Point 4: Summary and Point 5: ProficiencyDownload
Origins of lists and reasons for their use in contemporary life; summary of essential instructions: the five forces, instructions on dying; measures of proficiency: the one aim, rely on your own clarity, deep and quiet joy, practice as a natural response. Proficiency isn’t attainment; regret v. guilt; working with emotions that arise from taking and sending.
This morning, I want to cover the next two points: summaries and measures of proficiency.
Well, we’re all familiar with summaries. We have Depak Chopra’s The Seven Laws of Spiritual Success or something like that; Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. There are endless lists of these things. One might ask, how do these lists come about? What purpose do they serve? Do we need to know them?
In ancient and medieval India, these lists were very important. The reason they were important is that the only books from those periods were palm leaf manuscripts, dried and properly treated palm leaf on which the book was handwritten. There was no printing press of any kind. This made books rather rare. So a premium was placed on having a good memory. And these lists were compiled to make bodies of teachings easy to memorize.
And when you read instructions for how to study and how to learn, you find among them such things as learning every item in the list so you don’t leave any out, and also learning the order, because the order was regarded as very important, too. And as I’ve studied these—as many of you know, buddhism is a tradition of lists—as I studied these lists, I came to appreciate that yes, in almost all circumstances, or all examples, the order is important. There’s a knowledge embedded in the order, and not just in the items in the list.
Now, when you are working with a tradition which has been around as long as Buddhism, which is a little over 2,500 years now, buddhism is quite remarkable, in that in one sense it’s maintained a remarkable fidelity throughout that period of time, even though it has moved from one culture to completely different cultures.
There is a little bit of similarity between Indian culture and Tibetan culture, in that agriculture was very important in both and there was some trade in both. But Tibetan culture, large parts of it, was still a nomadic culture. And it was a country of valleys and valley plateaus, which were largely isolated from each other. Whereas in Northern India you have the Ganges Plain which is huge and flat. You can just walk and walk and walk and walk and never go up a hill. China is very similar in that way, with the Yangtze and the Yellow River valleys, and in Southeast Asia.
So throughout its history, it’s maintained an extraordinary fidelity, or consistency, or whatever you want to call it, to its basic teachings. And as I said earlier in this retreat, you can pick up a book written in Tibet in like, 800 A.D. and find exactly the same teachings, expressed very, very similarly, that you’ll find in a book written by a nineteenth century teacher, you know, 100 years ago. And you find the same thing in Japan and China and India.
At the same time, teachings were being formulated and re-formulated in ways that were relevant and meaningful and useful to people in each generation, or maybe in a series of generations, over a hundred years or something like that. So you have lists arising which one teacher put together for his or her students, and that might last a few generations and then a teacher would say no, that’s not working for us anymore, and come up with another list.
I’m giving you all this background so that you can understand the two summaries, because, a summary of the essential instructions: train in the five forces, this is a list.
Now, it’s a list of mind training instructions, not oriented exclusively to taking and sending, which is one form of mind training. It’s operating at a higher level, or a more general level. And this is the purpose of this list, okay, what are the five things that I need to remember? And they are: consistency in practice, developing momentum that way; training in all areas of life; sowing virtuous seeds; feeling regret about reactive states; and dedicating the personal benefit of the practice to the welfare of others.
Student: Would you repeat those again?
Ken: It’s on page 20, in here.
Now, that’s my gloss on them. And if I were translating this again, I’d re-translate it a little differently, so I’m going to give you how I would translate it now. The point here is, this list is just a little thing to keep in your pocket so you know what to do in any situation, and you know what the key points of practice are.
The first one, I originally translated as impetus. If I remember correctly, the Tibetan is the verb, to throw. So it’s how you throw yourself into the practice. Today, I would probably translate this as something around intention. So, Kongtrul says,
Here’s how you form intention.
From this moment until I wake up, at least from now until I die, and especially for the next year and the next month, and definitely from today until tomorrow—you notice, this is the morning prayer,
two aspects of bodhicitta will never be absent from my mind. Bodhicitta is the Sanskrit word for awakening mind, the intention to wake up. So this is a way of constantly renewing one’s intention, constantly coming back in touch with that.
Now, all of you have heard the word mindfulness, I’m sure. Anybody here not heard this word? A number of us have begun to feel that we have to get rid of this word because it’s now taking on a very different meaning, and it was never the right word in the first place. What is the central problem, the most basic problem we have in practice when it comes to living our life?
Ken: Exactly. We forget. The word for mindfulness, or that mindfulness translates, in Tibetan and Sanskrit and Pali is to remember. Or if you wish, to recollect. And that’s what we do. Now, there are many, many levels to this forgetting. At a very deep level, we have forgotten our true nature and we could actually describe practice as, the process of remembering our true nature. It’s not about becoming something, because it’s what we already are. We just have forgotten it.
And there are more than a few stories, myths, fairy tales about just that theme. One I rather like is, a person, this man in a village, has struggled to provide himself with a living working at one thing or another. And just absolutely nothing has worked out. And so he is despairing and very unhappy, and he says, “Well, there’s no point in sticking around here. I’ve got to go and find the source of all riches.”
So he starts his journey and he asks around, people that he meets, “Can you direct me to someone who can tell me where to find the source of all riches?” And he’s sent from one person to another. And he wanders all over the world, following up every lead. Some of them turn out to be dead ends. Some of them refer him to somebody else.
After many, many years, he’s told to go and see this one person who lives on a mountain, or in a desert, or whatever you want. And this is the last person, the last person that he can ask this question of.
So he finally finds this person and says, “I’ve come to you because I’ve been told that you can direct me to the source of all riches.” This person says, “Hate to disappoint you, but, can’t help you.” And the guy is devastated. I mean, what does he do now? So he asks this person, “What do I do?” And the person says, “Well, I’m not sure, but I’ll tell you one thing I do know. There’s a tree in your back yard, and it has a problem with its roots, and it needs your care.” And the guy says “What?” He says, “That’s all I can tell you.”
Well, there’s nothing for him to do, so he picks up his pack and makes his way, slowly, back to his village and comes back to his house. He goes into the back yard and he sees, there’s this tree which he’s never noticed before. It’s always been there but never appreciated. And it doesn’t look very healthy. So he says, “Oh, maybe that guy was right.”
So he goes and gets a spade and some garden tools and starts digging around the base of the tree and he hits something solid. “Hmm, yeah, he’s right. There is a problem with these roots.” So he digs, and it takes him a little while. He uncovers this chest which has been preventing the roots from spreading. He takes out the chest, hammers off the lock, and opens it up, and it’s full of gold. He’s found the source of all riches. So I’ll let you chew on that.
So we forget. What we have to do…the process of practicing, in many respects, is one of constantly remembering, and creating the conditions within us to remember, to remember, to remember. And mindfulness can easily be regarded as just remembering what you’re doing. So when we’re sitting in meditation, resting in the breath, we’re remembering the breath. And we forget it all the time.
And it’s the same way with our intention in practice. We forget it. Thought, or feelings, or emotions arise and we forget. And we go off into some other world and then we come back and, “Oh, yeah, I meant to be doing this. That’s right.” So the force of impetus or intention here, is to constantly be coming back to our intention.
It is for this reason that short formula such as
Give all victory to others; take all loss for myself or short prayers just like this are constantly recommended, because one cultivates those so that they’re just with one all the time. A mantra has the same purpose. And it’s a very, very good thing to find one that speaks to you.
One that I have for myself is connected with Mahakala practice, which is part of my retreat training. And it’s just eight lines. Is it? Four? Yeah, it’s just eight lines and I’ve said it so much that it will just come up periodically. Often, when I’m hiking I’m just repeating it in time with walking. So I’ll hike for hours and just be saying it over and over again.
I think, “Well, what’s the point of that?” Well, there are many, but I’ll just mention two. The first is it keeps bringing you in touch with what you’re actually doing in your practice, while you’re actually doing it. Keeps bringing back to that. Or it brings you back to an aspect of practice that is vitally important. That’s why it’s important to pick a prayer or a verse or a saying that is really meaningful to you.
The second is a little bit deeper. We all have these thoughts that go through our mind all the time. Trungpa’s lovely phrase with this was subconscious gossip, a very creative translator. And what you’re doing, by having such a prayer or phrase that you repeat, is you make it so much a part of yourself that it replaces the subconscious gossip. So instead of having all that “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah” going on, you have something like
I give all victory to others; I take all loss for myself.
Now, there are several effects that come from that. One is, your mind’s just a lot quieter. And the second is that that way of thinking, that whole attitude or approach to life, is being instilled in you at the very, very deepest level. It’s just there. And not surprisingly, you sometimes find yourself just acting out of it, quite naturally. This is exactly what you want. So it’s a way of remembering.
The second force, very closely related to what I’m just saying, is familiarization. You just work at this, work at this, work at this until it just becomes part of you. The Chinese have a saying:
If you want to learn anything, do it ten thousand times. The benefit of doing something over and over and over again is something that we don’t appreciate that much in our society.
Now, you contrast this with the medical model of training, which is see one, do one, teach one. When you see a procedure, you’re regarded as having had the training in order to be able to do it. Once you’ve done it once, then you have the qualification to be able to teach it. Very different. I don’t know whether that’s still the case, but that was a phrase that several doctors told me: “see one, do one, teach one”. And you have the idea of, you know, just learning, learning, just like that. But you never learn all of the subtleties when you’re taking that approach to learning.
There is an American—can’t remember his name—Steven somebody who studied with Nymr Alibaba, who is a Hindu teacher. And he learned a certain amount of chanting, you know, with a harmonium and just chanting Rama Krishna. And in the village—it was part of the village ambiance—that there would be a priest, a Hindu priest, who would just be chanting all the time, putting good vibes into the village, particularly on weddings and things like that. And people would make offerings and that would support the temple.
But this particular village had a problem, in that, whoever they got as a Hindu priest would chant for a few days, and when there were lots of offerings, he’d grab all the offerings and disappear. And after they’d gone through three or four priests this way, the village was saying, “This is not working.” There was a big wedding, and they wanted someone to be able to chant for the whole time of the wedding. So they went to Nymr Alibaba and said, “We need a good priest.” He said, “I’ll give you a good priest.” And they said “Great!” And he turned to this American and said, “Go and do this chanting.” So he went there, and the villagers were outraged, because what was this Westerner doing? They wanted a Hindu priest.
They went back to Nymr Alibaba and said, “What did you send this guy for? He’s a foreigner.” And he said, “Yeah, but he’s not going to steal your money.” “Oh.” So Steven ended up doing this chanting. And he chanted for a week, day and night. And he said it was excruciatingly difficult. He just had to keep going.
And he learned so much from doing that, just doing it over and over again. He had to deal with boredom, stumbling over syllables, getting all the rhythm mixed up, you know, tiredness, etc., etc. But this is what his guru had said, you know, “just go and do this”. So, there he was, no choice.
So, don’t underestimate how much you learn from doing something over and over and over again. It’s very, very helpful. And it’s a way you’re going to come up against all your resistance and all of the problems, and there are many more stories I could tell you.
Kalu Rinpoche’s head chanter told me how he did a retreat on Vairocana. And he got so sick that he could only eat a small bowl of ground barley every day. And he just kept chanting Vairocana’s mantra, which is a purification practice. And he said his hair fell out, his fingernails fell out, and he just kept going. And something shifted, and then after awhile he started to be able to take nourishment, and he continued this one-year retreat. And after that, he never had any problem with his practice.
So familiarization is very, very important. We’re not used to working this way. We just want everything to be comfortable, want it to work for us. I’m always talking about this; I’m always reminded of a phrase from Suzuki Roshi:
In the difficulties in your practice, you’ll find your firm, way-seeking mind. And the only way you’re going to encounter those difficulties is by constantly applying yourself to the practice.
The third force is virtuous seeds. I touched upon this yesterday. Doing good brings clarity and openness to the mind. So when you have an opportunity to do something, and a choice between good or evil, I suggest you just choose good. It just works better. We have this phrase, “random acts of kindness.” You know, that’s not a bad phrase. Just to do things spontaneously, and for no particular reason other than to do something good. That’s a very good practice.
Fourth, is the force of regret. Again, this is something that’s very out of fashion. It’s a very good practice, and we’ll cover this later again. At the end of each day to look over the day and see, “How did I do? Where did I fall down? What wasn’t I able to meet in attention?” And inevitably we do things which are contrary to our spiritual aspirations, maybe things that cause harm and pain, suffering to others and create problems for ourselves.
What’s very important here, I’ve found, is when you come across those things or you see that you’ve done something like that, open to the experience that led you into that action. Actually go through it, because this is the only way you’re going to find out what actually happened. And almost always, you’ll find some uncomfortable feeling, some belief that you didn’t want to let go of, some assumption you made. And it was that which produced a lack of awareness, or a moment of forgetfulness. And then you went in that direction.
Several years ago, a Zen teacher that I know ended up in a very compromising position. It’s not clear that anything untoward actually happened. But he ended up in a very compromising position which led to his being removed from the head of the Zen center. And I knew this person, knew he was basically a good teacher and a good person.
So after all the foofrah had died down, I called him up and suggested we have lunch. And we did. And we talked about this. And he said he knew he was alcoholic, and at the end of a sesshin, or intensive training period, there is a kind of party celebrating the end of the sesshin and he decided to have a drink. And he has no idea what he did after that one drink, which is how alcohol affects some people.
So I asked him, what made you take that drink? And he said, “I don’t know; it was just a mistake.” And I was really, really surprised, because here was a pivotal action and, for whatever reason, he wasn’t the least bit curious about it. And I’ve run across that, with a couple of other colleagues of mine, where things have happened which have had very, very detrimental effects on their practice, or their careers as teachers. And they’ve displayed absolutely no curiosity about that moment. And I find that very, very curious.
So the force of regret isn’t to beat yourself up. It’s to open, acknowledge what has happened, and come to as clear an understanding of how one fell into forgetfulness, or lack of awareness, or reactivity—whatever you want to call it—as possible, because only then will you actually have the right form of regret, saying “Okay, this isn’t where I wanted to go, and I’m not going to go there again.”
And the fifth force is the force of aspiration. This is somewhat similar to intention, but it’s not as directed. It is just imagining wonderful possibilities, for yourself and for others. So it’s a way of opening our minds, opening our hearts to all kinds of possibilities. In the evening, or at the end of practice, we do an aspiration prayer. It’s one that I chose because it’s very much in keeping with the theme of taking and sending, The Eight Thoughts of Great Individuals. Now, it’s pretty extreme, right?
May the suffering of sentient beings, who are as extensive as space, be cleared away through my own efforts. Very similar to the Zen vow, you know,
Sentient beings are limitless; I vow to save them all.
May the flesh, blood, skin, and other parts of my body be useful to any sentient being who has need of them.
As long as I experience this world, may not a single thought of harming others arise in my mind.
These are aspirations. Now, these may or may not connect with you. Rinpoche wrote this prayer, I think when he was about 24 or so. So this is your shot. I mean, this is how he wanted to be.
Another prayer which we’ve done at retreats, is the Mahamudra Prayer, which goes through all of the different aspects of mahamudra. And you’re just wishing, may I be able to do this, and may I be able to do this, may I be able to do this. There are many, many of these prayers.
And one doesn’t have to have them in the formal prayer context, but to foster these aspirations in yourself you feel differently I mean, one can turn to Browning about this. In one of his poems he says,
A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s heaven for? And he has another line, which I can’t remember. My father liked to quote it. He said something like, “A person striving to save millions ends up saving mere thousands, while a person who strives to save a hundred…or one or two merely saves one or two.”
Should I say that again?
A person striving to save millions and failing ends up saving thousands. A person who strives to save one or two may succeed, but only saves one or two. So it’s the idea of having very, very big aspirations. Oh, so you never fulfill them? Doesn’t matter. You’re still moving mountains. You follow? So think big, in other words. It’s Mahayana; you’ve got to think big. Now, this is how to live life, fostering these.
And then, there’s this little matter of death. In the three-year retreat, Ingrid, who was my wife at that time, asked Bokar Rinpoche, who was Kalu Rinpoche’s successor—because we’d learned, you know, four or five different ways to die, or practices to do at death, various forms of transference or phowa—just a whole bunch of stuff. And she asked Bokar Rinpoche, “What should we practice when we’re dying?” And he said: this, the five forces, at death.
And these are not dramatic, you know, miracle-type things. But this is how to die, to die in attention. And as I studied these carefully, part of my curiosity, and what I was saying earlier about lists and the order of the lists being important. When you go through the list here, it’s a different order, even though it’s the same five forces.
That aroused my curiosity. What’s going on? And you will see in my notes, on page 20, where I looked at this list closely, I found that the various efforts corresponded precisely with the five stages of dying Kubler-Ross identified back in the seventies, and I thought, “That’s interesting.”
You know, when we’re dying, the first thing is, “Oh, I’m not dying.” What do you do? Well, you start giving away everything. It’s a recognition that you’re dying. You’re no longer going to need any of this stuff. So you might as well get rid of it, instead of leaving it for somebody else to clean up.
And then, the dedication, which is another way of describing aspiration. When we’re dying, or approaching death, or approaching the end of anything, after we get through the denial, we’re angry about it. And that anger is a closing down on ourselves. It’s about, you know, “Why is this happening to me?” We’re angry about it. Opening, and wishing that good comes out of this, counteracts that anger.
And then we go into bargaining, trying to figure some way to worm out of this. And that’s where the force of regret comes in, like, “Okay, no, this is actually happening. Let’s not try to bargain out of this. Let’s just take the whole thing in and treat it with the seriousness that it deserves.”
T.S. Elliott covers the same thing in the Four Quartets, which, if I can remember this…
Shall I tell you the gifts reserved for age? First, the cult fiction as body and sense fall asunder. I haven’t got that quite right, but the one I remember is the second or third one.
And the shame of actions late revealed which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Now, when we’re coming to the end of a relationship, coming to the end of a job even, coming to the end of our lives, coming to the end of a stage of life, we look back and we can see things that we thought were just the right thing to do, and we now see all of the effects of those. “Oh, I thought that was a good thing, but it really wasn’t, was it? I was in delusion.”
And this moves us away from trying to worm out of the situation and just say “Okay, that’s how it is.” Now I see it accurately; now I see it clearly. And when we’re dying, when you’re ending anything, if we’re to end it so that there is no residue, it’s very important to see and know and understand things clearly. That’s what this is about. When we’re bargaining, we’re still trying to keep everything in place. That’s why this is the remedy for, or counteracts that tendency.
Then, there is momentum. Despair, which is closely related to depression, is just tough, it immobilizes you. This is where you’re really dependent on the momentum of your practice. And when you have a consistent relationship with attention, and with the habit of fostering attention, then it just works on its own. And it prevents you from lapsing into the immobilization of despair.
Rinpoche used to tell a story about a woman who was extremely bad-tempered. And she was just flying off the handle at everybody. Very, very angry person. And her son was very concerned what was going to happen when she died, sure that she was going to end up in the hell realms. And she would absolutely not listen to any of his suggestions about being a little nicer to people and so forth.
So he did manage to persuade her to put a bell on the door of her store. And she agreed to say the mantra, om mani padme hung or Avalokiteshvara’s mantra, om mani padme hung, whenever the bell rang. So, that was all he could do.
Well, she died and she ended up in hell, in this cauldron of molten copper. One of the guards was stirring it with this big metal ladle. And it banged against the side of the pot, and it went “ding”. And she went om mani padme hung, and was released from hell.
So, the power of momentum. I haven’t told that story for a decade or more.
Finally, the training. When we know we’re going to die, when we’ve worked through to the point that this is going to happen, now we actually use our training. And the way that we use our training is, and these are the instructions for that: if we can, we sit up. If not, we lie down. One’s usually advised to lie down on the right side. And you start off by cultivating bodhicitta and then moving into taking and sending, just so that as you’re dying, your thoughts are, “May I take the suffering of others onto myself; may all my goodness and good fortune go to them.” And then as it becomes more difficult for you to breathe, you just rest in open awareness. And these are the instructions for how to die. This way, you die at peace. No regrets.
So that’s the two summaries.
Then the next point, which is, I believe, point number four—no it will be five—is proficiency in mind training. How do you know whether you’re getting anywhere? For how many is that a question? Oh, come on, so many liars here!
We all want to know whether we’re getting somewhere. And for this I’m always reminded of Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat. Alice, of course, is lost. She comes across the Cheshire Cat, says, “Please, sir, which way should I go?” And the Cheshire Cat says, “Well, that all depends on where you want to go.” To which Alice replies, “Well, it doesn’t really matter.” And the Cheshire Cat says, “Then it doesn’t really matter which way you go, does it?”
And Alice says, “As long as I get somewhere.” And the Cheshire Cat says, “Well, if you go far enough, you’ll get somewhere.”
Now, in Tibetan Buddhism, as in virtually every other spiritual tradition, there are all kinds of stages of practice. There are the five paths; there are the ten stages of a bodhisattva; there’s the four stages of mahamudra, each of which have three, so that makes a total of twelve. And then I read this wonderful account of dzogchen in which there are no stages, but just to prove there are no stages, here are the sixteen stages of dzogchen. It’s just completely bizarre logic, but there it is.
So there’s always been this inclination in all of us to measure progress. Well, I find mind training—particularly Mind Training in Seven Points—wonderful because you have the first instruction here:
All instructions have one aim. Now, here I’ve talked about it in terms of presence and the traditional presentation that’s talked about in terms of, Is there any attachment to a sense of self? And it’s very simple. Is there an attachment to a sense of self? Then, you’re not complete. If there’s no attachment to a sense of self, you’re done, that’s it. Very simple.
And so, you don’t have to worry about any stages, you know. You just check: is there any attachment to a sense of self? Okay, I still have stuff to do. That’s it. And you don’t have to worry about whether you’re further along than somebody else, or they’re further along than you. All of that’s meaningless because, comparison is only meaningful in the world of shared experience, you see. In the world of our own experiences, am I confused or am I present? That’s it. Things get much, much simpler.
Now, it’s very, very easy to say that. But another list that we have about progress are the four stages of arhatship. You know, it’s stream-winner, once-returner, no-returner and arhat. And it’s observed that the comparing mind is the last thing to be given up. It’s very, very deep. And hence, this instruction. One aim—is there attachment to a sense of self? Okay, not finished. That’s it. Gets you away from all of that comparing, which is really helpful.
Two witnesses, rely on the important one. Basically, this is Chekawa’s way of saying don’t believe your own press. As you practice, and it’s very interesting what happens here. The other day I talked about the illusion of choice indicating a lack of freedom. As you practice—or as we practice—we see things more clearly and because we are less invested in our reputation or a sense of self, our idea of who we are, we’re actually freer to act in situations. We can do anything because we’re not limited by a sense of, “I am this”. So we both see things more clearly and we are freer to act.
The result of that is that we come into a situation and we just say, “Oh, I need to do this.” And there doesn’t seem to be any choice. It’s like, well, that’s the obvious thing to do, so we do it. Not only does there not seem to be any choice, it’s just so clear. It also seems totally natural. There’s just what needs to be done here; no big deal. And so we don’t think anything about it. That’s how it appears to us.
So in a certain sense, the clearer, more awake you become, the more natural and clear what to do in situations is. But the way it appears on the outside—that is, to other people—is, “How did he know how to do that? I thought she was that kind of person, but she did this in this situation. I don’t get that at all.” And they think, “Wow, this is really remarkable.” And they come up and they pat you on the back and say what a wonderful person you are. Okay?
There’s a story of a Dutch person who was in a Zen monastery and he had tremendous difficulty. He was always screwing up about everything. Couldn’t get anything right. And he couldn’t sit properly, couldn’t get any of the rituals right. But one sesshin, during the sesshin when it was his responsibility to serve tea. When tea was served, one person got the tea pot, and one person got the tea cups. And the tea cups were distributed and then the person with the tea pot went around and filled all the cups where everybody was sitting. And his responsibility was to get the tea pot and fill all the cups.
So he got the tea pot, came out, and saw that there were no cups. So he put down the tea pot, went back into the kitchen and got tea cups. Put them all around, and then filled everybody’s cup. And took the tea pot back to the kitchen, came back to his place. And went on with the meditation. And didn’t think anything about it.
At the end of the session, all the monks came up and said, “Good job! Great. You did great there!” He said, “What? What are you talking about?” “You did a great job there, that was really good. You’re making great progress in your practice.” “Huh? What are you talking about?” Because here, he just saw what needed to be done and he did it without thinking, whereas another person would say, “Who didn’t put the tea cups out? Where is that person? You didn’t do your job!” etc., etc. Which would all have been highly disturbing to the sesshin and the retreat. Instead, he just did what needed to be done.
Suzuki Roshi, when they were working at the Tassajara, Suzuki Roshi would work with everybody else. And early one morning, a bunch of them had climbed up to the top of the hill to do some work. They got up there and they found that they were one spade short. So they started discussing with each other who was going to go down and get the spade. And they came to a decision. And the person started to leave and they looked, and Suzuki Roshi was already halfway down the hill, getting the spade. You just do it.
So people are going to compliment you when they perceive changes in your behavior. All that means is, you’re making their world easier for them. You know yourself whether you’re actually clear or not. But you will get good press; just don’t believe it. You know in yourself whether you were really clear in a situation. And sometimes you’ll be clear in a situation and do things for which you will get a great deal of negative feedback. But you know you were clear. And other times you’ll get a lot of positive feedback for situations where you knew you were just lucky.
So if you depend on others’ feedback to monitor how you’re doing, all you’re doing is fitting into their expectations. You’re not depending on your own clarity and your own knowing. And that’s what’s important here.
A joyous state of mind is a constant support. This is not the excited joy of elation. It’s much deeper, much quieter than that. It’s the joy that comes from knowing that what you’re doing, whatever it is, is meaningful in and of itself. In some respects, it’s quite subtle. But when you start discovering that joy in yourself, it’s an indication that your practice is effective.
Then the fourth one is—this comes directly from familiarization—that the practice just operates, whether you’re thinking about it or not. You see this in people who are highly trained in some discipline. It can be martial arts; it can be horseback riding; could be kayaking or canoeing. There is so much training there that when something unexpected happens, they’re right with it. They don’t have to think about, “Oh, what do I do now?” It just happens. That’s the degree to which we want to train, so that when difficulty arises in our lives, mind training just clicks in. When we get really excited about the good things that arise in our lives, mind training clicks in. It just happens. And this comes solely through the power of just doing it again and again and again, so it becomes the way that we respond to a situation. We don’t have to think about it.
These are the signs that your practice is effective. As Kongtrul makes the point of saying, these are not signs that you’ve finished.
Again, this is something we have from our education system, and from the way that we actually lead our lives. We’re encouraged to set goals, and then achieve them. And to set another goal, and then achieve it, and set another goal, and then achieve it. That has absolutely no meaning in the world of actual experience, because when you set a goal and you achieve it, in the world that you actually experience, you still have to go on living. The world doesn’t stop because you’ve achieved a goal. Experience doesn’t stop arising because you achieved a goal. You know? What next?
These teachings, and these instructions we’re working with, are not about achieving goals, but how to be completely awake and present in experience. And so, what I’ve just outlined in these four signs are ways for you to recognize whether your practice is being effective. And then you continue to do it. And you go back to the first one. Is there any sense of self? Yes. Okay, still more to do.
Okay, so I have a few minutes for a few questions. Agnes.
Agnes: Could you back track to the summaries, kind of elaborate regret to counteract bargaining? And also differentiate between regret and remorse.
Ken: For the latter, the word in Tibetan could be translated either regret or remorse. It’s not about feeling guilty. Suppose you had a drink and somebody came up to you and said, “Oh, you drank that, did you? That was poisoned.” Now, you wouldn’t feel guilty about that. But you would feel regret.
And this is how negative action is regarded in Buddhism. It’s not about guilt. We regret doing negative action because it creates suffering for ourselves and others, sets in process a motion by which suffering is created. So it’s like drinking poison. In fact, the word for unwholesome action in Tibetan is related to the word for scorpion. It comes back and stings you.
Now, take what happens at the end of a relationship. One or both parties tries to justify, you know. They weren’t really the bad person, and so forth, and get’s into a tangle. Truth is, there’s always problems on both sides. That’s why it’s ending. It’s never just one side. And the way you cut through the bargaining like, “Well if I do this, then could we do this,” and things like that, it’s a way of not acknowledging the hurt that was actually caused. So the force of regret is just to take a look at what are the things that I’ve done here, and acknowledge them: this is the result. And it reduces the tendency to try to wiggle out of the situation and wiggle out of the implications. It’s what I’ve found. Okay?
Agnes: Well, remorse, then, is like, use your poison, you give the poison to somebody else. And so you have remorse and sorrow about that.
Agnes: Regret is…
Ken: Well, you could do it that way, but as I say, the word in Tibetan is sometimes translated as remorse, sometimes translated as regret. So I don’t want to get into defining a distinction there.
Agnes: The true distinction is, there’s no guilt there.
Ken: That’s the important point.
Agnes: Okay. Thank you.
Ken: Other questions.
Now, in terms of your actual practice that we’re doing here today, this is extra material. In meditation practice, you continue with the taking and sending in the way that we talked about yesterday. Now expanding the practice, deepening the practice, taking it into areas that you haven’t been able to take it before. The section on summaries is providing you with a way of carrying the sense of practice into your life and into your death and the way of checking whether you’re proficient. It’s a way of addressing that tendency. Everybody asks, how do I know if I’m making progress?
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If you look carefully, the only reason that we want to know that we’re making progress is to confirm a sense of self, which is exactly what we’re trying to let go of. I think this is why Trungpa says that meditation practice is one insult after another. Leslie.
Leslie: It seems to me it would also be—because some practices are more effective for some people than other practices—it seems that it could also be a way of determining whether or not you’re doing the right practice or you’re on the right track. So it seems like it’s more than that, to me.
Ken: Well, the signs of progress are subtle, actually. It’s not that we can do more…it’s not necessarily that we can do more, or feel more compassionate, or anything like that. We know, in ourselves, whether we are more awake or more present. And it has relatively little to do with how effective we seem or what we’re displaying in the world. That’s why it says here,
Rely on the principle witness, the clarity of your own mind.
And going to your point about practices, some practices, as soon as we start working with them, we feel more awake, like “Oh!” They resonate with us, speak to us. And other practices don’t. Our retreat director found the practice of the four immeasurables didn’t speak to him at all, didn’t help him at all. I find them extremely helpful. We have those kinds of differences. So, he didn’t encourage people to do them because they didn’t work for him, and I encourage people to do them because they work for me. But it’s one of the reasons we have so many practices, so we can find the practices which actually speak to us, help us become clearer, more awake. Okay?
One more question, if anybody has one. Raquel?
Raquel: I’m not sure if anyone else is having this problem with taking and sending, and I may be misunderstanding it, but it seems like both the taking and the sending have aspects of generosity and self-sacrifice in them?
Raquel: So, I’m finding myself either tapping into or feeling the generosity part of taking someone’s suffering and sending out happiness, or the opposite, and I’m…
Ken: The self-sacrifice?
Ken: Where does the self-sacrifice come from?
Raquel: Well, to be honest, the majority of the time it was the generosity, taking generosity and tapping into the generosity part, so I was countering it by doing the self-sacrifice on both ends of it.
Ken: You weren’t comfortable feeling like a generous person? You had to make it painful?
Raquel: Kind of, yeah. I felt a little bit, well, on one end I wasn’t sure if I was doing the practice right, because I felt good, and then secondly I did…
Ken: Oh, can’t have you feeling good! Absolutely against the rules!
Raquel: Well, that came from feeling guilty for feeling good when I’m taking in someone’s suffering.
Ken: Is your last name Calvin?
Raquel: Maybe in the future.
Ken: Why add the extra layer? So you take in suffering, and you feel good about taking in suffering. What’s wrong with that?
Ken: Ah, there is something wrong with it, isn’t there?
Raquel: Yeah, I want things to be different, I think. Or so—
Ken: What’s wrong with feeling good about helping people be free of suffering?
Raquel: Well, thinking about it right now, nothing. But, I’m not there.
Ken: So, when you hit it. There you are, you’re taking in the suffering, giving your happiness, and you’re feeling good. Well, you discovered you can feel good taking all of that suffering in. Now, you give that away, too. But you don’t have to say, “I have to feel bad doing this.” That’s not necessary.
Raquel: Hmm. I guess my intellect is wondering, and maybe I, you know, shouldn’t be going there, but I’m wondering if the result of that in a situation—I think I’m going to answer my own question right here—but a part of me feels like I’m not sure if I would react to the situation—if it’s a serious situation—as well if I’m feeling good and light and balanced, as opposed to being a little angry, feeling the injustice, seeing what’s going on. But now that I say it out loud, I think I’d probably make a better decision in balance.
Ken: Well, not only a better decision. If you were one of the people that was being helped, who would you rather be helped by? Someone who is…
Raquel: I see your point.
Ken: Well, do you want to be helped by someone who’s, “This is all wrong. This is mean. We’re going to get even here. We’re going to fight against this.” or who says, “Look what we can do! We can do this, and we can do this,” and there’s a lot of things. Who would you rather follow?
Ken: That’s fine.
Ken: Okay, good enough. Anyway, let’s close here, and meditation. Okay?