Mind training is a way to clear away self-cherishing through meditation practices involving presence, energy transformation, and purification. These teachings provide a detailed look at mind training and related practices.
Questions and Applications, Point 3: ApplicationsDownload
Questions from participants on taking and sending, including: Is it okay to focus just on the meditation’s imagery of smoke and light rather than specific emotions? How specific should one be with taking and sending? How much do you sent out? How do you deal with running out of energy? Is taking and sending to be taken literally or figuratively? A variation of the taking and sending meditation from the previous session; applications of mind training, including: making adversity the path; driving blame into one; being grateful to everyone; emptiness as the ultimate protection; the four practices; working with whatever one encounters
The practice that I described this morning is the main practice of taking and sending. So I’d like to take some of our time this afternoon to take up any questions or any clarifications you are seeking in how you actually do this practice in meditation periods. So let’s start there. Mark?
Mark: Is it okay to—during a session of taking and sending—is it okay to just simply, just focus on the imagery of black smoke in through right nostril then white moonlight out left nostril?
Ken: Yes, it is. Once we move from a kind of basic meditation such as resting with the breath and reflective meditations such as death and impermanence and four immeasurables and so forth, where there’s a definite set of reflections, or sequence of reflections, and you move into practices such as taking and sending and from there into Vajrayana practices like deity practices and so forth, then the range of things we may be doing in a particular meditation session expand tremendously.
So, with respect to taking and sending, there are several things that we could be doing which would constitute the practice of taking and sending. And what’s important here is to develop a skill in and knowing of where you are and what would be the right thing at that moment.
A point that’s relevant here is something Rinpoche used to remind us in retreat. In Tibet, they used leather bags for carrying things. They didn’t have bottles, or they were very rare. They used leather bags. And so sometimes you’d use a leather bag to carry water. And sometimes you used a leather bag to carry butter. Yak butter was one of the main staples of the Tibetan diet.
And when you use leather over and over again, it tends to harden up. The case of the bags that were used to carry water, when the leather hardened up if you tried to carry water and it would crack, and then the bag would be ruined, etc. So, what you had to do was to rework the leather. And make it soft and supple. And then it could carry the water again for a while.
But in the case of the bags that were used to carry butter or oil, the butter would impregnate the leather. So when they hardened up, it became completely unworkable. You couldn’t rework it. And those things had to be thrown away. Rinpoche’s point was, never let your mind become like the leather bags that were used to carry butter.
Now, I kind of understood it at that time, but it’s really only after many, many years of, I have to say, quite excruciating struggles that I really began to appreciate actually how to work that instruction. We have the way that we live our lives ordinarily, our comfort zone, and we aspire to exercise attention and awareness beyond that. And so there is an edge in practice.
And so what if I go beyond the edge? If you go beyond the edge you have [unclear] chaos, there is no attention and so nothing fruitful happens. And you usually experience that as some kind of overwhelm, and in extreme cases it would lead to a retraumatization of the old material in you—or reconditioning, in extreme cases retraumatization. On the other hand if you never go to the edge you’re never doing any work—so you have to go to the edge.
Now, what happens at the edge because we’re right at the limit of what we can do, we actually have a capacity of attention to experience, there’s a very definite tendency to harden up. You know? We’ll either harden up to push or we’ll harden up because we’re a little afraid. There’s a definite tendency to harden up. And it can be in our body, it can be in our emotions. It can be in our mind. It can be anywhere.
You see this in posture all of the time. People are sitting and they experience some pain and they start to harden in order to be able to push through the pain, say. I’ve found this is not productive. You can push as hard as you want, as long as you are soft in the pushing. As long as there is a suppleness and a softness in the effort. Once you become hard, now there’s resistance pushing against hardness. And all that does is increase or reinforce the resistance. It’s not productive.
And being able to discern that is one of the skills that we need to develop in practice. To tell when we’re working the edge, and to tell when we’re working the edge a little too hard. Because now we’re hardening up. At that point, you back off.
In yoga, the very little I’ve done, but I’ve heard this from many yoga teachers, they say, you go to as far as you can, and then you back up a little bit. That is, you find your edge, and that’s where you work. But you don’t try to go over that. Because that’s where you do yourself physical damage, like tear a muscle or a ligament. It’s the same thing in our meditation practice.
Now, in response to Mark’s question. There are a tremendous number of things we can be doing in taking and sending. We can be working through interactions that we have in day-to-day life. You know. And one way of practicing is just to start up, start off going through one’s day and do taking and sending with every situation you encounter in the day. There’s usually suffering or happiness present in every one of those. And if it’s blah, then you do taking and sending with the blah.
Or, we can just do it with all sentient beings. Or we can work through particular sequences as I described this morning such as the six realms. And we can do that in the mythological form or in the practical…not so much practical but the, how they’re realized in the lives of people around us. I was just describing Los Angeles.
And when we work this way, we’re constantly coming into contact with emotional material. And there’s an effort involved in that. One is working at the meditation, and that’s appropriate to do. We may find that we hit emotional material that is…exceeds our capacity to experience it in attention. Or we may find that we just run out of juice. In either case, then it’s appropriate to step back and do something simpler. And let the system rest.
And one can let the system rest just by imagining the black coming in, white going out, black coming in, white going out. It’s perfectly appropriate to do. You’re keeping the spirit of taking and sending going, but you’re not working that hardness. Which actually is counterproductive. If you just do that, and never really work any of the deeper emotional material, well, you’ll make progress, but it’ll be slower.
So being able to see where one is and feel where one is and practice accordingly, this is a skill. It’s one of the reasons why I have daily interviews with everybody, so that they don’t get stuck on practice points. Because I find that very, very important. And by checking in with me and modifying their practice, they don’t stay stuck on a problem for a long time. That’s very helpful. But they also learn how to change their practice, each person learns how to change their practice so that the practice continues to be fruitful and productive rather than, you know, just bashing your head against a brick wall, which I’ve done plenty of. I know. You get a bloody head, but the wall doesn’t break. So, does that help?
Okay. Long answer, but it’s important. Okay. Other questions? Leslie.
Leslie: The…as far as how…just getting a little bit stuck on how specific to be. You were talking about, I mean this morning you were describing it, and this isn’t the first time I’ve done this, so, but I still, I was surprised today when I was…when I first started doing it, how I could easily, surprisingly easily, give away everything good that I had, but if I decided to give away my new pink blanket, you know, something specific, it was different. If I decided to give away the opportunity to go on retreat, you know, if I did something, if it was something that I could really focus on, my body reacted in a completely different way than if I gave away everything good that I had. So maybe is it for some personalities it’s better to do it one way than another? Or just at different times, or what?
Ken: You work the edge. The edge is where it bites. It’s easy to think in terms of, “I give away everything that’s good to all sentient beings.” Things like that. And then you think of my new pink blanket and you go, “N-n-n-o.” [Laughter] Right? And guess what you give away in your next breath? The pink blanket, not the blue one. [Laughter] Because that’s where you feel it, isn’t it? Right?
Leslie: Right. Okay.
Ken: Okay. Now, one isn’t necessarily that specific all the time. But if you feel like you’re protecting something, give it away. Or if you feel like you’re not letting a certain kind of suffering in, take it in. If it overwhelms your capacity in attention, then not so good. But then you’ve got to start working at that so you can actually do that.
We’ll be covering this in the, later in the instructions, but it’s very easy in this practice to stay in our comfort zone and to protect parts of our lives. It’s very easy in practice to do that. What taking and sending does is it gives us a wonderful way of recognizing when we’re protecting something. And that’s precisely where it’s good to put some attention. So, what are you really holding on to with that pink blanket. So, you’ll have an interesting time. You don’t have to answer that right now. Okay. [Laughter] Okay. There’s one here, and then Alex.
Student: One…two things. One about taking; one about giving. One of the things that was interesting to me was that although you said, give all of your…whatever, you know, your well-being, all of your good fortune, you know, that was not possible because the next breath there was still plenty to give. I mean it was always a regeneration or a…it just never ran out, you know. So that didn’t…I don’t understand the all. And the second question is…has to do with, after doing this for a period of time it seemed like—particularly with the taking in, I just…which didn’t seem to be too much of a problem at first—I just, kind of, I just got pooped.
Student: I ran out of steam.
Ken: Okay. This is very good that you bring this up. For the giving or the sending first. We’re so literal and we’re so rational in our culture that it’s very limiting. You give it all away in one breath. So you can give it all away in the next breath. So what? Give it all away in the next breath. Just do it with each breath. Do all of it with each breath. Why are you worried about it being regenerated?
Student: I really wasn’t. But it just struck me as so interesting that it wasn’t like you could give it all away. I mean, it’s like people saying, “all my love.”
Ken: With each breath. Yeah. The thing is, and here’s the little trap that we can fall into here. Because we recognize, “Oh, there’s always more there,” then we can become less sincere in our giving. So, what’s important is that with each breath you really feel like you are giving it away. That’s the work. Then it’s going to become just as much work as taking it in. Which I’m going to turn to…taking suffering in.
When you say you get pooped from taking the suffering in, well, it often means that one is experiencing a little bit of resistance.
Student: I was wondering…but how? I mean, is it…I mean…?
Ken: Well, after a while, some of us just go numb. Some of us just start thinking about other things. We don’t want to think about this anymore. There are all kinds of things that come up. It is how we get away from being present with the pain of the world. And then we just bring ourselves back and open our hearts and then we’re experiencing it again.
You see, everybody says they want to be compassionate. And I always think this is really, really, weird and strange. Anybody who says to me that they want to be compassionate, I figure they don’t really understand what it means to be compassionate. Because when you experience compassion, you have no skin. And you’re exquisitely sensitive and right in touch with the actual pain in the situation. It is not a happy experience!
And people who, when they hit compassion, they say, “That’s painful!” And it is! It is exquisitely painful. And I use the term exquisite because you’re present and you know you’re present. That’s the exquisite quality.
But is it a fun experience? No, it isn’t. And that’s what you’re going to be hitting, time and time again, when you’re taking the suffering in. Ahh! You’re going to feel ahh! That’s when you’re touching the compassion. And when you’re sending your stuff out to everybody, it’s like you’re going to feel loss, if you’re really giving it away. Ahh! And you’re also going to feel joy. It’s like, “Whoa, yeah, now they’re free of suffering and they’re happy.”
So this is a very, very rich, emotionally rich practice. And we’re not going to feel that all the time because there’s so much resistance and stuff in us. But as we’re working the practice, we’re going to get hits of that, repeatedly. Then we know we’re doing the practice. Because it’s emotionally very vibrant, very vivid. Okay?
Student: When that happened, I tended to go back to something specific, and you know, not one thing. But specifics, where I could really…I knew somebody who was suffering in a specific way. And that—
Ken: But when you touched the specific, then take that into the general. So you take that emotional vividness, the emotional vibrancy, and extend it. So it is operating with respect to more and more people. Okay?
Student: So is this mostly symbolic imagery to help us open up rather than a practical aspiration? Because to go back to my question from this morning, you don’t see too many lojong practitioners giving up their kidneys.
Ken: Well, how this translates into one’s life, that’s a matter of individual choice. And it depends on individual circumstances. I would be loath, very loath, to take as a criterion for success in the practice that you make a trip to the hospital and give up a kidney. And the reason is that for the same reason that I have reservations about what’s called engaged Buddhism, where the idea is that if you’re really living Buddhism, then you are very active in various social transformations and so forth.
This has never made very much sense to me. Because while there are many, many people who do a tremendous amount of good doing that, a tremendous amount of good flows from people who have by all appearances been totally selfish. They’ve just meditated and they cultivated very deeply, and cultivated it so deeply that they’re able to ignite and inspire other people to cultivate the same kind of awareness and compassion. So there’re many, many ways in which good comes into the world. And I don’t think we should think of just one or two.
I also think that you’re question comes a bit, possibly, from another idea that we have in our society, is that these things should be taken literally. Yes, this is a metaphoric practice. That’s what makes it possible to practice. And by cultivating this deeply, it can radically—and I can say that from experience—radically change how we interact with the world. And it brings an end to suffering.
Donating kidneys is extremely worthy, but it’s only one way to end suffering. Okay? Sharon. Microphone.
Sharon: I found my breath coming and going faster than I could think of a something to take and send.
Ken: Well, initially, then just rest with the sense of black smoke suffering coming in, white light going out. As your mind becomes quieter, interestingly enough, you’ll find it takes no time to connect with very specific images, and very specific emotions. Okay?
Okay. I want to turn a little more on the practice side. Here’s a suggested sequence for your, for a practice session.
At the beginning of a meditation period, spend a few minutes just resting with the breath or resting in open awareness, whichever you want. Giving a chance for your thoughts and body just to settle.
And then bring to mind the question, What is this? As in, “This is all a dream,” or is like a dream. And you’ll find that there’s a shift. And if you wish, you can also take that to a second level in saying, What experiences this? And both of these move you to a kind of open, empty awareness. Don’t try to answer these questions. Just ask the questions and experience the shift and just rest in them for a moment or two.
Then take some image or situation of suffering which touches you personally, and imagine taking all of that suffering into you, and you’re experiencing it so you actually feel it. And then imagine giving to all of the people or all of the beings present in that situation your own joy and happiness and well-being. And them experiencing that. So you actually feel the dynamic.
And then move into putting your attention on the breath again, but now, taking in the suffering in the form of black smoke, and breathing out the white light, and happiness, your own happiness and joy to all beings. Work that way for a little while. And then start working on particular aspects of the practice as you wish.
In general, it’s better to start working with all beings with any particular form of suffering. And then bring it down to something that’s personal and really form a connection with it. And then take it back to all beings again. So we aren’t simply working on things that are just happening in our personal lives. We’re constantly referencing that back to all beings.
Towards the end of the session of meditation, just let everything go and sit in open awareness, feeling whatever is there. Do that for the last five or ten minutes of the meditation period. That’s a suggested sequence.
Then at the end of the meditation period, we do the dedication prayers, and so forth. Okay?
Now, on page 19, we find the next point: applications. Now if what I have to say here is a bit jumbled it’s because I’m still thinking through a new formulation of all of this. So it may not be completely clear. It may not be clear at all.
First instruction is, When misfortune fills the world and its inhabitants, make adversity the path of awakening. This is one of the special qualities of taking and sending practice in particular. It doesn’t depend on circumstances in our lives.
In the three-year retreat, I got very, very ill for actually quite a long period. And I was unable to do many of the other practices while I was ill. But I could always do taking and sending. You know? You can be curled up in complete agony, and you can still do taking and sending. You just say, “I’m experiencing this agony. May all the agony that all sentient beings experience come into this agony of mine. Whatever vestige of well-being that I have, I give it away.” [Laughter] You know?
You can…and you can’t…It’s one of the reasons why I feel a special connection with this practice, because it helped me. It was my practice during those periods. And it’s also very important to understand that we don’t practice any form of meditation to work through a problem. When we do that, we’re basically making Buddhism, our practice, into a kind of therapy. It’s not the purpose of Buddhist practice.
The purpose of Buddhist practice is to be awake in whatever we are experiencing. That’s tough. That’s quite tough. Because if we’re awake in whatever is arising, then we’re going to be experiencing it. We don’t have a choice about that. Whether we like it or not, it’s irrelevant. It’s to be awake in it.
If we’re not awake in it, then whatever is arising is going to be triggering reactive patterns, and they’re going to be determining what we’re doing. Our own awareness, intelligence and so forth will not be determining what we’re doing. And that’s the cause of suffering.
So the intention in Buddhist practice is to experience whatever arises, internally or externally. And so you have this instruction, When misfortune fills the world and its inhabitants, make adversity the path of awakening. How many of us look forward to adversity? No. We’re usually trying to sidestep it, slip it, push it away, whatever. But it arises. It arises for all of us.
Very different when we say, “Okay, here’s this pain, this difficulty, this challenge. Let me experience it completely. And you use taking and sending as a way of experiencing it completely. And just as I described: the pain in the situation you say, “May all the pains of all beings come into this. Let me experience it.” And just you open to the experience. And then you send, and you touch into your own well-being, because we always have it. You know? There’s always a corner of us that feels okay. It may be difficult to find sometimes, but it’s there and we give that away and touch into it. And this way we’re experiencing what arises.
And what’s very interesting here, what’s the favorite expression for people, you know, “I don’t know whether I can handle this.” This is such a wonderfully nonsensical expression. Because whatever arises, you know that we’re going to handle it. We may handle it well; we may handle it quite ungracefully; we may handle it very, very badly. But we’re going to handle it. We don’t have a choice about it.
What we’re doing in taking and sending is creating the conditions in us so that it increases the probability of our being able to experience what is arising without it becoming the basis for further suffering for ourselves and others.
Now, the next instruction is wonderful. The next two go together. Such relief, this instruction. You know? Drive all blame into one. You have your world of experience. Right? It’s the world you and only you experience. Something’s wrong in that world. Whose responsibility is that? There’s only one person there.
Now, I say it’s such a relief, you know. You always know who’s to blame. You don’t have to play the blame game anymore. I’m being a little light-hearted about this, but I find this instruction very, very useful. There are always disruptions, things not going right in our lives. And sometimes, you know, “Why is this happening?” Well, what this instruction says, is, don’t bother asking why. It’s happening to you, so you had something to do with it. That’s all.
And what I’ve found is that when something goes wrong in my life, I actually always do have something to do with it. It may only be one or two percent, but I still have that one or two percent. You know, I was walking on the wrong side of the street. Maybe just like that.
Causality in Buddhism is very different from causality in Western thought. If I pick up a brick and throw it through the window and the window breaks, somebody will say, you know, “Why’d you break the window?” You know? I’m the causative agent. Right?
Well, if I was being very Buddhist about it, I’d say, “I didn’t break the window. The person who installed the window broke the window. Because he didn’t install tough enough glass.” Or, “The person who made the brick broke the window, because he made the brick too hard.”
In other words, there’s a whole bunch of conditions that need to come together for something to happen. That’s how we view causality in Buddhism. It isn’t one thing causing it, there’s a whole bunch of conditions.
There’s a lovely Nasrudin story about this. He’s asked, you know, about causality. And he says, “Many things coming together to create the situation.” And the person asking him says, “That doesn’t make sense to me.” And Nasrudin says, “Well take a look at that person who’s going to be hanged for murder. Is it because he killed the person or is it because someone sold him the knife or is it because…” And he lists a whole bunch of things. All of those conditions had to come together.
So things are actually much more complex than we often want to regard them. One of the ways in which things operate politically in this country is they’re reduced to very simplistic sequences of causation. And so many of the other factors that are very important are just screened out and not allowed to be considered. It creates a lot of problems.
Julia: I’d just want to ask you a question about the meaning of the word responsible. Could you elaborate on that, please?
Ken: Give me more, there, behind your question, Julia.
Julia: I can envision circumstances in which something happens to you, but the word responsibility has overtones of you’re taking some kind of active part in causation, in contrast with just being there when the trap hits you, kind of thing.
Ken: Yeah. Well, when we say, Drive all blame into one. we’re actually taking responsibility for everything. I’m responsible for all the problems in the world. Absolutely everything.
Now, when you say that, you can say it about yourselves: I’m responsible for everything that’s wrong in the world.” What happens? Julia, what happens?
Julia: I cringe.
Ken: Yes. Keep going. [Laughter]
Julia: And then I start saying, “Surely not.” I can see all of those other people who cause at least 99.9% of the problems.
Ken: Yes, but I assure you, you are responsible for everything. Keep going.
Julia: That feels very burdensome.
Ken: Keep going.
Julia: I feel as if I am sinking.
Ken: Keep going.
Julia: I’m drowning.
Ken: Keep going.
Julia: I’ve drowned.
Ken: Breathe underwater and keep going.
Julia: I can’t.
Ken: Yes, you can.
Julia: Well, I guess I’ll just stay down there a really long time. [Laughter]
Ken: What’s everybody in the room doing?
Julia: They’re enjoying this at my expense. [Laughter]
Student: Well, you said everything was your fault.
Julia: Right on.
Ken: What are you doing now, Julia?
Julia: I’m trying to give Chuck the job of being in that situation.
Ken: No, no, no. Just before that.
Julia: I was getting it.
Julia: I got the point.
Ken: Okay. Could you elucidate it because I want to make sure everybody gets it.
Julia: The point is to give up looking for any way to blame, and just experience what’s going on directly.
Ken: Yeah. Yeah. And when you say, Drive all blame into one. I’m responsible for everything. There is only one response: you have to laugh.
Ken: Right? And there it is. And now you’re free, free to act in anyway whatsoever.
So driving all blame into one is a way of destroying the preoccupation with self. Okay? But you’ve got to do it. And practical application: anytime somebody blames you or insults you—agree with them. It gets very interesting.
“You’re the rudest person I’ve ever met.” “You’re probably right.” You know? Why bother fighting it?
Now this is going to rub against all kinds of people. Go ahead. Alex, and then Michelle.
Alex: It can do serious harm to your reputation.
Ken: Ah. [Laughter] Good. Michelle. And you think I’m joking. I’m not, actually. What good is your reputation? In terms of being awake, what good is your reputation?
You know? In North American Indian, the expression run the gauntlet? That’s where the expression comes from. If someone violated one of the taboos of the tribe, all the warriors formed a line. And because this person violated the taboo, he had to walk down between these two lines of warriors. And they were allowed to do anything to them that they felt was appropriate. Including killing them, because he’d violated the taboo.
Some warriors, even though they’d violated the taboo, could walk down that gauntlet with such presence that nobody touched them. But they had stood in that experience. And after that they were reintegrated into the tribe.
What would it be like to live without any concern for your reputation? This stuff bites deep. Michelle.
Michelle: I don’t understand how driving all blames into one fits with your brick example. Because if I’m going to drive all blames into one, then I’m definitely responsible for breaking the window. It had nothing to do with who made the bricks.
Ken: I agree. I was just using that as an example of causality. But you know—
Michelle: But then how does Buddhism accommodate both of them?
Ken: One is an instruction about looking at the whole of the situation rather than just a part of it. The other is an instruction to destroy your self. Okay?
And you raise another point here, Michelle. If you’re looking for consistency among all the instructions of Buddhism, you’re going to be very, very disappointed. Because every instruction, every meditation instruction, every instruction for ethical behavior, arises because of a particular situation. And what does it mean to be awake in that situation. And because all the situations are different, the instructions are going to differ. And so, this is why you find very, very few pat answers.
There isn’t any belief system in Buddhism. There isn’t a, “This is always right.” Because there is nothing for which you can say, “I will always do this in this situation,” and live awake. It just doesn’t work that way. So the skill here is to learn what is the appropriate instruction in this situation. And the appropriate instruction is what brings you into wakefulness. Okay?
Now, there’s another little wrinkle in Drive all blame into one. If you take that approach to situations, and Julia was doing this so beautifully: “Oh, it gets heavier and heavier,” right? But there’s a corollary that she’s missing.
If you’re responsible for everything, who’s responsible for your experience? Hmm? Okay? It means we are free to act and do whatever’s appropriate. Because we’re responsible for everything. Okay?
So these instructions are very deep. They work in strange ways. Now, Be grateful to everyone. This is a tough one.
In the latter part of this book, Kongtrul takes the additional mind training teachings, one from Dharmakirti. And it reads like this:
Adverse conditions are spiritual friends. [i.e., teachers]
Devils and demons are emanations of the victorious ones. [i.e. the buddhas]
Illness is the broom for evil and obscurations.
Suffering is the dance of what is.
Now, when I was ill, I could relate to the first two. Adverse conditions are spiritual friends. And the commentary reads, You don’t have to avoid adverse conditions, since they perform the function of your teacher. Mind you, many of my students regard me as an adverse condition, but that’s not… [Laughter] Come to appointments with all the enthusiasm of going to the dentist.
By using adverse conditions, you can gather the accumulations,—that is, you can generate goodness—clear away things that you can’t see,—that prevent you from seeing what is—be reminded of the dharma, and put your practice, put your meditation into practice. That’s what adversity gives you. That’s precisely the function of a spiritual friend.
There is no need to be frightened of visions and hallucinations associated with gods or devils or of the trouble that demons cause. Demons you can think of as being emotional eruptions. Kind of things that you feel temporarily insane. That’s a demon.
Because they help to increase your faith and virtue, they’re emanations of your guru or of buddhas. So I was okay.
Then he gets to, Illness is the broom for evil and obscurations. The broom. You know, what you use for sweeping.
Since previous evil karma is stirred up when you practice the holy dharma properly, various physical illnesses come again and again. When this happens, work at being joyful when ill, since it is repeatedly said in the sutras that even a slight headache, to say nothing of a serious illness, is like a broom sweeping away dust.
I had a little difficulty relating to that one.
Yet when you can relate to your experience of illness as sensation, which will usually be a combination of physical sensations—the actual experience of the disease—and emotional sensations—anger, bitterness, fear, envy, all of these things up—you’re in a very, very rich experiential environment. If you can be awake in that it makes a huge difference in your practice. I will not pretend that it’s easy. It’s extremely difficult. But it makes your practice, it makes you alive and present in very, very different way.
And it’s something that many, many people find themselves developing in the very later stages of life, when they are stricken with an illness. They know there’s no point in resisting it, and they just open to the experience. And they become quite remarkable in their sensitivity, understanding and wisdom in the last stages of their life.
When suffering comes, if you look at just what it is, it arises as emptiness. However much you suffer, the suffering is just the dance of what is, so you shouldn’t be depressed. Again, that’s a very tough instruction, but it’s also true.
When you look at suffering, just as we’ve been describing, or described yesterday, you look at experience. Okay, what is this experience? What experiences the suffering? And it remains vivid but a space opens up inside it. A space which is clarity, awareness, whatever you want to call it. And your relationship with the experience shifts when that space opens up.
Most people want to find clarity outside of the suffering. They don’t want to suffer. And they try to find the clarity. And they think that if they find that clarity, then they can bring that clarity to the suffering. And that will be okay. My own experience, it doesn’t really work that way.
Whatever clarity you find, you find within the experience. Whether it’s joy, or happiness or suffering. You find it in the experience. It’s not something you bring outside to it. Yes?
Student: Suffering is the dance of what is.
Student: Is that to say, it’s the dance of what ultimately is? Or is the dance of what we take to be real, is it the dance of confusion? I don’t know if I’m saying this—
Ken: Both, actually. Though it may be helpful in response to your question to distinguish between pain and suffering. They’re both the dance of what is.
Pain arises. Pain is a sensation. And when you relate to pain as a sensation, then suffering stops. Suffering is the reaction to experience. And it becomes possible as your practice develops. And taking and sending is actually very helpful. To watch the dance of all your reactions to the suffering. And to just see it as stuff that’s going on.
And so, again, as I was talking about, a clarity opens up inside of that. “Oh, I’m doing this again. No, there’s nothing to do but just experience this.” And so you begin to find some peace in the experience. And you don’t find some peace to bring to the experience. You find it in the experience. And that’s what’s important. Okay?
The ultimate protection is emptiness. [Laughter] This is so bad. Know what arises as confusion to be the four aspects of being. This is right on your question, Art.
The ultimate protection is emptiness; Well, basically what it’s saying here is the ultimate protection is no protection whatsoever. In other words, being completely open and present in the experience. This is actually what refuge is about when we take refuge. We say we’re taking refuge in the clear, open awareness that is essentially what we are. That’s Buddha. Usually when we are taking the vow of refuge, or saying refuge, we aren’t really thinking that they actually mean this. But it’s true.
And the way that this is explained, or one way to understand this line, because it is very deep: something happens. Say, you get angry. When you look at that anger…and you could just as easily do this with being hurt or any other experience…okay? When you look at that experience, whether it’s anger or hurt, you look at what is it. Just as we’ve discussed earlier in this, in our time here together.
Student: Sorry [unclear] wants to know if he can have ten minutes?
Ken: You can have ten minutes. We’re delighted if he has ten minutes. Thank you. Because I’ve got ten minutes more material.
When you look right at it, which is to say you look at the experience itself, you see that it is something that arises. It doesn’t have the substance we ordinarily impute to things. And we were doing this yesterday with Caroline. You look. Where is that seeing? And it’s like, “Well it’s just there, but it’s not there.” You follow? That aspect of experience is emptiness. Or if you want the fancy name for it, that’s the dharmakaya aspect. Okay? I’ll just throw out these fancy, technical terms so that everybody will be impressed. Okay?
Now, here’s one important piece here. Even though you see—or even know—that it is no thing, the experience is still there. It’s not that emptiness makes the experience go away. It allows you to experience it in a different way. You follow? And so now it becomes actually more vivid.
Student: More what?
Ken: Vivid. Yeah. “I am really angry.” Or, “I am really hurt.” So now you have a very interesting situation. You have the emptiness on one side, and the vividness on the other. This is precisely what the Heart Sutra is pointing to: Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.
We have the form is the vividness. The emptiness is the “being nothing there” quality. Now, you cannot separate these two. There isn’t the form and over here the emptiness. As it says in the Heart Sutra, Other than form, there is no emptiness. Other than emptiness, there is no form. The two arise together.
And when you experience that, there being nothing there and the vividness of the experience, there’s a shift. And one experiences it in a different way. And in particular, one doesn’t experience it as something that is driving one into some kind of reactive emotion. There’s an enrichment of the experience. Okay?
So, that vividness is the form aspect, or if you want the fancy term, it’s nirmanakaya. And it’s the two arising together enriching experience, that we can call the clarity aspect, if you wish. The fancy term for this sambhogakaya. And all of those, the emptiness, the vividness, and that enrichment—the qualitative difference in that—those are not separate experiences. They’re all together. And that fancy term for that is svabhavikakaya. And that’s what the four aspects of being refer to, is those four fancy terms.
Student: What is that last one?
Student: I’ve never heard that word before.
Ken: Well, yeah. There’s always something new. You have this book? Okay. Well, you can buy it and you’ll find it in there. But you can look it up. Svabhava – s-v-a-b-h-a-v-a
Ken: V-i-k-a? Okay, thank you. Yeah. And then kaya at the end.
You know, first they had the two kayas and then they had the three kayas and then they had the four kayas. Now there’s the five kayas. And I think actually there’s six kayas. So they just keep adding them in.
So this is what I try to get across in this very short commentary. All experience is empty, vivid and the two together heighten awareness. These three qualities are inseparable. And if you can experience life that way, then it’s pretty interesting. Everything is interesting. Even a gravel driveway is interesting. Okay.
Now, all of these are ways that we put taking and sending into practice. The first two, Drive all blame into one. and Be grateful to everyone. are how we put the taking and sending into practice. We take all the blame. We’re grateful to everyone. This way of experiencing the world in this clear, open awareness is what we were discussing yesterday which is relating to what is ultimately true, which is emptiness.
The next two are more general instructions. The best way is to use the four practices. Now, here we get into something quite interesting. Traditional cultures were often ritual-based. And so, if you are doing anything, you’d make a ritual out of it. And this is present in some cultures to this day. Things like the Japanese tea ceremony is a ritual which is very much designed to create the conditions in which one is simply aware and present.
In our culture, we’ve lost the use of rituals in this way, largely. And in the traditional commentary, it goes through all of these, describing them in terms of ritual actions, ritual ways that you would generate goodness, by reciting mantras, or cleaning temples, or making offerings of some sort. But the key idea here is in generating goodness.
When we do something good or virtuous without thought of reward, the effect is our mind becomes clearer and lighter. That’s just what happens. And it’s a way of putting energy into our practice.
In the same way, clearing away negativity. There are very ritualistic methods of clearing away negativity. Again, supporting sangha members, and very specific meditations, such as Vajrasattva practice were designed to clear away negativity.
But all of you know this apart from those ritualistic forms. All of you know this in your own experience. When something that you’ve done, and you know it’s inappropriate, and you let yourself feel the regret and possibly make some remedial gesture to change what you did, and you allow yourself to feel it completely so it no longer separates you from your own aspirations about how you want to be and how you want to live, returns you to your own spiritual aspirations, and you make the resolve, just, “I’m not going to do that. You know, that really doesn’t work. I’m just not going to do that again.” Then, again, you feel lighter and clearer. That’s what clearing away negativity means. And that creates better conditions for practice.
Now, the next two were almost always done ritually. There are certain things we become obsessed with. Obsession is the opposite of awareness. There’s no awareness operating within obsession. So here the application is to start bringing awareness into the operation of that obsession. And of course this changes our relationship with the obsession and how the obsession operates. So eventually it doesn’t operate anymore. And so that way we’ve used the obsession as a basis for generating wakefulness in our life.
And then the last one is nourishing wakefulness. Those activities and places where we’re more awake and present, it’s a good thing to do them. For myself, personally, one of the reasons I teach is that I wake up when I teach. So it’s always been part of my path. It’s a good thing for me to do—I’m more present when I teach. That’s how I nourish wakefulness in my life.
Now other people teaching is not where they wake up; it raises other things for them. But if you look around your life, you’ll probably find that there are activities or conditions or situations where you’re more awake. Well, it’s good to do that so that you really become familiar with being awake and present and then start transferring that to other areas. So there are things we can do to nourish wakefulness in our life.
And then the last instruction here is, Work with whatever you encounter immediately. Something arises. The sooner we act on it in terms of our wakefulness, the better. Because the longer we just go along with it in a passive, dull state, the more deeply it’s conditioned in us.
So when we encounter difficult circumstances, use them immediately to wake up. Not with, “Oh, let me just take care of this, and I’ll work with this in my practice later.” That approach actually doesn’t work very well. If you make the effort to work with whatever arises, as soon as it arises, you’ll find a couple of things. One, you’ll find it’s often easier. But the main thing is you’ll find that your practice develops real momentum. And you’ll find yourself just responding to things by waking up. That’s a very good dynamic.
Again, in Kongtrul’s additional instructions, he’s speaking rather graphically,
Flatten all thoughts.
All remedies are weapons to strike with.
Concentrate all plans into one.
All paths have one goal.
He says, As soon as thoughts arise, although if I were re-translating that I would say, I would change that to, As soon as thinking arises, flatten it in mind training or emptiness. Remedies aren’t just meditations to be used when it’s convenient. As soon as reactive emotions arise, jump on them, round them up, isolate and crush them.[Laughter]
Now, we have to be careful here, because this doesn’t mean to suppress them at all. How do you flatten a thought? How do you flatten a reactive emotion? You do it by experiencing it completely. And then all the wind goes out of it. So, anger arises. Open to the anger.
In order to be able to do this and not go around killing people, you have to have a capacity of attention so that you can open to the anger and experience it in attention. And then, then you experience it. And it becomes an experience, not a fact on which you have to act. You stop believing the anger. You see it’s just an experience. And what it’s telling you is that your wife is your mortal enemy and needs to be disposed of immediately just isn’t true. Some of you are just shaking your head at that one, but I’ll let that go.
Because when we are in the grip of anger, the object of our anger is seen as something that needs to be destroyed. That’s what anger…that’s how anger changes. If we can just experience the anger, then we aren’t caught up in that illusion, and so we don’t act on it.
So that takes care. I think we’ve had our ten minutes. So, now we can go and have dinner. Okay. See you at seven in the zendo.