Heart Sutra Workshop 4
Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Emptiness is not other than form. Form is not other than emptiness.





Application of The Perfection of WisdomDownload

Resting and looking; application: be completely in your experience at all times, the black box approach to relationships and practicing the middle way; take your life into your practice.




Section 1

This morning I talked about two qualities in meditation, resting and looking. They’re intimately related, and they’re both very important. Resting doesn’t mean sitting still. It doesn’t mean holding a posture. It means resting. It’s fine to work hard at your practice and to push yourself very, very hard. But only if there’s an element of softness in your practice. Once you become hard there is no quality of resting. And the consequence of that will be that something breaks. It’s not terribly good for things to break in practice. They’re quite hard, often impossible to repair. I know because I’ve seen enough of it.

Kalu Rinpoche used to talk about how they stored liquids in Tibet. Store them in leather bags. Fill a bag with water and over time it would become hard. And when it started to become hard it was in danger of cracking, thus leaking. So when the leather became stiff and hard, before it cracked, it was reworked and became soft. Then you could carry water in it again without fear. Other leather bags were used for carrying butter. The oil and the grease from the butter gradually impregnated the leather, and the leather became very hard and very stiff. But no amount of kneading made it soft. When the bags came to that point they had to be thrown away. And he said, “Never let your mind become like that.” It’s very, very important.

So as long as there’s an element of softness, of resilience, not just hardness, then it’s fine to push in your practice. But when things become hard inside and outside then it’s a time to stop. Take a break. Rest. Yes?

Student: How do people see that themselves?

Ken: It’s a very important—how do people see that themselves—it’s a very important skill to learn. It’s very important to tell when you’re pushing too hard and to learn how to back off. And if you have ambition and little things like that in you, those parts of you can continue to run even when you’ve backed off, so it can get a little tricky. That’s why I’m mentioning it. Because I’ve seen enough of the harm which comes from this and it’s pretty serious. Resting also doesn’t mean just going [Ken gestures/acts]. There’s an awake quality in resting, and that form of resting is a more complete rest than being asleep. Quite literally, it’s more restful. So cultivating this relationship with resting is very important. But by itself it’s not enough.


Section 2

We also have to learn to look. Because there’s an element of seeing, and you simply can’t see if you don’t look. Unfortunately, the way most people look falls into two categories so they’re somewhat related. One is to step back and look. Become the observer. This is not conducive at all. In mahamudra tradition in which I was trained, we make no use of the observer at all. We regard it as a distraction. I know in other traditions such as the Gelugpa and the Theravadan it’s regarded as very important. We regard it as a distraction. You have to learn how to look while you are in the experience. You aren’t looking at the experience; you are looking in the experience. That’s a little different.

The other problem that many people fall into with looking, we can call the attorney problem. No offence to any attorneys who may be here. I have several in retreat. They regularly take offence [unclear]…it works out…and among my students. Inexperienced and unskilled attorneys do not know when to stop asking questions. They ask too many questions. And that’s what often happens with people who look. Because we develop the quality of looking by asking questions. I asked a few questions today; they caused you to look in certain ways. But once you’re looking, the question doesn’t help you do any more. You rest in the looking. That’s very important.

So, I asked this morning, “What experiences all of this?” And you look. And it’s just like asking, “What’s that up there?” And people don’t go, “I wonder what that is up there? Hmmm?” You don’t think about it, you look. And that’s the quality that you want in the practice. You look; and then you rest in the looking. Putting those two things together is very, very important. When you can rest in the looking and look in the resting, then you’re practicing the perfection of wisdom. Because what do you see when you look? Anybody. What do you…what do you say there? Kent.

Kent: Yeah, not much.

Ken: Well, I think you have to go a little further than that. What do you see when you look? Not much.

Kent: I mean there’s nothing you can really identify. So just to look in itself…

Ken: What do you see when you look? I don’t think it is “not much.” What do you see?

Kent: I see you. [Laughter]

Ken: Look at your mind. What do you see? Anybody?

Students: Nothing.

Ken: Nothing. You see nothing whatsoever. How long can you look at nothing whatsoever?


Section 3

I had a painting, I gave it away when I moved my office, but it hung in my office for many years. And when I moved my office, I was putting it up, and the only place that was logical was above my assistant’s workstation. And she said, “Whaaa, what’s that painting Ken? It’s…it’s nothing.” And it’s a piece of minimalist art, it’s about this big, and it’s a very, very dark green, almost smooth canvas. Almost smooth acrylic on canvas with a tiny bit of unpainted canvas at the bottom. And the green is so dark that most people think it’s black. And I said, “It’s a meditation test.” And she said, “What?” I said, “When people can see this painting, they’ve learned to look at nothing.” She said, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard Ken.” [Laughter]

Fast-forward three years. There’s a student of mine who’s come quite regularly over these three years. And he finishes seeing me, comes out to meet with Celia and write a check, and as he’s doing so he says to Celia, “When did you get that painting?” [Laughter] And Celia looks at me and says, “I don’t believe this.” We turn to the student and Celia herself says, “It’s been there all the time you’ve been coming.” And he says, “No!” She said, “Yeah. We put it up when we first moved into the office. Ken said this exact thing would happen. I didn’t believe him but you just proved he was right.”

Because when we are looking at nothing whatsoever, what do we become? All together now: nothing whatsoever! Okay?

How do you feel about that?

Student: Peaceful.

Ken: No! Most people are scared out of their minds.

Student: It takes some getting used to.

Ken: Yeah. They go…I mean usually when people see it as Mumby was describing earlier on hearing Form is emptiness; emptiness is form, it’s like let me out of here—three seconds ago please. And this is where a capacity in attention is very important. You have to have a sufficient capacity in attention that you can rest in the experience of seeing nothing whatsoever. And all kinds of possibilities come from that. So there’s looking and there’s resting. Very, very important.


Section 4

Okay, a little bit more of the sutra. So now he comes to the mantra. And the mantra, as someone who’s well versed in these things reminded me, it’s pronounced [Ken pronounces correct Sanskrit] ohm gaté gaté paragaté parasamgaté bodhí svaha. We tend to put the emphasis in English on the penultimate, but it’s never on the penultimate in Sanskrit. It’s not Anandá or Anánda—it’s Ánanda. So it’s gaté gaté paragaté parasamgaté bodhí svaha. So it has a very different lilt to it, because of that. The mantra is basically a mnemonic. It’s a way of memorizing the sutra. I talked about emptiness take one, take two, take three, take four, and then the last bit is awakening. All buddhas of the three times awaken to unsurpassable true complete awakening.

And that’s the structure of the mantra: gaté is emptiness take one; gaté is emptiness take two; paragaté, which means gone beyond, is emptiness take three; parasamgaté, which means gone completely beyond, is emptiness take four. Holding onto absolutely nothing. And then there’s awakening: bodhi. And svaha is just that: so be it, amen, whatever.

Student: What time’s the party?

Ken: Ah, the party. Well we have got two small things to do before we get to the party. [Laughter]


Section 5

So, Avalokiteshvara says all this, Buddha stirs from his samadhi and says,

“Well done, well done, o son of noble family…“

Stubborn ox!
Yesterday a smart slap,
Today a handful of hay.

”Don’t expect thanks,“ Chekawa said. Fair enough.

Seeking praise is one thing. Receiving praise is another.

Some teachers you just can’t please.

You bust your ass in practice. You have visions, dreams, and very strange experiences. You tell her about them and ask for help, but all she says is, ”Not good, not bad—keep going.“

One day, you just know and you don’t even bother to ask.

Later she drops by and you tell her.

Now she makes a big fuss.

Meanwhile, you’re just sitting there saying nothing.

Some teachers you just can’t please.


Thus it is, thus it is. This is what Buddha says.

You look into his eyes.
He looks into yours.
Whether it’s
The beginning, the middle, or the end,
You know
And you know that
He knows,

Thus it is.

And so, everybody’s happy and we come to the conclusion [Arrow, p. 140]:

Then venerable Shariputra, and noble Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva mahasattva, that whole assembly and the world with its gods, humans, titans, and sky spirits, rejoiced and praised the words of Lord Buddha.

I wanted to say, …and praised the words of the Lord, but that has a little different meaning in English.

The final accolade!
The curtain descends.
The party is over.
The guests leave, tipping the parking valets,
As they exchange the usual pleasantries,
Leaving behind
Scattered plates of unfinished food and half-empty glasses.
Where will they go?
What will they do?

It’s been a long night and you’ve probably eaten too much.

If anything rattled you, don’t throw up, let it work in you—
until the you that you are now is fatally poisoned. The importance of a conventional life is greatly exaggerated and a good death can do wonders.

Look at this mess! Time to cleanup.

Put the leftovers outside for those who couldn’t come—because they were confused, lost their way, had better things to do, or were detained by the authorities.

As for the authorities, may the dark forces of compassion, the black weapon-wielding monsters in tiger skin kilts and elephant-hide shawls, riding rabid bears and demon horses, correct and complete anything I’ve left undone.

Here is my prayer for you.

    May you never sleep.
    May you never eat.
    May you never go home.
    May you never find a path.

Remember, the reason to know emptiness is to be able to act and rest freely.

How do you act? Let the struggles of others be your guide.

How do you rest? Let the struggles of others be your guide.


Section 6

So in the short time that we have remaining I want to talk a little bit about how you live this. Two or three things that I found helpful. [Ken writes and draws]

The first is that the only thing we have is what we experience. The only thing we can know is what we experience. Anything outside of that is projection or speculation. So, the first thing is to be completely in your experience all the time. When you do that you find that, as we discussed earlier today, there aren’t any sentient beings out there. We don’t experience any sentient beings. I think it’s in the Lankavatara Sutra, maybe one of the other ones, question is, Why do bodhisattvas have infinite compassion for sentient beings? Know what the answer is?

Student: Because there aren’t any.

Ken: Because there aren’t any sentient beings.

When you open to your experience in this way, however, you become aware of something else. That there are an infinite number of sentient beings. They’re not out there. [Ken writes on whiteboard] They’re inside. We all think the problem is in having a self. It’d be much easier if we had one self. Sadly we don’t have one self. We have tens, hundreds, thousands of selves. And they’re engaged in us, all struggling to survive, and each in their own different ways. There’s a self which knows everything. There’s a self which feels it knows nothing. There’s a self which is proud. There’s a self which is ashamed. There’s a self which can’t bear the slightest discomfort. And there’s the self which is going to tough things out it doesn’t matter what happens. Anybody else have any of these selves? I just like to check this now and then because sometimes I feel very, very alone.

Student: With all those selves?

Ken: I know, but I have a big predilection for the self that feels alone. [Laughter] Does anybody know of a website called despair.com? Oh, you’ve got to go to despair.com. You know these motivational posters they have in things, well these are demotivational posters. [Laughter]

My favorite is a picture of a bear in the middle of the rapids of a river in which there’s salmon jumping up the river, and there’s this salmon jumping right into his mouth. And the caption is, ”A journey of a thousand miles can end very, very badly.“ [Much laughter]

But the one I’m thinking of shows a lone pine tree on this snowy slope and says, ”Do you sometimes have the feeling that you are alone? You are not alone; on the other hand, you are alone, very alone.“

Anyway, we have all of these selves. Now each one of these selves arises from being unable to experience something completely in the course of our growing up. They all contain emotionally charged residues of that experience. And when anything comes along which reminds us of one of those experiences, that self pops up and works as hard as it can to dissipate attention so that we don’t actually experience anything. You may notice that you only get angry when you feel you are weaker than what you are opposing. So you get angry to get away from that experience of weakness. It doesn’t work, of course, but that’s what we do.

So we have oodles of these infinite sentient beings. And the best way to describe the relationship among all of these selves is that they’re engaged in their own Darwinian struggle for resources. That’s what we are. And what we are is the result of the evolution of this particular ecosystem. You thought you had a coherent personality. That’s a story we tell ourselves when we go to sleep, but it’s not true. You know how I got involved with Buddhism? All because of a guy, my apartment mate at university, called Louis Silcox. I had a scholarship to do graduate work in mathematics in England. And my fiancée suggested, ”It would be nice to just go traveling around the continent.“ I thought that would be fun, too. So I was mentioning this to Louis one evening, and he just looked at me and said, ”McLeod, you don’t have the guts.“ And that was it. [Laughter] Anybody else have something like that in their history? You know, without Louis I wouldn’t be here today. You can write thank you notes or notes of revenge whichever you want.

Anyway, so we have all of these selves. And they’re struggling one over the other, trying to, you know—”I want to take care of this situation.“ ”Oh, no, no. We need to do this in this situation.“ Anybody know this? Oh okay. This is your world of experience. And most of the time we’re in this one, or that one, or that one. And we move like this…[Ken writes on whiteboard]. This is called samsara; and we think we know what we’re doing all the time. You see, it’s a lot worse than you thought. [Laughter] These are the six realms. You know, we can divide them up very nicely, you see, just like the traditional diagram. And this is the god’s realm, you know…

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: And this is…oh yeah, yeah. All of this stuff you see. And each of the realms has a mantra. You know what the mantra for the god’s realm is? ”I’m right and that’s just how it is.“ [Much laughter] Yeah. So that’s it. Now, instead of being locked in this realm—and this realm, and this self, and this self, and this self, and this self—there is another possibility. And that’s why I led you through that meditation this morning. We can be in the experience of the whole mess. We can experience the whole mess. Very few people want to do that. Why? Well, number one it’s a mess. And you experience all of that internal conflict and tension and stuff like that. And of course if you’re just opening to the experience of it all, you don’t get to decide any of it. But when you open to the experience of it all, something very magical happens. Things start to take care of themselves.


Section 7

Now a particular application of this is the experience of a block. How many of you have experienced blocks in your lives, in your practice? Okay, just a few people. [Ken draws on board] This is a block—I can draw a block. But this isn’t the full block system. You know, that’s just a brick. It only becomes a block when something tries to move. Right? So a block always consists of two components: something which is trying to move and something that isn’t moving. Everybody with me?

Now we call it a block when you’ve identified with this part. You say, ”This is me. I’m trying to move and something is blocking me. There’s a block.“ Right? But we could just as easily identify with this part. And if you identified with this part what would you say?

Student: Something’s pushing me.

Ken: Something’s pushing me around. There’s another possibility. You could identify with neither of them and just open to this whole experience. What would that be like? Well, on the one hand it’s a little frightening because now you don’t know what’s gonna happen. On the other hand, you’ve stepped out of a struggle. So that’s a particular application of what I was just talking about.


Section 8

Now we come to this minor matter of relationships. [Ken gets a new sheet of paper; laughter] This—me and my world of experience—call this person A. And here’s person B. Now, as we established earlier today, there’s no possibility of sharing experience much less exchanging. Remember we went through that whole thing?

Student: Yep.

Ken. Okay. But there is a point of contact. Anybody here practice tai chi? Push hands?

Jim: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah, just one-handed push hands. You know what I mean?

Jim: Okay, I…but I’ve always done it two hands.

Ken: I know.

Jim: But I can probably fake it.

Ken: Yeah, I’m sure you can. Okay. So, Jim’s going to try to push me over and I’m going to try to push him over. [They begin doing push hands. Jim laughs] You don’t want to do that because you may end up being pushed over.

Jim: [Laughs] I know, I was waiting for that.

Ken: Well I was being kind. You see? So we’re doing this…oh, you’re going to…leaving me open…you’re leaving yourself open there.

Jim: It’s been a while.

Ken: Yeah, okay. But you see what’s happening? Now, Jim what are you paying attention to here?

Jim: The contact, the point of contact and where…

Ken: Are you paying attention?

Jim: And…talking to you right now [laughs].

Ken: Yeah. Could you do this with your eyes closed?

Jim: Yeah.

Ken: So close your eyes. I can do it with my eyes closed, too, okay? Do you see any difference?

Jim: Yeah, there’s very little difference actually.

Ken: Pardon?

Student: He seems more relaxed here.

Ken: Yeah, he’s actually equally pretty tense ’cause I can push him over right there…oh yes. See if you push on me that way?

Jim: Yeah. You could have pushed me over right there. [Laughs]

Ken: I know I could have, I’m being kind to you. When he pushes see and, and…he gets hard when he pushes.

Jim: That’s right, which allows me to be pushed over.

Ken: Exactly. If he stayed soft when he pushes—go ahead.

Jim: When I push?

Ken: Yeah, stay soft. Then there’s no possibility of me pushing. Feel the difference?

Jim: Yeah.

Ken: See when I push I’m staying very soft. Now you got hard. [Jim laughs]

Okay. But you see what this goes on, and the only thing we have here is the point of contact. Now, if you were just watching this would you say we were having a fight?

Students: No.

Ken: What would you say we were doing?

Students: Dancing.

Ken: Yeah. Thank you. All you have is the point of contact. Nothing else. I call this the black box approach to relationships. You make absolutely zero assumptions about what’s going on over there. You pay attention to your world of experience, everything in it including the point of contact. Because everything you need to know comes through there. I know exactly where Jim is, what he’s doing, solely through the point of contact at the back of my hand. Nothing else.

There’s a story—probably apocryphal, but it’s useful anyway—of these scientists who observed that a duck, one species of duck, when she was sitting on a clutch of eggs would get up periodically and turn the eggs over. And the result was that the eggs were evenly warmed so they hatched properly. So, being scientists they wanted to figure out what the biological clock mechanism was. So they did all kinds of experiments and tests, etc. And they eventually came to the conclusion that there was no biological clock mechanism. Do you know when she turned the eggs over? When she was feeling too hot. [Laughter] Point of contact.

So imagine in your relationships that you are so sensitive and so in-tune with your experience that you know exactly what’s going on in you. And in being that open and clear within oneself, then as soon as anything starts to move which is moving things out-of-balance, you begin to correct it. Which is exactly what I was doing with Jim. He would push, ”Oh, he’s pushing there. Well, we’ll move that way.“ And so you have this play which just goes back and forth and it becomes a dance. But you don’t have to assume or speculate anything about what the other person is thinking or doing. You’re paying complete attention to your own experience. What?

Student: That’s revolutionary.

Ken: Okay.

Student: That’s the hard part.

Ken: Which?

Student: Maybe not making the whole story about what they’re thinking, feeling…

Ken: Could we have a mic here please.

Student: I was just saying that that seems to be the hard part sometimes…

Ken: Yeah.

Student: …in relationships, because you have the whole story about what they did to me before, what their usual pattern is, why are they always doing this to me? You know, and so you’re not focusing on that particular moment of contact.

Ken: That’s right. In other words, you’re not in the experience.

You see, relationships are like this: two people are relating. This person has an idea of what’s going on [Ken draws on board], and this person has an idea of what’s going on, right? What’s the relationship between this and this?

Student: Zero.

Ken: It can be frighteningly little. [Laughter] Really, okay. So if you’re going to act on your idea of what’s happening in the relationship—Jim can you come back here for a moment—here’s what happens. Now you saw how we were moving before, and we’ll just demonstrate that again. Okay, so we’re just going back and forth, we each are trying to push each other over. And…okay, now—I want you to think about what I’m doing.

Jim: Oh god! [Jim laughs hard]

Ken: Okay.

Jim: Okay, Go ahead. [Laughs]

Ken: You see what happens? [Much laughter]

Jim: [Laughing] I can’t stand on my feet like this.

Ken: You know? I mean everything just stops. Thank you. That’s what happens, because there’s no dance now. Suddenly go all up here [Ken referring to thinking] and all of that nice fluid motion just disappears. So don’t do this. Try this. [Shows different picture] Okay? It’s all very simple stuff. Simple doesn’t equal easy.


Section 9

Last one. How many of you have heard of the middle way? [Laughter] How many of you know how to practice it? [Ken draws on board] It’s extremely important. The middle way in Buddhism is defined—and this is the official definition; I have oodles of scripture to back me up—Not falling into an extreme. That’s a very strange definition for a middle way. So, the usual one is order and chaos; you’ll usually see this translated as nihilism and eternalism, but those are rotten translations. It’s order and chaos.

Now how many of your lives have an element of order in them? How many of you—do your lives have an element of chaos in them? Okay, and that’s the situation we all live in. There is both order and chaos. What happens if you try to live your life completely ordered?

Students: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah, all kinds of things, right?

Student: Chaos. [Laughter]

Ken: Okay. And what if you live your life chaotically, what happens?

Student: Burnout.

Ken: Yeah, so neither of them work. You have to live your life taking into account that, you know, you may live for like 70, 80, 90 years, and you’re probably going to need some kind of retirement, so it’s a good idea to put savings, etc. But you have no idea whether you’re actually going to experience that because you could die tomorrow. Order-chaos. And by embracing this fundamental aspect of our existence—(a) we’re going to die, (b) we have no idea when—we are actually practicing the middle way. It means embracing it—not trying to make it one way or the other. This culture exerts a tremendous amount of effort trying to make it one way. If anything prevents you from living until 75—somewhere between 75 and 90—something has gone wrong, and you gotta sue somebody to correct that. It’s, you know, trying to make the whole society foolproof. This results in all kinds of distortions and imbalances in the society. It’s a culture that has no way of relating to death. So the way to live the middle way is to include the experience of both poles in awareness all the time.


Section 10

Now this gets very interesting because it’s not just about order and chaos. How many of you have experienced hurt in your life? And hurt that you may or may not have resolved, right? And the hurt can be from injustices in the social system, to personal trauma or something, okay? How many of you feel anger in relationship to that? Okay. I just want you to try a little experiment right now. Experience the hurt and the anger at the same time. What happens?

Student: Sadness.

Ken: That’s moving in the direction of hurt so include a bit more of the anger.

Student: They disappear.

Ken: They disappear?

Student: I was waffling.

Ken: You went back and forth? No you’ve got to experience them both at the same time, just like we did that opening exercise. Anybody else?

Student: Nullifying.

Ken: They nullify? They actually nullify or does something else arise?

Student: It almost feels like it’s stabilizing.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Stabilizing? Okay, anybody else? Yes.

Student: It’s like when Buddha was holding space for Avalokiteshvara and Shariputra.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. So these two poles can work it out between them. That what you mean?

Student: Yes.

Ken: Okay.

Mumby: Polarity like a magnet.

Ken: Pardon?

Mumby: Polarity like a magnet.

Ken: Yeah, it is polarity like a magnet but now you’re experiencing the magnet instead of the poles. Because normally…I think that I hadn’t thought of the magnet—I like the analogy—so I’m going to use it today. I’m stealing it from you Mumby.

See a magnet has a north and a south pole, and you have fields of force [Ken draws]—goes like this. That’s what it looks like generally. Well actually I think I’ve got that wrong, but anyway you get the idea. And we’re either here, and this is all bad, or we’re here and this is all bad. But when we’re here we don’t experience that, and when we’re there we don’t experience this. In other words we don’t experience the whole system. But when you experience both of these, now you get the full experience of the whole thing. And that’s how you practice the middle way. Because you find that you become aware when you—this is pole one, and this is pole two—when you hold both poles, you immediately become aware of the whole spectrum between them. And there are so many other possibilities because of the spectrum. In other words, by holding both poles and not falling into one or the other, then you experience how both poles are a manifestation of some underlying principle.

I can give a very simple example of that. What is the underlying principle of black and white?

Student: Color.

Student: Illumination.

Ken: Yeah, color. What’s a world of color compared to a world of black and white? A few more possibilities, aren’t there? Yeah, and that’s how we practice the middle way: you open to both. Now usually we don’t want to open to both. When we’re feeling hurt, we just want to [Ken emphasizes] feel hurt. And when we’re feeling angry we just [Ken emphasizes] want to rage. You hold those two together: you don’t get to be the victim; you don’t get to be the hero. Because you’re opening to the whole experience, and your world is enriched with all kinds of other possibilities. And you often find ways of resolving conflicts internally or externally because you’re open to so many more possibilities.

So these are three methods that I’ve found a bit helpful in applying the principles of the perfection of wisdom in daily life. Questions? Yes. Microphone please.

Student: A very practical assistance with holding the two poles. I have a lot of anxiety about the upcoming elections, and I have a real strong tendency towards anxiety and worry and all that, and I don’t even know what the balance is for anxiety.

Ken: Mmm.

Student: So how can I work…and in any case, you know, right now it’s the political environment, but tomorrow it will be something else and then something else. It’s just a predominant theme.

Ken: Anxiety is usually an expression of hope and fear. Right?

Student: Absolutely.

Ken: Hold both the hope and the fear. What are you hoping for? What are you fearing? Hold them both.

Student: Thank you.

Ken: Okay, other questions?


Section 11

I want to say one more word about application. Generally people seek how to apply these practices to their lives. I think this is very problematic. In some traditions of Buddhism anyway, there’s a very, very deep bias regarding life, and it’s entrenched in vocabulary—at least in the Tibetan tradition. You know, you have your word for meditation sessions, which is thun [pron. tun], and then you have the word for the rest of your life, which is thun mtshams [pron. tun sang], which means between meditation sessions. In other words, from this point of view, you’re only truly living when you’re meditating. And this kind of attitude has come up a lot in various groups in the West, and it creates a real tension between people’s spiritual practice and their lives. They only regard their…they think and feel, ”Oh, my spiritual practice—I can’t put as much energy into it as I want because it’s going to take away time from my life.“ And so it ends up with a total no-win situation. And it’s very, very destructive. So I don’t like that way of thinking at all. I prefer to think of practice in this way.

Practice is the cultivation of attention. Cultivation of attention, exercise of awareness, whatever you want. During your formal meditation periods you’re cultivating attention unmixed with other activities. During the rest of your life you’re cultivating attention mixed with activities. So when you’re walking, you walk in attention. When you speak, you speak in attention. And so forth.

Which doesn’t mean to watch every word that you say; it just means to listen to yourself speak so you hear the sound of your own voice while you are speaking. Very few people do that. They start speaking, and they stop listening to themselves. They just go on, and on, and on, and say things that they really wish they hadn’t said. If you’re listening to the sound of your own voice as if you were listening to another person, you will very rarely say something you regret. Because as soon as you start down that road, you’ll hear the difference in your voice and something will go, ”Oh, I don’t think this is such a good place to go.“

So rather than think of bringing practice to life, think of bringing life into your practice. So that—how do I bring walking into my practice? How do I bring washing the dishes into my practice? How do I bring taking care of my children into my practice? And this is very important because when we think of applying practice to life we think of finding this nice calm clarity, and then we’re going to take that nice calm and clarity and bring it to life. How well does this work? As I said, the best military plans last until first contact with the enemy. If you bring your life into practice, then two things shift. One is, you have no choice but to find that calmness and clarity within the experience of life itself. You’re not gonna bring it to life, you have to find it in your experience. Which is exactly what we have to do anyway.


Section 12

And the second thing is, it’s a practice. How many times have you failed to practice meditation perfectly? [Laughter]

Student: Six or seven.

Ken: Thousand? Million? [Laughter] That’s why we call it a practice because we don’t expect to succeed—we just keep trying. That’s what you do in your life: you bring your life into a practice. ”Okay, I didn’t do that so hot, let me try it again.“ So one tends to take a much less punishing attitude to one’s self. Which in turn creates the willingness to make further efforts. Because you don’t—how many have that harsh critic flying around in them? Yeah. So that’s the last piece I think. Take your life into your practice. And work with these tools. You will fail thousands of times. So, you’ve already failed that way in your meditation. It hasn’t stopped you from practicing meditation. You know, so you haven’t walked mindfully down the street. Well, maybe next time; maybe next time.


Section 13

Okay, other questions before we close? Nothing else? Please, Kent?

Kent: I have one about bodhi?

Ken: About bodhi.

Kent: Bill bodhi, a friend of mine. Bodhi—what are we waking up to and is there a knowing component in there? I mean do we know the nature of our experiences? Let’s say, what’s it like to be awake? [Laughter]

Ken: Everybody knows that. You say no? I disagree.

Kent: Yeah, I’m disagreeing with you but it seems like I want…you know you…sometimes you hear in some traditions that freedom [unclear].

Ken: Use the microphone please.

Kent: In some traditions—Theravadan tradition—freedom results from knowing the nature of your experience. Three marks—we already got rid of that so. You don’t need to know it’s empty or anything.

Ken: There are lots and lots of misconceptions here.

Kent: So what’s bodhi from your point?

Ken: Well, the more aware you are, the less freedom you have. All of you have at least one area of your life where you are expert. Some of you are doctors, attorneys, massage, business people, whatever. The more you know about a subject or a discipline, the more clearly you see what is possible and what is not. People who don’t know about that particular discipline may think, ”Well we could do A, B, C, D, or E.” But if that is your discipline, you see that A, B, and C are non-starters, maybe D, but the only real possibility is E. You know what I mean? So the corollary of this is that the more aware you are the less freedom you have, because you see exactly what can and can’t be done. And so the logical extension of this is that if you are completely aware, you have no freedom: you only see what can be done. So I like to say that the illusion of choice is an indication of the lack of freedom.

Now… [Ken laughs] Good. Exactly the result I was aiming at.


Section 14

Student: That’s all part of the guinea pigs possible scenario.

Ken: Oh yeah, anything’s possible. Yeah. It’s possible to be that awake or present.

Now you ask what is awakening like? There’s a certain circumstance, which many people—and I’m sure many of you have experienced—where a close friend or relative has experienced a very significant loss. Maybe a child has died, maybe they lost their job, maybe their marriage has come to an end. But something really…a really significant loss has occurred. And they turn to you, and they start to tell you about it. And you don’t know where the words come from; you don’t know where the actions come from; but something in you knows what to say, what to do, how to say it, how to do it with your friend. When you look back at that experience it often seems quite magical—it has a special quality. And when you reflect on it, you realize that there was absolutely no sense of self. There is a quality of presence and peace in which what needed to happen simply happened. And you don’t even feel like you were the agent of it. Do you know what I mean? That’s what it’s like to be awake. Okay? Good.

Other questions? If not, I will not bore you any longer. Have a very good evening, a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

Lama Palden Drolma: On behalf of Sukhasiddhi Foun….