Teachings on the practices and principals regarding mind training, ranging from making adversity the path to awakening, taking and sending, the four kayas, and the five forces in daily life.
Direct Awareness, Taking & Sending Download
Vajrayana approach to taking and sending; exploring imbalances in experience; moving right into experience.
Ken: There are various approaches to taking and sending. One we haven’t discussed explicitly—come to think of it we haven’t discussed it implicitly either—is the Vajrayana approach to taking and sending, distinguishing it from the Mahayana approach. I’m not sure really how widely this is practiced. It’s an instruction that I received from Kalu Rinpoche. And it’s the basis of a prayer service that he wrote for the evening rituals in his monastery.
Basically, it consists of all the steps that are outlined in The Great Path Of Awakening. We do a form of guru yoga at the beginning, praying to the guru in the form of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezi, as many of you will know. The guru dissolves into your own form, comes to rest in your heart, which is all standard practice, and then you become Chenrezi or Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of awakened compassion, and do taking and sending as Chenrezi. This is a little different from doing it as an ordinary human being because as the embodiment of awakened compassion you understand directly the emptiness of all experience—particularly the emptiness of one’s own existence.
The consequence of that is there is no resistance at all to taking in the suffering. And as for what to give, well, there’s a wealth of possibilities. So there’s equally no problem about what to give—inexhaustible resources in terms of awareness and compassion and joy, and so forth and so forth and so forth.
Now, people often ask, “Then it’s all just make-believe?” Well, it’s all just make-believe anyway, but Vajrayana works in some subtle and—at first glance—strange ways. But the principles are very important.
Some of you may be familiar with the ngöndro or groundwork practice—of mandala offerings, in which you imagine offering the universe—arranged very similar to the way that we do it in chö, except it’s not your own body, you imagine it’s the universe—to all the buddhas, and the three jewels, and the three roots, and so forth. The ritual mandala used for these purposes is a piece of copper or silver or, if you can afford it, gold, which is usually a disk about this big with not a raised portion but a dropped portion, so you can hold it. And you put rice on it in a certain arrangement and then you offer it.
The instructions in the text say that if you have two mandalas, put one on the shrine to represent the field, and put the better one on the shrine. The reason for this is you put the better one on the shrine so you won’t have any concerns about scratching the better one when you’re putting the rice on it, you see. And in a certain sense this is the heart of Vajrayana. Because in the Vajrayana point of view, what you’re really trying to train is to express action and to express feelings with no second thoughts whatsoever. It’s just absolutely free.
So if you’re holding your silver one up there and you have your copper one here—that’s fine, but put the copper one up there and the silver one here. You might think, “Oh gee, I may be wrecking this. Not gonna look so good after I finish all of these.” Well, in the same way, when you do taking and sending imagining you’re the embodiment of awakened compassion—it’s free, it’s just open. And there’s no thought of, “Oh, this is going to hurt me,” and “I don’t really want to do this,” and “I’m afraid of this,” and “I’m attached to this quality I’m giving away.” You’re actually practicing it being very, very free.
Now, the downside of this is that unless you understand—and preferably understand this experientially when you’re doing the practice—that everything is empty, you can get a swelled head doing this practice, you know. And that’s the instruction we had earlier—reducing a god to a demon. And that is potentially a problem. In practice, it doesn’t work out as a problem very often, but that danger is there if—in imagining that you are the embodiment of awakened compassion—you continue to hold onto a sense of self: “I am this.” Very solid. So I wanted to mention that for the sake of completeness.
Ken: The main focus that I want to address this morning is to give you yet another way—of approaching taking and sending, which is working more directly with the totality of experience. Or with the world of complete experience, we’ve been calling it. Yesterday afternoon, I introduced you to another way of just letting the attention rest in presence. Some people call this the primary practice—it may have other names that I’m not aware of—focus, field, internal material, presence.
Now, when you rest like that in the totality of your experience—which means no inside, no outside—[pause] you can sense any imbalance in the world of your experience. And I say sense in the sense of know directly. It’s not a case of examining what’s going on here and trying to figure something out or where is it imbalanced—it’s a felt sense.
All of you have had experience with this kind of direct sensing, direct knowing. You can be in a meeting or with a group of people, and you just sense that something’s wrong. And if you just open to that feeling, you may think, “Oh, there’s tension between those two people over there.” Nothing’s being said but one senses it directly. Or, that person’s feeling left out or…
And one of the instructions that’s given in Zen centers, in some Zen centers, usually Rinzai more than Soto…everybody’s sitting and there’s this person walking around with a stick, and the instruction that is given to this person is, “Don’t look at anything. When you walk around, do not look at anything. Do not be looking at people to see how they’re sitting. Just be right in your own practice as you walk around. And as you walk by people you will sense—know directly—where their practice is. And if they’re present and in attention, feel that. And if they’re not, feel that. And if it’s appropriate to apply the stick, then you do so.” But it doesn’t come from thinking about it or analyzing. It comes from just being right in one’s own experience and sensing any imbalance.
Now, many of you in the course of this retreat, through the taking and sending, have become very clearly aware of how certain emotional issues—unresolved emotional issues in you—create suffering not only for you but also for others. And using the taking and sending, you are moving more and more into the experience of those emotions, which at another time in your life were not able to be experienced—for whatever reason—so were frozen. Any time anything resonated with them, you know, you just bounced out of there real quickly. Which is basically how reactive patterns form and operate.
What I’m suggesting now, when you sit in presence, those same emotional issues, and any others, will be experienced as an imbalance or as a disturbance. In my experience—and this is what I’m interested in exploring with you—as that disturbance arises, it tends to be regarded as something other. One moves into an /other framework—out of presence. And so as soon as you sense that feeling—“This is across from where I am,” which is basically how it arises, that’s the I/other—then you do taking and sending with exactly that. Because in that imbalance there is some suffering, there’s some reactivity going on, and so you do taking and sending with exactly that.
Yesterday morning, I gave the example of my own body in a lot of pain. There’s serious imbalance there. And I also suggested you do taking and sending with your anger. How many of you have—in your practice now—have a persistent little voice which is just nattering at you about something or other? Do you know what I mean? Yeah. Well, that’s another imbalance. How many of you have listened to that voice? Or do you just, you know, “Go away! Get out of here!” Right? That’s what we usually do.
You have to know how to do this [practice] effectively. That’s what we’re talking about. I mean, it’s even worse than that. At the end of this book [Great Path of Awakening, 2005 ed., p. 47] starting on page 44, at the bottom it says, Here are some of Lord Serlingpa’s teachings. I have another text on mind training which is called The Hundred Thousand Instructions in Mind Training, and it just gives one thing after another. It’s in Tibetan. May have been translated into English by now.
In it there’s not only The Seven Points of Mind Training by Chekawa but Chekawa’s own commentary on it and just all kinds of other mind training teachings. But one of them is entitled Serlingpa’s Instructions to Atisha. And it’s exactly this text; what follows are these verses. So this is what Serlingpa gave to Atisha in about—what are we, the year 2000 now?—almost exactly a thousand years ago. And if you look at the top of page 45 [2005 ed., p. 48], it says:
As soon as thoughts arise flatten them in mind training or emptiness. Remedies aren’t just meditations to be used when it’s convenient. As soon as disturbing emotions arise jump on them, round them up, isolate them, crush them.
[Laughter] You know, how do you do this?
Student: Without effort.
Ken: Yeah. You know, most people, they read something like this and they get totally the wrong idea, you know. And they literally start to wrestle with their emotions. And the anger comes up, “You’re not going to win, anger! I got you.” [makes grunting noises like he’s wrestling]. Well, guess who’s winning this one? [Laughter]
The deepest and most effective method—and you notice I’m not saying the easiest—is to move directly into the experience of the disturbance. And that is a principle which you find again and again in dzogchen, mahamudra, mind training. In the Theravadan tradition, it’s expressed a little differently but—for instance, in the vipashyana—you have this noting practice. Some of you may be familiar with it. The way the noting works is you become so precise that when you name what is arising, it’s because you are experiencing it. And as soon as you name it [snaps fingers], it releases because you are experiencing it. That’s how it’s meant to work. It’s not meant to be sitting back going, “It’s this, and this and this.” It’s a constant moving right into the experience: bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. So the naming has to be very precise, and this doesn’t involve a lot of thinking, which is a mistake that’s commonly made.
I know of students in the Theravadan who come to me, and also Zen—and not a few in the Tibetan—who, you know, “I’m always being distracted by my anger. You know, I’m just trying to do my visualizations, and it’s just so upsetting. It’s just aargh. It’s just a constant fight.”
The cook in the second three-year retreat that I did had been trained in Zen in Paris. And when he was exposed to Tibetan practice, he realized that for the most part he had just sat rigidly, trying not to experience anything. So there was no fluidity, no openness and—very important—no real clarity.
In another Theravadan tradition, people practiced really, really hard. I mean they’d sit for two hours without moving. That’s expected. And the teacher’s instructions have been somewhat misinterpreted by many of the Western students. In that you’re just—right there. And so there’s extraordinary rigidity in these people. Their sitting is very, very strong but there is no ability to experience the coming and going of what arises in experience. So, there’s a problem there.
This ability to move right into the experience—very important—because when something is experienced completely, it’s finished. All of you know this. And many of you have experienced it in the work we’ve been doing here. But it is not restricted to retreat situations.
When you experience grief, for instance. Someone close to you has died or maybe a relationship has ended. When you actually experience—possibly because say a relationship has ended—the person says, “No. I don’t want to see you anymore. And that’s that.” And it actually sinks in and you feel all of that like, “Ah.” It’s at that point that you can start going on with your life. Up to that point there’s still that, “Uh-uh”—trying to keep something going. So, separation, when it’s experienced completely, that’s freedom.
A thing that I often do with people to illustrate this is—we can do it right now. Many of you have done this with me before. Take something that really just irritates you. Irritates the hell out of you. Just bugs you. You know, it can be a telemarketing call. I recently spent three days doing a customer support exchange with Microsoft, getting nowhere. You know, things like that.
Okay, so right now, just let yourself feel that anger. And don’t be afraid. It doesn’t matter how trivial, or it can even be something big. Just “aargh.” Just like “grrrr.” And just let yourself feel it. You’ve got plenty of attention. You don’t have to worry about getting up and hitting anybody. And just let yourself feel that anger right in your body, and the frustration, imposition, inconvenience: “How dare they! Don’t they understand who you are?” Yeah. Okay. So, you got it? Okay. Now I want you to say to yourself, “I’m really, really angry and I’m glad I’m angry! I’m GLAD that I’m angry.” [Laughter] What happened?
Student: You feel silly.
Ken: Yeah. Right? I’m a great believer in skillful means. And skillful means is whatever works, in that what would be a trap for one person will work for another, and what will work for one person will be a trap for another.
So anyway, what happens when you say, “I’m angry and I’m glad?” What happens to the anger? It just goes “phew.” Now, it’s just like that—[snaps fingers]. Right?
Student: My sense is that I felt it completely.
Ken: That’s exactly right. When you say, “I’m glad.” like, yeah—you just open. And there’s the anger “poof.” And it’s complete. Your experience—[snaps fingers]—and it’s gone. That’s it.
Okay. Now, this is what those phrases mean—that you bring your attention to what’s arising in these kinds of skillful ways. So you move right into the experience. That’s what it means to flatten an emotion or disturbance in emptiness or in mind training. It means to experience it and “poof.” That’s it. And then you’re just there.
So, you’re resting in presence. You sense an imbalance. A sense of other and I comes up. Now do taking and sending with exactly that. There is some pain, discomfort, or something like that in the disturbance. There has to be, otherwise there wouldn’t be a disturbance. Take exactly that in. And give whatever—clarity, enjoyment, love, but something you yourself actually experience—to that disturbance.
In the example that I was talking about yesterday—when experiencing my body in a great deal of pain—I took the pain in. And in taking the pain in, just let myself experience it—the pain of my body, which I was feeling very alienated from at that point. And gave to my body the experience of being understood and sympathized with, which all of us know. You know, when you are in pain, that’s a nice feeling. And so I gave that to my body—that feeling that I’ve experienced—to my body. And the sense of alienation drops—or evaporates would be closer to the point—and you move back into presence. I’m not saying it does that in one breath. It may take a little while.
And if you’re angry, rather than doing taking and sending with the person or situation with which you think you are angry—it’s usually something else anyway—do it with the anger itself. Now, what is the experience of anger like? Boiling. Seething. Fire. Burning. You know, those kinds of things. Is this pleasant? The actual experience of anger, is it pleasant? So that’s what you take. The unpleasant experience of anger itself. And you give to the anger the experience of being at peace. Give that right to the anger. So again, the sense of alienation—separation—dissolves and you move right into the experience. And, you are at peace at the same time.
Now, this is not about resolving the situation. This is about resolving the imbalances that arise in you which give rise to projections onto the situation. So when you do this, you’re working through or dissipating those projections or your own negativity. This allows you to see the situation clearly. And now you may have other ideas about what to do, or you may see there is really nothing to do. So, it’s not about resolving the situation itself. That’s a whole other matter. This is about becoming clear in one’s own experience. This is about moving into the experience. When you are taking in the anger, you are really experiencing the anger. The anger only persists for as long as it is not experienced completely just as demonstrated in that little exercise we did.
[A student asks if this also resolves the conflicts that caused the imbalance].
Ken: No. In this, you’re just working directly with your experience. Because this is the world of complete experience, so you’re working with your sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Where are there sentient beings? I see, you know, a certain form here, it’s colored a certain way etc., etc. That’s what I actually experience. Maybe when I experience that, I also experience irritation. Now I work directly with that experience of irritation.
This is why it’s coming out of that sense of presence—just being with what is. Like we did yesterday afternoon. And that’s what I want you to keep coming back to, is just being present. And then doing taking and sending with the imbalances that arise there. It’s a different approach.
Now, we’re getting lots of questions.
Student: Do we deal with really pleasant experiences the same way?
Ken: It works exactly the same way. When intensely pleasurable experiences arise, there’s a feeling of “I want more. I want to own this.” That’s the imbalance. Okay? Or “I can’t experience this. I’m not worthy enough.” And so even though something very positive is arising, it can be experienced as something other. And so you move directly into that experience by taking in that discomfort. You take in anything that you are regarding as other. Okay? So if the experience itself is being regarded as other, you take that in. And when you do that, you’re going to hit all of the stuff inside which is uncomfortable with that. And you’ll experience that, also. Okay? April?
April: Isn’t there a time when a feeling of anger is appropriate and just so long as you don’t react to it in a way that is contrary to presence, it actually is an appropriate response to do the right thing?
Ken: Well Aristotle would agree with you. Aristotle once said or wrote, It’s very easy to be angry, but it is quite difficult to be angry at the right person at the right time for the right reason in the right way.
April: I find it easy.
Ken: [Laughs] Oh, you find it very easy to do that?
April: In the situations I’m thinking of.
Ken: Well, what does the anger do for you in those situations?
April: It stimulates me to take appropriate action.
Ken: Okay. So, another way of putting what you just said is that, “In order for me to move into appropriate action, I have to go into the hell realm.”
April: Well. There are times though when—
Ken: But in the anger there’s a sense of opposition, right? In the experience of anger, there’s a sense of opposition. Now, is it possible—and many people find this—they need the anger in order to energize themselves to act? What I’m suggesting is that that represents a limitation which, if you are clear and really present, you can see what needs to be done and do the appropriate action without being angry.
Peter: In light of that, I don’t know much about Mahatma Gandhi, but didn’t he mobilize himself through anger?
Ken: No. Mahatma Gandhi said something very interesting: If you aren’t capable of violence, you don’t know anything about non-violence.
Peter: Does that mean he was angry?
Ken: He regarded himself as an extremely angry person. And he worked very, very deeply with that.
Peter: So, the anger powered his actions.
Ken: I would say that he worked very hard at becoming clear so the anger didn’t power his actions.
Marpa was horrifically bad-tempered as a child. And his father said, “If this guy doesn’t study the dharma, the world’s in for trouble.” And Marpa—all his life—was an extremely short-tempered, angry, angry person. And he used the energy of that to power his practice.
Who was it? Indrabodhi? Used desire. Saraha used stupidity. He went to sleep for 12 years. [Laughter] Just you try sleeping for 12 years—it’s not so easy! [Laughter]
Student: I can see how you can do that—you can use that energy to power your practice.
Ken: And you know when he got up somebody said, “What have you been doing? You’ve been asleep for 12 years.” He said, “If there’s one moment of stupidity in that whole 12 years, then may I drop dead.” He was totally clear the whole time. That’s a deep practice.
Student: How do you use something like anger?
Ken: It’s what we’ve been talking about before. By experiencing the emotion itself, the energy of the emotion—see what an emotion is, a reactive emotion. One way of looking at it is energy coming in contact or being stirred up by a situation and that energy transforming down into a lower state. And that’s experienced as a reaction, because you know when you experience a reaction, everything kind of goes down.
What we’re developing in practice is the ability to experience that same energy. And because we’re experiencing in attention, it now gets transformed up into a higher state of attention. And you do that by experiencing exactly what is arising in attention. That’s what does the transformation. So, the stronger your emotions—and several of you have mentioned this during interviews—you notice the stronger the emotions that you’re experiencing in taking and sending the more alive, powerful, and penetrating your practice of taking and sending is. And that’s exactly right.
You do this by experiencing the emotions. Vajrayana is the path of transformation. It works in many, many different ways. And one of them is constantly moving into the experience of the emotion, or into the experience of what is arising so that the energy of it is transformed up. Then you have this subjective experience of moving into clarity, non-thought, bliss, or what have you. It’s just like, “ah.” And many, many of you have experienced this during this retreat. I know because we’ve discussed it in interviews. We haven’t talked about it in exactly those terms. John?
John: If the anger is the root of a reactive emotion…
Ken: Yeah. [Podcast ends.]