Participant’s questions and Ken’s responses: individual and shared experience, attention penetrating patterns, expressive and receptive poles of a pattern, taking and sending. The audio for this series of podcasts was originally recorded on audio cassette. As such you may find the sound to be of a lower quality.
This is mainly a question and answer period. So where should we start? Becka?
Becka: I was curious about your Tibetan name, Lodro Gyatso.
Becka: Can you tell us what that means?
Ken: Lodro Gyatso [Tib. blo gros rgya mtsho] means Ocean of Intelligence.
Students: Ooohhh! [Laughter]
Ken: It’s the bodhisattva name that Kalu Rinpoche gave me when I asked him for the bodhisattva vows in the lineage of Vast Action. In the Profound Meaning lineage you don’t usually receive a bodhisattva name, which you do in the lineage of Vast Action.
In Tibetan you end up with a name for everything. So you have your—I can tell this little joke—you have the refuge name. And if you take ordination as a monk you get a monk’s name. And when you take bodhisattva vows you get a bodhisattva name. If you take Vajrayana vows you get a Vajrayana name, and you might get two or three of those—certainly your root guru gives you one. And then if you do other practices of study like a geshe, or khenpo, or grammarian, or something like that, or astrologer, or things like that—Kongtrül had at least five. Oh yes, if you were a terton, you had another name for that (they revealed the treasures).
But there’s the wonderful story about Patrul Rinpoche, who’s a nineteenth century teacher. One time in his life, he moved into a new valley and started to meditate in a cave. And the villagers just found him wonderful. They kept going to see him and brought him lots of offerings. He was in the Nyingma tradition, basically. And the local Gelugpa monastery was getting a little upset about this, because they thought their economic basis was being endangered.
So, some of the bright young logicians, for which the Gelugpa tradition is renowned, thought they would go and have a debate [claps hands loudly] with Patrul Rinpoche. The older monks in the monastery said, “Eh-hhhhmmm…maybe not such a good idea.” Anyway, they went—they didn’t listen. So, there was this big occasion and all the villagers were crowded around. And at this point—this is the nineteenth century—by this point the Gelugpa logicians had worked out every conceivable argument to defeat every school of Buddhism in Tibet. And all that mattered was you just had to identify the school in which this person was and they knew exactly which argument to come up with.
So, they started off the debate and asked, “Who is your lama?” which would have immediately identified Dza Patrul’s school. And Dza Patrul said, “Lord Buddha.” You know, that didn’t give them very much to go on. So, they tried again. “In whom do you take refuge?” which would normally give the list of different names of his teachers again. “The three jewels.” And they tried one ploy after another. But Dza Patrul just kept coming back with these basic replies. So, finally in desperation they said, “What is your secret name?” which is the name you’ve been given in a Vajrayana vow or a Vajrayana initiation, and this is really quite inappropriate to ask a teacher, to ask anyone, because the name is actually secret. Now, the name in Tibetan is Sang tsen [Tib. gsang mtshan] which also means secret mark…which means secret name and without any hesitation Dza Patrul Rinpoche lifted up his robe, because secret mark also means penis. [Much laughter] And the villagers collapsed in laughter and that was the end of the debate. [Laughter] Next question.
Student: What’s your name again?
Ken: Lodro Gyatso or Jat-so, Gyat-so depending on what dialect.
Student: You made a connection between relative and ultimate, and total and shared experience and then you withdrew it. I wonder if you have had any more thoughts on that?
Ken: I haven’t really had time to think that through. Because there’s something there, but I need to work through it—sorry I can’t give you anymore on that right now.
I do find distinguishing between shared and complete experience, those two worlds, very helpful because you know what you’re dealing with then. Are you dealing with how to interact with projections, concepts, and all of the stuff that goes with them, everybody else’s? See, when you have a concept like a book, you not only have to deal with what you mean by book, but what everybody else means by book. Which is not the same when you’re dealing with what is actually your own experience. That one can’t be exchanged or traded or shared with anybody else.
But does this correspond with what is ultimately true and what is relatively true? No, because what arises in experience like thoughts, feelings, and sensations, those are appearances. And when we’re in confusion, we feel that they are true. One of the things that we were talking about last night in connection with chö—the trouble is, I believe my feelings. We take them to be true. So, that initial correspondence that I was playing with doesn’t hold.
[A student asks a question about attention, and how it is that it can dissolve reactive patterns]
Ken: Something arises in experience: a thought, a feeling. And you put attention on it. And it appears to disappear. Right? Experience it, it appears to disappear. And one’s a little more present right there. And what one has done in effect is transform the energy in that experience upwards into attention so that it appears to disappear. You follow?
But that doesn’t mean that the driving force behind that reactive process has been dismantled. And you keep doing this and eventually in those moments where it appears to disappear you are going to sense another emotion or another process. And now you’re going to do the same thing with that. In this way, attention penetrates deeper and deeper below it. And as it penetrates deeper levels, each one of those levels is dismantled.
Student: I had an experience which might be related, which was experiencing a big pattern in taking and sending and then realizing that there was a secondary…like almost a sense of myself that existed in a shadow of that reactive emotion and then I realized it was the passive part of it and really part of the same…
Student: …but I didn’t have the same feelings of otherness about it. You know, it seemed more, you know, I don’t know…
Ken: Okay. You bring up a point here which I’m not sure that I mentioned explicitly, but it’s very important. Every pattern has two poles, which I choose to call expressive and receptive. Not active and passive, they aren’t quite precise. The very easy one you see is the bully/coward. The bully is the expressive and the coward is the receptive. Now, bully isn’t a pattern; coward isn’t a pattern. The pattern is bully/coward. And when you push on a bully and make it impossible for him to be a bully—threaten him so you’re bigger than he is—then he becomes a coward. And when a coward encounters a situation where cowardice doesn’t work, he flips into bully. Which is one of the reasons why some of the weakest people become the most vicious torturers, you know. The people who are weak inside become the most vicious torturers.
So, most of us, in a reactive pattern, identify primarily with either the expressive or the receptive pole. So, we often think of just the one side. But as you begin to work on, say the expressive pole, and it becomes more and more difficult for you to function in it, then you will flip and start behaving in exactly the opposite way. And what’s important to understand here is the pattern hasn’t disappeared, you’ve just picked up the train and reversed the train—it’s running on the same track.
So, when you start seeing this flip, now you’ve got to work on the other side, and the best way to do this is to hold the expressive and the receptive in attention at the same time. By doing that you will bring attention to the emotional issue that is driving the pattern as a whole and split into these two forms of expression. That too technical?
[A student asks a question about using taking and sending in dealing with a reactive pattern that’s already underway]
Ken: Well, the key is that you’re going to do this with something that you do—that at that moment you are experiencing that pattern. So, you’re being consumed by jealousy. Now, when a reactive pattern or a reactive emotion is up, we usually don’t experience it. The energy of the reactive emotion is usually expressed in activity, so it’s sunk into the world, or it’s suppressed or sunk into the body.
When it’s up and you can feel that it’s there, but you’re still having difficulty really experiencing, moving into the experience, then you’re regarding it as something other. And you take. That is what actually moves you into experience. Your taking experience not only experiences emotion but everything that’s driving it underneath.
And you send to that same feeling of other. One of the important points about sending is that it does not have to correspond with what we’re taking. And many people get caught in the fact that I’m taking this and I can’t figure out what to send.
What you send is any experience of enjoyment or value, being appreciated, that you know yourself via physical experience, emotional experience, it doesn’t matter. A sense of accomplishment, achievement, being appreciated, any of these things. We’re talking about present moment bodily sensations this morning. And this immediately connects you with something that is open and where you tend to feel more present, right? And you send that into the emotion, the jealousy. And that’s all you do. Here it is. This is what you’re acting out in chö actually, offering the body. And then the next breath, you take in the experience. So, in this exchange you are moving into the experience of whatever is arising.
This is not beginning practice, so I will not teach this to people as a way of working with stuff. It depends on a certain ability to maintain a certain level of awareness, and also to be aware of what they are actually experiencing and how they are experiencing. And those I think are important preconditions for being able to use this technique. But given those preconditions, it’s very, very direct. Kate?
Kate: In relation to this, the hard thing for me is that—the sending—I keep thinking of it as it’s supposed to make the suffering feel better.
Ken: You can do it with the feeling that it does. But you don’t have to persuade the suffering. I mean, you know what you’re sending—you know how it feels. That’s what’s important. And then you just give it, and suffering does what it will with it.
I mean, I’ve had people do taking and sending with yourself as a child, and one woman I was working with she said when she did this her child would just sit there and refuse to participate. And so I said, it’s not up to the child whether the child participates or not. You’re going to take its suffering and experience it. And you’re going to send happiness, your own happiness, and it’s going to experience it. And you just do that. So next time she did that and she said, “The image of the child just blew up into a thousand pieces. Just like that.” It was actually a way of connecting with that, with the part of her that was sitting in front of that. So, when she said, “No, this is just going to happen,” she couldn’t hold onto that stuff, basically.
Student: But you’re not trying to figure out what can I do with this?
Ken: Absolutely, don’t try to figure out—you give what you know. You aren’t trying to figure it out. Because once you do that you’re caught—now you’re in negotiation with a pattern. And you know how that ends up. You know, the pattern says, “Well, I like that. But not quite that. Just a little bit less.” “Okay, I’ve gotta get this just right.” That’s the kind of thing that a pattern will do, right? So, don’t give in to that. Ursula?
Ursula: In that same vein, my experience was that one thing might feel more right than another thing, and I don’t know if I’m negotiating with a pattern but finding something I can really connect with…
Ken: And that’s the issue—finding something you can connect with yourself. And because that’s the point in the sending, is that these are things you connect with yourself. And so you can’t hold a negative self-image when you have this positive experience in you. People have difficulty finding something that they connect with because they are so entrenched in their negative self-image.
When it comes to patterns I don’t believe in shilly-shallying around. You know. You’ve had pleasant experiences in your life, right? [Ken snaps fingers] Just go right there. And well, “I can’t feel any of them right now.” Now you’ve got something else to do taking and sending with. [Laughs]
Ken: Okay. Judy?
Judy: In that same vein, it seems like in the process of taking and sending, either the taking is stronger and the sending is sort of just happening, but not in a match or vice versa. But…
Ken: I think that’s what happens, and what I’m suggesting is make them equal. Actually work at making them equal, so you’re experiencing them with equal content. And the more that I work with this myself and work with people in it, the more important that aspect seems to be.
Student: I have a question about the last session. Who’s Labkyi Drönma ?
Ken: Labkyi Drönma is the full name of Machik Lapdrön.
Ken: Yeah, Lab is a place and drön is the word lamp. And when she was very young, because of her expertise with the facility for learning how to read and understand so quickly, and she was small—so she was called Little Lamp. And then I think it was Sönam Lama, the local teacher she studied with, no I think it was the local king—because she came from the region called Lab—who really called her Labkyi Drönma, The Lamp of Lab.
Now, that prayer song was written by Karma Chakmé, who was an eighteenth century teacher, maybe seventeenth, in the Kagyu-Nyingma tradition.
He wrote a lot of stuff. One that’s been translated and published under several different titles is The Union of Mahamudra and Dzogchen, which is a very detailed commentary on Chenrezi meditation, actually. He also was a terton who revealed text, and the whole Amitabha cycle comes through him, as well as a Vajrakilaya cycle, and a bunch of other stuff that I don’t know about.
And this prayer was one that we used in the three-year retreat when we were doing a monthly practice of chö. We practiced chö all through the retreat, but then we do this very long ceremony of chö, which was much more complicated than the very simple one. [Ken laughs]. It’s true, and it’s much more complicated. I would say everything that we did and as many other visualizations and sections, again if not twice more. So, yeah it’s complicated.
For whatever reason, that prayer was put as the opening prayer, as the lineage prayer. And I just really liked it. So I translated it for one of my students sometime ago. And George said, “Why don’t we put this in.” And I said, “Yeah, that sounds fine.” And one of the things if any of you are so inclined is you can actually use it as a guru yoga based on Machik Labdrön.
Student: So, it’s a practice in its own way.
Ken: You could use it as a practice if you wanted in its own way. Or you could use it to get into the mood for chö if you want. Or you could just read it with a lot of nice teaching. I mean, I could go over that if people are interested. But maybe there are other questions first. Yes?
Student: There were a couple of basic things I was having problems with, I suppose. One was it was easier for me to visualize myself as a child or out of control, or maybe all of that, in some ways, than it was to create the abstract other.
Ken: Yeah, so what you’re saying is that you felt you needed a form to do the taking and sending with.
Student: Yeah, yeah.
Ken: If you find yourself needing a form or generating a form, then it’s more appropriate for you to do taking and sending with a person or sentient being; it could be from one of the six realms or something like that. Give it a concrete form. And that’s not going to diminish the effectiveness of the practice. That’s just going to be the technique that will work better for you.
Student: A couple of people have reported doing the practice using their own form, but not as a child, but just, you know, me being jealous or me being whatever. Is that okay to do?
Ken: Well, yes, I think so. Particularly when people have difficulty connecting with what they’re feeling. They know that they’re in pain, but they can’t really connect with any of the emotional stuff because of their pain—they’re shut down. So, victim in front, and they’re the other person, and they find it easier to actually connect with what they’re feeling by imagining it in the other person. Some are frightened by it, a lot of people. When there’s something they can’t experience directly, then by imagining this duplicate of them, in front, they see that this person is unhappy, and think, “Okay, they are unhappy,” and things like that, and something starts to open up.
Student: So I suppose that the English compassion, as a separate word, is actually a more accurate description with the intention of practicing the Tibetan tradition of taking and sending, of not wishing the other to suffer and things like that.
Ken: Well, the Tibetan word for compassion is snying rje [pron. nying-jé] and it means noble heart. But that’s really what that literally means, and it speaks to the quality of, you know, not the word we use very much anymore, but noble.
It’s that…you have a whole…you have a strength and presence as a noble that allows you to be completely with and not intimidated by what arises in experience. Jamgön Kongtrül, whom you know, who was doing a retreat with us in Los Angeles, somebody asked him, “What does compassion mean?” And his immediate reply was, “Fearlessness.”
Mark had a question.
Mark: Yeah. I’ve been wrestling with giving and taking. I found that I go into focus, field, presence, openness, and then finding a balance. Then I’d work on it for a while and then I’d fall out of attention. When I would come back, I would have it unbalanced, so I didn’t know if I should go through focus, field again.
Ken: If you’re falling out of attention it means that you aren’t keeping your sense of presence there. You’re collapsing down onto just the taking and sending. And there’s a decay in attention there. So, when you’re doing that taking and sending with that direct awareness approach, then you keep the sense of the whole as you’re working—that’s important. Paul?
Paul: When you fall out—actually when you start back, then you focus again?
Ken: I think that would be better to do, yes.
Student: I had the experience in doing the direct awareness…I had a pretty fruitful experience with it. I found that what arose in that clearing, you know, bringing the internal material into the field, what emerged was things that I wasn’t so clear about, didn’t know. Really didn’t know and I was very surprised by a couple of things that came up. And I found that the way it tended to work for me, when that happened, what I would be sending was sort-of the presence of the field, in a way. And where I would get into trouble is when I started to kind of like let go of that and try to do taking and sending like that somehow was too much. But I found that I…that sending the presence of the field worked because it…
Ken: Kept you in touch with the field.
Student: Yeah, and because it was also a reminder of how the pattern was not real…
Student: …and was a projection, you know, I could really feel it kind of coming and going, engaging and pushing it back. Anyway, that was my experience.
Ken: Did you have a question?
Student: What another person said a little while back about the shifting—I had something happen where I was working on one thing and then something else came up, and as I was taking and sending with that and the emotion of that, I began to feel like I could see the other people’s side of the situation. And it kind of broke the solidity of that emotion. So I was a bit perplexed because I hadn’t experienced that before. And I wondered if I was getting too caught in the story of it.
Ken: Not at all. In fact, that happens. Because by experiencing your own pain completely then you become free of the limitations imposed by it. So now you can actually see more. And I’d recommend it in relationships. When one person says, “My husband and I aren’t getting along,” or “I’m fighting with my wife all the time,” I sometimes suggest that in their meditation they sit down and put their spouse right in front of them. Because if there’s difficulty on one side of the relationship, there’s usually difficulty on the other.
So I say, “You’re here and put your spouse right in front of you. And take from your spouse something that you feel he or she may be experiencing. Just do that, and give them what you value and appreciate in the relationship.” And often it just allows people to see the problem from the other person’s perspective and they go, “Oh! Yeah, I mean, jeesh I’d feel pretty miserable.” And it opens up a whole other avenue of dialogue that wasn’t there before.
So, these are very specific applications, which I haven’t ever read about in Tibetan texts. But they work. Other questions?
[A student asks a question about working with instructions given directly by a teacher as opposed to those given in a text]
Ken: Well, when one hears about something, or tries something, particularly if you do it in the presence of the person who’s instructing and guiding you, there’s an energy there. And that energy is utilized a lot—in Tibetan Buddhism particularly—in order to plant seeds of experience in students. But even without that, you know, you read about something in a book and you think, “Oh, that’s an interesting thing.” And you try that and it works wonderfully. And then you sit down the next time, and well, it doesn’t work quite as well. And the third time you sit down, it’s just muddy.
Well, what’s happening is that when it works, attention moves deeper in you. And when attention moves deeper in you, reactive patterns arise in order to dissipate that attention. That is the primary function of—not primary function—the only function of reactive patterns. They arise to dissipate attention. And so by the third time, they’ve learned how to do this. And that’s where the work begins: where it’s your intention versus the pattern’s operation. If you study how the pattern consumes your attention, you can then figure out how to work with it effectively.