.

In this retreat, my intention is to introduce you to three key principles of Vajrayana. That’s the title of the retreat: Guru, Deity, and Protector. There are practices associated with each of these categories, I suppose. And the practices serve specific intentions. As I’ve made clear in other contexts, it’s very important to understand the intention of a practice.

So the structure for the next few days is, tomorrow is going to be kind of a general introduction. And then on Friday, it will be about guru; on Saturday, about deity or yidams, some of you may know it. And Sunday, about protector.

Section 2

Some of you have been exposed or trained in practices of these yanas, previously. You may find that some of the perspectives that I’m going to offer challenge, maybe even contradict, some of the conceptions you’ve already had. And that should make an interesting time for both of us. Others, you may have just heard about this stuff and have various kinds of ideas. For many of you who have studied with me, you haven’t been exposed to much of this stuff. And so you may find it a bit strange, a very different way of thinking, and it’s quite possible that it will bring up, you know, the usual discomforts, and questions, and hesitations and turmoil. So, my suggestion is that you don’t try to understand this, at this point. Don’t try to figure it out.

If we use an analogy of eating. I just have a nice memory of Rinpoche, when he first came to Bhutan, they had never encountered oranges. And when they got to Bhutan, and given oranges, “What do you do with this?” And it’s this way with certain tropical fruits, you know, you don’t know how to eat them. There’s a very interesting completion of this story. Because this is a big thing! You remember when Rinpoche told me, “We didn’t know what to do with these. It’s only when somebody showed us, you know, peel it, and then eat what’s inside. Oh, okay. Maybe this is okay to eat after all.”

Years and years later, this would be sometime in the 1980s. So this is like 25, maybe 30 years later, this meeting between Seung Sahn Sunim and Kalu Rinpoche was set up in Boston, where these two masters of their respective traditions were going to talk—dharma debate—you know, something like this. And Seung Sahn Sunim whips out an orange and says, “What is this?” And the whole thing just broke down terribly, because after about ten minutes of discussion between Rinpoche and his translator, the translator turned to Seung Sahn Sunim and the audience and said, “Rinpoche is very confused. Doesn’t he know what an orange is?” [Laughter]


So rather than trying to understand, I mean, if I give you an orange, and you have never seen an orange before, well, what is understanding an orange? “Well, okay, this is orange. Well, I wonder is this where the color comes from, or is this called an orange because the color came from…” You know, you get into these kinds of things, like thinking about it. And what does it mean to understand an orange? Do you have to understand the vine, and the sections, and things like that. I mean that’s not what understanding an orange means. It means peeling it and eating it: that’s understanding an orange.

So, over the next few days, even though there may be a lot of ideas kicked up, don’t worry about understanding them. What I want you to do is to make an effort in the practice of just experiencing this. Tasting it, getting the flavor, what does it feel like. Keep an open mind, to the extent that you can. Just do the practices. See how it works or doesn’t work. And that’s what I want you to bring up in the interviews and in our discussions together here.

Section 4

Vajrayana, in some ways, is a very special path. In other ways, there’s nothing that much special about it, and in still other ways, it’s just kind of weird. I want to say a bit about all three of those.

Spiritual traditions, when they’re healthy and alive, are not static. And they change, they evolve, they develop. And experience is added on to experience. In martial arts, for instance, people say, “Well these are the really ancient Chinese martial arts.” The really ancient ones aren’t actually as good as the stuff that’s actually evolved. Because somebody came up—“Now, this is a good move”—but then somebody developed a counter to it. So the original guy, or maybe his son, or something like that—instead of this—and worked out a more refined way, which took into account, that counter.

There’s constant evolution, and then there are easier ways of doing things, and easier ways of training, and more effective ways. So it’s not necessarily the case, in fact it’s relatively rarely the case, that the old ancient way is necessarily the best. In these things, there’s the discovery, and really quite extraordinary individuals who have discovered some of these principles. There must have been amazing people—whatever discipline, whether they talk about martial arts, talk about spiritual practice, talk about a lot of other disciplines. But there is a whole process of refinement and evolution that takes place. And in the context of Buddhism, this process of evolution is very, very evident.

Section 5

You start off with the original teachings—the four noble truths, three marks of existence—and as people acquired more and more experience with this, found different ways of formulating, different ways of practicing, and so you get up to around the beginning of the Common Era—Nagarjuna is a key figure here—where he takes this idea of mindful attention, and begins to apply it to every aspect of experience, very deeply. And one of the things that evolved out of that was the whole notion of emptiness—a tradition that became known as the transmission or the lineage of the Profound View.

Meanwhile other people said, “Okay, we can sit here in the forest and in the jungle, and practice this stuff, and get really, you know, really present.” It gets a little tricky when you are talking with people, particularly when they would have lay disciples, and they would say, “I’ve got this big trade deal going down, and it’s really difficult to stay present in the middle of these negotiations. I am trying to sort out some problems in my kingdom here, how do I do this?”

So you had another whole system that developed: how do you actually live in activity and do this—here, and here, and here—all these different activities. And that gave rise to another whole tradition called the tradition of Pervasive Action, or Great Action. And these became two principal Mahayana traditions, because they were taking things to a new level.

Section 6

Somewhere along the line, mainly because as things get developed, what seems to happen in spiritual traditions, is that the ideal of enlightenment, or awakening, or other religious traditions—God or Allah, or what have you—more and more stuff is heaped on them, more and more projection. You know, so wonderful, and so good, and so pure. You know, all of that stuff is really a kind of appreciation of how profound and how significant it is. But the effect is to make it more and more remote, more and more distant from actual human experience.

So what you have then is a whole bunch of efforts to cut through that projection—right here, right now. You get another whole process of evolution, it’s things like ordinary mind. What is enlightenment? Ordinary knowing. “Huh? And I thought it was something wonderful. It’s that?!” Or you get really weird expressions like the fourth time. What’s that? Or original purity. You know, there are all these things that come up.

But as this continues, we have this tendency, and it’s more and more remote, and so the actual possibility of being awake is relegated to three kalpas of unreckonable length. That’s how long it t took the individual who became Buddha to become Buddha. That’s a long time. And don’t forget, that the definition of one of these kalpas of unreckonable length is—imagine you had a pile of sesame seeds, which is a hundred miles long, and a hundred miles high, or something like that, and every century, a bird comes and takes one seed. [Laughter] When that pile is finished, that’s one kalpa. This is a long time! [Laughter]

So you have this whole movement, okay, how can we do this faster? And that’s where you had a whole other set of methods come in. We’re bigger, we’re meaner, we’re faster, we’re the best. This is all the kind of propaganda that comes up. Basically, what you have in Vajrayana is something really very, very ordinary. Ways of working very directly, very directly, with how the mind—and actually the mind and body—function.

Section 7

It doesn’t look like that from the outside. On the one hand, you have this whole business about devotion to the guru, which seems like a whole big deal. And on the second thing, you have these complex visualizations and practices based on yidams or deities, elaborate visualizations, symbology, and so forth. And then you have these—very disturbing, in a certain sense—practices of protectors. What are they? Everybody wants to know—what is a protector?

One of the things that I hope we can do over these days that we have together is to understand how these are working with very, very basic functions of the mind and opening ways to knowing that. And basically, as many of you will recall from the work that we did with Chenrezig last year, it’s actually very, very direct. That’s why the Vajrayana is regarded as a very direct method. It uses this symbology as a way of talking about these things, but they’re working very directly, with what we are, how we are.

Section 8

So, that’s one’s sense—it’s actually very ordinary. And it’s also weird. The original meaning for weird in old English is to transform.

Student: What is it?

Ken: To transform.

Student: To transform.

Ken: Yeah, so a weirding—Druid word—it is transforming things, changing things. There is just a vestige of that meaning left. And so all aspects of Vajrayana are aimed at transforming how you experience things. Historically—and I am speaking historically here, in an anthropological sense, not in terms of ordinary history—there are two methods of effecting transformation. One was sorcery, which transformed the phenomenal world, or the experience of the phenomenal world; and the second was internal—things like yoga, qigong, and so forth—which transformed energies in the body.

We also have ways—which go very, very far back in history—of relating to the world when the world was such a strange and unpredictable place for relatively early humans, that you just had to be prepared to do anything at anytime, if you were going to live. So, you might say the dark forces, and how do you work with the dark forces in the world and in yourself.

Those three things: transforming experience, transforming energies in the body, working with the dark forces—all of that—that’s the basis, that’s the material from where the creation phase, completion phase, and protector stuff comes from. Now, living in the postmodern society as we do, we are very, very far removed from that, which is why, when we come in connection with this stuff, it’s a bit weird, in both senses. It’s strange, it’s unfamiliar. And yet for many people it speaks to some deep roots inside.

Section 9

Because of the methodologies, or to put it in a different way, in another sense, Vajrayana is the maturation of practice. You find that unless there are impediments put in place, as there very, very often are by certain philosophical perspectives, you will find that when a person practices, the first thing they focus on is attention—just coming into attention. And that’s really what the earlier traditions of Buddhism were about—Theravadan.

But when you develop a certain level of attention, the way you experience things begins to shift, and it shifts in two ways. One is, because you understand the process of suffering as it arises in you very, very clearly, you realize it’s exactly the same in everybody else. So, compassion naturally arises. And many teachers who are deeply practiced, they can really express the feeling of greed, or pride, or all of these negative things, very clearly. Why? Because through the practice, they know them intimately.

Section 10

One of my students, when he was first introduced to the six realms, said, “Yeah, I can relate to the titan realm, and the hell realm; I’ve got a lot of anger, I’m competitive. But I don’t think I have much to do with the others.” I said, “Okay.” Six, eight months later, “Yeah, I can see I’ve got some preta stuff in me, too—hungry ghost—and a bit of animal, that’s about it.” A couple of years later, “They’re all there aren’t they!”

Because they’re all there. They are states that we move into, and so the deeper we move into our own experience, the more intimate our knowledge of the reactive emotions, kleshas, the process of karma, how actions actually evolve into experienced results, the wonderful dynamics of fixation on the self image—truly extraordinary. And the more intimately we know those in ourselves, the more clearly we see them in others. Because it’s no different. The form and content may be different, but the process is exactly the same. And so when we see somebody getting upset about something and getting upset with us, it doesn’t trigger anger because we know what’s going on. So we have this compassion arising.

Section 11

At the same time, as our capacity in attention develops, we find ourselves spending more and more time looking at absolutely nothing. And through this process, we begin to appreciate that there really is nothing there. And it’s okay. In fact, there being nothing there, is what makes room possible, which, when you first present that idea to people they go—huh?! It just doesn’t make any sense at all, but through this experience, maturation of this experience, we begin to see that.

The consequence of that, of looking at nothing, is that space opens up. I remember many years ago, I was talking to Jack Kornfield, and he said, “What would you say the principal difference is between Theravada and Mahayana?” I didn’t have a lot of acquaintance with Theravada at that stage—somewhat more now. I said, “Well, as far as I can tell it is the whole notion of space.” You know, emptiness is very much about space. And Jack said, “That’s very interesting. Ajahn Chah is the only one of my teachers that ever talked about space.” And if you read Ajahn Chah’s stuff, it’s virtually identical to a Tibetan teacher talking about mahamudra.

Section 12

There’s a maturation there. So there you have emptiness and compassion, which is the natural evolution of mindfulness. But now you have another step. There’s this whole phenomenal world. This world of experience. So the next step of evolution is actually living the ethic of compassion and emptiness in everything that you do. And becoming no one in the process. So the notion of withdrawing from the world to become something drops away completely, and it’s replaced by a sense of doing the practice, doing whatever you do in life. That finds expression (and I didn’t bring this with me, I only thought of it as I was talking here) to the body of, a group of individuals, The Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas, who were totally strange people. Thieves, cobblers, arrow smiths, which is equivalent to being an arms manufacturer, you understand—a gun-maker in today’s parlance—kings, courtesans, everybody that was part of the trip here. They practiced doing whatever their life was. One of them was a glutton. He had an eating disorder, okay? [Laughter] Put this into modern parlance. The instruction that he was given—(I really wish that I had brought this with me, it would have been useful. They still have the library here don’t they? See if they have The Eighty-Four Mahasiddhas.)—anyway, the instruction that he was given for his meditation practice: eat the world. That was his practice. Whenever he sat down to meditate, he just ate. And he was just chomping through the world. Now, you have to understand a practice like this. You don’t get to say, “I’ve had enough!” There isn’t any of that choice, and so he ate the world. And of course, eventually there wasn’t any world left, and then he woke up. Sounds very simple, doesn’t it? It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Section 13

So, Vajrayana represents a maturation of practice. It represents a maturation in the student, a maturation in the teacher, a maturation in the relationship between the two. And I’m going to talk more about that, the day after tomorrow. But, this is very important: Vajrayana isn’t for everybody. When Rinpoche talked about this, he would say, “Hinayana, that’s a Volkswagen. Mahayana, that’s an ocean liner. Vajrayana, that’s a rocket ship.”

When you hear this, everybody wants to take the rocket ship, right? You know, that’s fast, sexy, the whole bit. One forgets that the point of the exercise is to go from A to B. A Volkswagen can do the job just very nicely. Because of the nature of Vajrayana, and I think this is true for any form of spiritual practice—particularly true here—there is, for each of you, going to be a decision point, not necessarily this weekend; this is very much introductory, though I hope we can go fairly deep. But there is gonna be a decision point: is this a path or method that I want to use? There’s a lot that goes into that. The point of our time together is to get a feeling for all of that, so you actually know what it is, rather than having to stand on the outside, and say do I want to do this?

But as with most spiritual practices, traditions, or movements, once you decide, there isn’t really any going back.

» Close transcript

Opening talk of the retreat, part 2 – GDP1 Download

Retreat’s daily schedule and routine; subject matter for retreat (Buddhahood Without Meditation); sitting with questions rather than trying to answer them intellectually; the challenge of doing nothing; the importance of silence; resting & seeing.

» Want to read the transcript or listen to specific sections of this teaching? CLICK HERE

Section 1

And I think this is true of any form of spiritual practice—particularly true. There is for each of you going to be a decision point, not necessarily this weekend. This is very much introductory, though I hope we can go fairly deep. But there is going to be a decision point. Is this a path, or method that I want to use? There’s a lot that goes into that, and the point of our time together is to get a feeling for all of that so you actually know what it is rather than having to stand on the outside and say, “Do I want to do this?” But as with most spiritual practices and traditions, once you decide, there isn’t really any going back. Something changes and you can’t unchange it. So, it’s worth thinking about this quite carefully, weighing.

I want to emphasize, this is not the case of better or worse. That’s why I get rather tired with all the propaganda. The Theravadan tradition has produced extraordinary people very consistently over the last 2,500 years. Something works. And, actually some of them are quite amusing. You know now that they’ve been told about things like dzogchen, etc., etc., they are sort of going, “They seem to be making an awfully big deal about letting thoughts go in awareness.” And they’re absolutely right. They have their own path and it’s very effective. And the same is true of Mahayana—Chinese, Japanese traditions—which are classical Mahayana. They’ve had their share of very great teachers and masters. Think of people like Huineng, the Sixth Patriarch. It’s wonderful.

So, in making this decision, forget about, “Is this the best; is this the biggest, the meanest, the fastest, the sexiest?” and all that. Those are irrelevant considerations. The only relevant consideration is, Is this a form, a method, approach to practice which speaks to you in a way that you can’t ignore? So ultimately, is it a form of practice that is really suitable for you? That’s important.

I’m talking here very much out of my own experience. As some of you know I’ve had my share of obstacles and difficulties. Even though I was trained in a number of different techniques, because of certain physical problems, and practices which depended on being able to work with the body in a certain way—and there are Vajrayana practices of that kind—I can’t do them. I don’t have the body for it. And there are people who are able to do them very, very easily.

Section 2

What I found is something that Suzuki Roshi writes about, and I’ve talked to you more about it before. There’s a sutra in Theravadan tradition which describes four horses: the horse which gallops at the wish of the rider; the second horse gallops when he catches a glimpse of the whip out of the corner of his eye; the third horse gallops when he feels the pain of the whip on his body; the fourth horse doesn’t gallop until he feels the pain of the whip in the marrow of his bones. And as Suzuki Roshi points out, when we hear this we want to be that first horse. Can’t do that, then the second one. But then he points out, that for the practice of Zen, it doesn’t make any difference. In fact, the fourth horse is actually the best one, because when you really are struggling to use your practice in the depths of your confusion and reactivity, then it’s real. I’ve observed this. Many, many people I’ve met, who seem to have a much easier time with practice, and most of them are missing something.

So, don’t look for a form of practice which makes things easier. Actually you want to look for a form of practice, not necessarily which makes things harder—that’s not so productive—but brings you in touch with where you are most confused. It’s not the same thing. This is a form of practice that is suitable for you.

Section 3

As all of you know, I put some definite restrictions on who is eligible to come to this retreat—certain experience and practice, and also we know each other. Some of you I know better than others, but there’s been some interaction. Some of you may decide at the end of this, “Yeah, this works for me.” And then there’s a possibility of continuing to work and deepening, and going fully into the practices and so forth. And that’s going to lead to a certain kind of relationship.

There are others of you who say, “No, I don’t need to do this. What I’m doing is working just fine.” And that will be the right decision. And I really want to emphasize, one is not better than the other, despite all that you hear, or may hear. And I really want to emphasize that point. Because you won’t hear many other teachers say that. Right, Valerie? Yeah.

There are dangers here. There’s danger in all forms of spiritual practice. And the dangers come about in two ways. There may be more but for the purposes of our discussion I’m looking at two. One danger is working at a higher level of attention than you can sustain. This is why many of you recall one of my recommendations is that when you’re working with difficult or painful areas, you let it open to you, you don’t try to open it up. Many of you have heard me say that. The reason for that instruction is so that you aren’t working at a higher level of attention than you can sustain. You are working at the level of attention that you actually have, and things evolve. And they definitely do evolve and they deepen, but in a way in which you stay in balance—you and the whole world stays in balance. It’s very important. If you work at a higher level of attention than you can sustain, you’re living on borrowed energy. There’s an imbalance. And when there’s a consistent imbalance in your efforts, there will inevitably be an imbalance in the results. That is totally contrary to the intention.

Second danger. You’re working at something that simply doesn’t fit with you. And quite a few people who’ve come to see me over the last few years have been practicing one or more Vajrayana techniques, and I listen to them, and in some cases they simply don’t have the level of attention to be able to do it. They’re just swirling around in confusion and it’s not making anything better.

In other cases, it’s quite clear that Vajrayana practice just doesn’t sit with them. And I’ll say, “Just stop it.” They all get bent out of shape and worried about it, because of all of this big heavy propaganda aboutsamaya and commitment and so forth. But it’s absolutely the case. I mean, we get this same thing in other areas of practice. Some people take ordination as a monk or a nun and it really doesn’t fit them. It’s a long, long path of practice.

One woman I know, she was very sensible. She was quite serious about her practice in Buddhism. The bodhisattva vow just didn’t fit with her. Not at the time that I knew her anyway. She wouldn’t take it. She was very helpful and worked with people and helped people in many many ways. But there was something about that that really didn’t suit her.

So, what I’m encouraging you to do here is to weigh everything with your own experience. We are going to be talking about faith. We’re going to be talking about devotion, because these are very significant elements in Vajrayana. You can’t ignore them. You can try to, but it really doesn’t work. Devotion is not something that is appropriate or suitable for everyone.

So through these few days I hope you will get a flavor of what this is actually like. I’m going to do my best to convey that to you, both through our talks together but also through the practice. The form of the practice may be a bit different. It’s experimental, so it may be a total failure. But all through this, I want you to be asking, “Does this work for me or not? Is this a path I want to take or not?” And really weigh that. Because the whole point of our work together—not just this thing, but spiritual practice—is becoming more present, and aware in every aspect of your life. It’s not about getting a credential or being able to say, “I’m practicing the biggest, meanest, sexiest path there is.” That’s not the point.

Section 4

Okay. Let’s turn to the chant booklets. Again, I want to thank George for taking the trouble—this time it was a bit of trouble wasn’t it—to put this together.

It’s fair to say that I’ve received training in three different transmissions: the Karma Kagyu, the Shangpa Kagyu, and a couple of Nyingma transmissions. There are so many Nyingma transmissions. A couple of them, the Padma Lingpa, and then one that comes through Patrul Rinpoche, also. So for myself, and I’m speaking quite personally here, the outer one is the Karma Kagyu.

Section 5

But The Short Vajradhara Prayer is a very wonderful prayer and it represents one of the main streams of transmission from India to Tibet. And it also, in its last four verses, summarizes very very effectively the essence of this approach, this path. So, we’re going to do that first thing every morning when we meet in the zendo.

The second prayer I took from a chö practice. I can’t remember who wrote it. I’ll have to look that up. It may have been Machik herself. It’s very short, on the perfection of wisdom. But it also goes through, in a little more detail, some of the principle elements of spiritual practice. Precious human form, death, karma, suffering, the infamous four thoughts that turn the mind. Then refuge, compassion and emptiness. It’s very nice and complete. So we’ll do that also.

Because we’re working in the Vajrayana context—the guru plays a very important role—we’ll discuss it more. Buddha, dharma, sangha, and then what is characteristic of the Vajrayana: guru, yidam and dakinis and protectors. And then following that, we have the ordinary refuge and the four immeasurables. So we’ll do each of those at the beginning of a session practice. It takes a little bit more, but that’s fine. And then we do these dedication prayers.

Next page is translation of the prayer to the guru that’s used in the Karma Kagyu union with the guru practice. I’ve retranslated it. It would be very good if you just memorize this. That’s the main reason I put it in here. And yes, okay, we can go through the translation.

Section 6

Then on the next page, we have a very long prayer—eight pages. This is a genre of prayers known as, in the Tibetan as lama jang bö. It’s usually translated as Distant Cry to the Guru. But I just found the English of that just didn’t work for me. It depends on how you look at the Tibetan—I put this in the footnote—and I translated it as The Far-Reaching Cry to the Guru. which has a very different flavor to it—it sounds much more natural. So you may find people who are saying, “Oh. That’s wrong.” And maybe it is, but I did check with a couple of people about it, and they seem to think it was okay to take it that way.

The prayer is divided into two parts. The first, which takes us almost up to end of page 13, is homage to the principle figures of the Tibetan tradition. It goes through Amitabha, Avalokiteshvara, Padmakara, which is Guru Padmasambhava, Yeshe Tsogyal, karma, and terma—that’s all basically Nyingma stuff—and then through Trimé Özer, there’s Longchenpa, very important Nyingma teacher, then Atisha, Marpa, Mila and Dagkpo, Karmapa, Sakya, Shangpa, Tongtong Gyalpo. I’ll go through these in much more detail tomorrow, both who everybody is and how they’re significant. But this was Kongtrul just acknowledging all of the different streams of transmission which inspired him. Because this was written by Kongtrul for Kongtrul’s students, you have all of these names of Kongtrul, the last four or five are just different names. You get a lot of names in the Tibetan tradition.

Then the second part of the prayer is praying to the teacher, to the guru, because we screw up all the time. This is wonderfully honest, sometimes heart-breakingly honest. It’s what we all do, you know. For instance, on page 15:

The slightest praise or blame makes me happy or sad. [How many is that true for?]

One harsh word and I lose my armor of patience.

I see destitute people but feel no compassion.

When I have a chance to be generous, greed ties me into knots. [Can you relate to this?]

Guru think of me; look on me quickly with compassion.

Give me the energy to mix my mind with the Dharma.

It goes through this. We’re going to read this, even though it’s long. Part of the practice here is devotion. This is an exercise in devotion. We’re going to read this at the end of the morning meditation and at the end of the evening meditation. So we’ll be good and tired there, and we’ll be very raw and open. We’ll be thinking about…

Student: When you say, “end of morning,” end of first session?

Ken: That’s right. Yeah. Before breakfast.

Student: Before breakfast.

Section 7

Ken: Now, that basically takes care of things. Well, I’ve decided we’ll talk a little bit more. How I Live the Practice. This is from Tsulak Trengwa. I happened to be reading his autobiography in retreat, and I hit this chapter and went “Wow, this is what yidam practice is about. Great!” So I actually copied it out. I translated this and I put this in here so it helps you understand what yidam practice is about. We aren’t necessarily going to do that every day.

Then page 25, we have an excerpt from a Mahakala practice. The traditional time for doing the protector practice is in the late afternoon. So at the end of the teaching we’ll do The Short Vajradhara Prayer, and the fulfilling intention and the dedication prayer.

Student: In here.

Ken: Yeah. It won’t take very long.

Student: Okay. So we have to take our booklets back and forth.

Ken: Yep.

Student: You memorize it after the first day.

Ken: Well, you may or may not want to memorize it. Again, my main purpose in translating this is so that you get a flavor of protector practice. And you’re familiar with all this, Danny. It reads a bit differently.

Danny: Ah, yes.

Ken: We’re going to use the usual form of practice, you know, sitting for a half an hour, doing qigong, sitting for a half an hour and so forth. If you have regular practices, such as taking and sending, or power practice, or Chenrezig some of you are doing, death meditations, whatever. Use one of those half-hour sessions—if you have two then you can use two—most of you just have one regular practice. Use one of the half-hour sessions—which one I’ll leave up to you—so that you actually do your regular practice every day. Energy transformation for some of you and so forth. Lot of different practices going on here, which is good.

The second thing is, since that everybody here is quite experienced, we’ll be in silence for the retreat. Excluding questions and answer periods, and interviews and so forth. But I don’t see any reason not to observe silence for the whole retreat. Including the afternoons. We may be doing some exercise in the afternoons, I’m not sure. I may just give you a different form of meditation to do—something a little more relaxing—including walking meditation. But we’ll observe silence.

Section 8

Interviews will be as usual. Okay. Any questions? I’ve put out a lot of stuff. Yeah, Danny.

Danny: You haven’t mentioned what one practice you’d like us to be doing?

Ken: Oh! Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Danny: A small point.

Ken: Yes, but tomorrow morning I just want you to take your time to settle. So just do regular sitting practice, whether it’s mahamudra or resting with the breath or whatever. And then I’ll actually introduce practices as we go forth. Thank you. Okay. Guy.

Section 9

Guy: You said that Karma Kagyu was your outer?

Ken: Well. Sort of.

Guy: What does that mean, though? I’m not sure.

Ken: Well, when Rinpoche introduced me to things, we did Karma Kagyu practice principally. And then in the three year retreat, in addition to that, we learned all of the Karma Kagyu practices: Vajrayogini and The Six Yogas of Naropa. In addition, we learned the Shangpa Kagyu, which is a separate line of transmission, and it has a very different flavor to it. This was Rinpoche’s principle line of transmission. He was lineage holder of that tradition.

Guy: Shangpa?

Ken: Shangpa. He’s also in the Karma Kagyu lineage. He was the lineage holder of the Shangpa tradition. There was a certain resonance—I found that there was a certain resonance for that in me, so that, that’s closer to me internally. And then subsequently, I’ve received a certain number of dzogchen transmissions, which have been very interesting because the pointing out instructions in the dzogchen tradition is exactly the same as in the Shangpa Kagyu. It’s exactly the same thing, even though one’s mahamudra and the other’s dzogchen. There’s no difference in the pointing out instructions. And I benefited very much from them, so. And that’s just how they configure in me. Other people, they’ll feel much more resonance. It’ll be differently configured. This is why it’s important for you to feel your way into this. Feel what opens the doors.

And it’s very interesting because, for instance, in the bardo practice, the Shangpa bardo practice is a very explicit practice. It’s a nice practice. You can walk into a football stadium and have everybody up. You can imagine doing it in certain ways. The Karma Kagyu bardo practice, Six Yogas of Naropa, there isn’t much of a practice there. It’s pretty tenuous. But most of us in the retreat found ourselves getting much more of a flavor of the bardo from the Karma Kagyu practice than from the Shangpa practice. It’s very weird how these things work. You know, like yeah. And so everything is actually very individual. Yet most of the time you’re going to get teachers who say, “Here’s a line of transmission and you do this.” My own approach, and how I try to work with people is: here are these tools and let’s try this one and let’s try this one—only ones that are speaking to you. This one speaking? Okay. You work with that one. Well, what about all the other ones? Don’t worry, you got one that speaks to you, now. Mine it.

And so, that’s how I want to work. So you find the tools, the approaches, the ones that really really speak to you. And then you mine them very, very deeply. Okay?

Anything else? Okay. Well, thank you very much. I know we’re a bit over and I want to go through the qigong so I’m going to do that now with people, okay?

Have a good night’s sleep.

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