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.
Always train in the three basic principles: respect your intention, act in ways that support your practice and include all experience; the six realms as a structure for exploring all experience; change your attitude and stay natural; don’t talk about others’ shortcomings; don’t dwell on others’ problems. 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.
Ken: Wobbling, that’s a symptom of a long habituation of walking without attention. Walking meditation is great for trying to get somewhere, isn’t it? “I’m going to get there. I’m going to get there.” Any other comments? Janaki.
Janaki: I found it easier to send when walking
Ken: A little easier to send when you’re walking. Interesting. And I noticed that the group energy or group rhythm evolved. And most people were walking in that. And but even if the person walking in front of you is walking one way, still stay with your own breath. So that you may be taking shorter steps but it is actually in time with your own breath. Rather than adopting the rhythm of the person in front of you. That’s fairly important.
One of the reasons I wanted to get your feedback is that I was thinking of doing the middle of the session of the evening meditation as walking meditation. And wondered how that would be. Am I hearing yesses?
Ken: Okay. Well that fixes that. That’s what we’ll do.
I want you to do the taking and sending form of walking meditation. Now as one person observed you can—if that really slow walking is difficult, and it is difficult for some people—walk at a natural pace. And just do taking and sending as you’re walking at a more natural pace. And that’s okay to do. But I definitely want you to continue the practice of taking and sending into the walking.
Don’t you get too far away. You want to use the sun porch. There’s a couple of people here. And walk around outside as Terry was, around that circle. That’s going to take a little of the congestion off. But I’d like to keep it relatively contained. We can’t walk on the grass. Otherwise we could just go out to find a large area.
I noticed some people going back and forth in front of the shrine. And that’s fine, also. So I want it to be as loose as it can be in the structure that we have available. So everybody can find their own rhythm. So I’ll work out the timings with Janaki and that’s what we’ll do for the evening meditation.
Student: Just the middle section.
Ken: The middle section.
This afternoon we turn to the sixth of the seven points. And that is commitments. Now the term commitment is a strange term in a Mahayana context. The Tibetan is dam tshig (pron. damtsik), a word that means literally holy word. It can also mean pledged word. It can have either of those meanings, but basically it means a promise. And the Sanskrit for those of you who are familiar with it is samaya. And usually this is exclusively a Vajrayana term. In particular, it defines an important aspect of one’s relationship with one’s teacher.
So, Chekawa’s use of it here. I was thinking about this. It’s unusual. It’s not a standard Mahayana term. It’s much stronger than the standard Mahayana term would be. Which would be—I’m not sure what it would be in Tibetan, but more like responsibilities.
Now in Tibetan the whole Seven Points of Mind Training is written in quite informal Tibetan. So I have the feeling that Chekawa wrote this either for his own edification or for one of his students. And he used this term commitment to give the idea, this is stuff you’ve got to do. So it’s much stronger than point number seven, which are guidelines. Always train in the three basic principles. And again, if anybody has suggestions about the English—I’m always open to suggestions. The term is very vague in Tibetan, and I just had to make up some kind of English word for it.
The three basic principles are: observing any of the vows that you’ve taken—that’s number one. Number two is behaving appropriately. And number three is covering all aspects of practice. Let me explain each of these a little bit.
In the Tibetan tradition there were three ordinations or three sets of vows you could take. One was the ethical code for individual liberation, which concerns specific actions such as not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, not to have inappropriate sexual relations, not to take intoxicants. Those are the basic five precepts. These were elaborated for a monk ordination to some 256, many of them having to do with how you behaved in front of other people and particularly how you interacted within the sangha.
Then you had the bodhisattva vow, which is not about specific actions, but about maintaining a certain attitude. And I’ll be going into that in more detail in a couple of days. And then you had the Vajrayana vow, which one takes when you take any of the higher empowerments, which are much harder. And that is not just refraining from certain actions or maintaining a certain attitude, but experiencing the world a certain way. That’s the actual Vajrayana vow. Very hard. Atisha was once asked, “How have you been doing with your ordinations?” He said, “Oh, the monastic ordination, I’ve never broken. The bodhisattva, oh about every two hours. Vajrayana ordination, violations are like a rain shower.”
In terms of the way that most of us practice here in the West—which is within that framework, but not as deeply committed or formally undertaken as it tended to be in Tibet and India—this first principle is, if you say you’re going to do something, you do it. If you say you’re going to stop that kind of action, you do it. That’s it. You don’t. So it’s really meaning what you say.
The second principle is basically about not showing off. People would practice and they think they had some kind of realization and to show that they were free of social constraints they would do outrageous things. We’ve had a little history of that here in the West, too. And from the mind training point of view to do outrageous things, to say outrageous things, to appear outrageous in order to impress people with your understanding is totally against the spirit of mind training, which is to undo attachment to a self-image. So, showing off is the very antithesis of that.
Then the third principle is usually phrased in the negative. Don’t be partial in your practice. And as Kongtrul writes in here, some people are really good at getting along with other people, but they have no patience when they get ill. And other people are the other way around. They can bear illness very easily and patiently and very constructively, but they really don’t get along with anybody. And maybe you can do those things, but somewhere else you’re falling down. And as it says elsewhere in the book, it’s very important for mind training to touch every aspect of your experience.
Another way that I put this is: don’t protect any area of your life from your practice. The area of life that you protect from your practice is reinforced. Two things happen. When you protect an area of life from your practice and you continue to practice, because you practice the general level of energy in the system increases. Because that’s what practice does. It raises the level of energy, because you’re cultivating attention. So, energy pours into that area that you’re not paying attention to and it pours into the blocking mechanism. Both of those get stronger. So, that area of your life gets more and more walled off from your conscious attention and operates more and more strongly.
The result is various forms of imbalance. And we have seen this time and time again. Various teachers who can be very, very capable in giving instruction and guiding people in certain contexts. But you put them in another context and their desire for sex, money, fame, power or whatever is just right out of control. And the way that you see this is when you interact with a person if you hit an area where they are rigid or inflexible; that is, an area that they’re protecting from their practice. It’s a good rule of thumb to have in mind.
So, one of the suggestions—just a slight diversion here—but something I wanted to say this evening. From my perspective, this is a very special group. I mean, the quality of practice is very solid. And I was noting that again in the walking meditation. So, for the record, you’re doing very well. And for the record don’t let it go to your head. But it’s very solid here. And because of that I want to push you a little bit further. Just as I said before, I’m going to raise the bar.
Now, some of you have been working with some quite personal issues—and appropriately so—that are coming up in the taking and sending. And that is very important. At the same time this third principle of making sure all bases are covered is also very important.
Now, in a question that came up, I think yesterday, I sketched out a framework of practice that I used in my own practice of taking and sending. Now, going through the eight hot hells and the eight cold hells, and the four kinds of hungry ghosts and the different kinds of animals and the four major and the four minor suffering of the human beings, and the suffering of the titan realm and all the different problems in the god realm and the different types of gods, etc., etc. That’s one possible framework.
Now, from our perspective, that whole Buddhist cosmology represents the total possible mind states that any of us might experience in our lives. So, by meditating on every one of those explicitly, you’re actually covering the whole range. And that’s a very traditional method of doing so.
I have a prayer with me that Jamgon Kongtrul wrote called The Mind Training Prayer. It’s never been translated into English that I know of. And he just goes through every conceivable emotion. You know, he goes through the six realms. Then he goes through the five afflictions. Then he goes through—I can’t remember all the other things—but one category after another. So, if you know these categories—and Buddhism is a tradition of lists, as some of you know—they’re very useful because they give you a framework.
And if you’re interested I can sketch out, you know, the eight hot hells—that’s about hot anger, you know, explosive kind. The cold hells are about hatred—that cold anger which freezes you inside. And then the hungry ghosts are—and I detailed this in Wake Up To Your Life—the various kinds of obscurations where you look and you never see that there’s enough in the world. And it brings up all kinds of greed. But there’s another kind of obscuration, is you have everything you need around you but nothing satisfies. And that’s also represented in the hungry ghost realm.
And in the human realm, the four major sufferings are birth, old age, illness, and death. The four minor sufferings are being with people you don’t want to be with, not being with people you do want to be with, trying to get what you don’t have, trying to keep what you do have.
I remember working with a student in Southern California, and I presented these because he was doing his meditation on the six realms. He looked at those—just those four—and he said, “That’s what I spend my life doing!” And these are the four sufferings of the human realm. And so I can go into that if anybody’s interested.
But you can use another framework. One that I thought of in preparing for this evening’s talk is to go through every socio-economic status that you can think of right from a homeless person on the street to Bill Gates or, you know, the corporate executive elite and so forth. And just go through every one. You’re going to cover all the bases that way.
And some of you may think of other frameworks, but what I want to encourage you to do now is to come up with a framework which is going to cover the whole range of human experience and start working through that systematically in your meditation. The six reactive emotions cover most. And that’s just the six realms. Okay? But really getting into all of the different kinds of desire. And different kinds of pride. Different kinds of jealousy. But choose a framework so that you cover the whole range of experience that you’re ever likely to encounter in yourself. This is a way of not protecting any area of your life from your practice. Janaki.
Janaki: Where to start with the six realms?
Ken: You can start at the bottom and work up. You can start at the top and work down. We have eight meditation periods in the day. So take six of them and put one on each realm. Or put five minutes on each realm in each session. Either way is fine. And some people work better shifting the focus of the practice fairly frequently, because it keeps them awake and engaged in the practice. Other people do better taking one topic and really going into it deeply. And that, that’s individual variation. There isn’t a right or wrong there. So find the way that works for you.
But what I want to emphasize now is developing a method of practice for yourselves—and I can help you with this in the interviews, if you wish—that ensures you cover a whole range of human experience. Okay? Any questions about that?
Student: What do you mean by protecting an area of life?
Ken: You’re not protecting any part of your life in your practice. You know, because for instance if you think, “I’m willing to do taking and sending with every aspect except control. I like to have control of my life. So, I’m not going to give away control, and I’m not going to take lack of control.” Okay. That’s what I mean about protecting an area of practice. And the god realm is a lot about control. Franca.
Franca: What about different kinds of, for example, anger?
Ken: Well. Start by working through the six realms, systematically. Just start by doing that. And as you work into anger, which is what the hell realm is about, then naturally you’re going to start coming up with different kinds of anger. And so spend some time with, you know, that ’I’m just going to tear this place apart“ kind of anger. And then you can spend some—oh, you just gave me an idea, too. And then you can spend some time with that ”I’m going to sit here and boil, steam.“ [makes an angry noise]. There used to be a cartoon strip in L.A. called The Angry Dog or The Mad Dog. Just every cartoon, it was just this. It was a four-frame cartoon strip and every one just showed this really angry dog. Grrr. Week after week after week. [Laughter] It never changed! Just minor variations in the theme. That’s right. Dogs so—
Student: Day and night.
Ken: Day and night. Yeah. And the dog’s so mad it wouldn’t bark. Grrr.
Student: No wonder he didn’t last.
Ken: Right. But it was just all the same.
And then there’s the cold anger. You know, just like, oohhh. And you can feel how it freezes you inside. That’s what the cold hells are about. And so you use these frameworks to open to all the different things that you experience in each of these realms. Okay?
Student: Where can I find good descriptions of the realms?
Ken: Yeah. Words of My Perfect Teacher, Jewel Ornament of Liberation. If you really want to go over it in gory detail Tsongkhapa’s The Great Stages of the Path [The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment], which is a huge text, and so forth. There’s plenty of stuff in English.
Now for those of you who want to make this a little bit richer and are familiar with the five elements, you do the six realms crossed with the five elements. That’ll give you thirty different things to work on. And if that’s not enough, then you can take the four ways of working. That gives you 120 combinations. And if that’s not enough, then you can do that in the expressive and receptive forms of each of those. That gives you 240. If you need more than that, let me know.
That’s your homework, Pat. Because I know you know all of those! And I’ll get there first.
Okay. Second point. Change your attitude and stay natural. This is a wonderful line. The idea here is you don’t let anybody know what you’re working on. Now, those of you who have been around dharma centers, you know the disease: ”I’m going to be so compassionate, I’ll let you be generous first.“ Yeah. And this kind of nonsense. Haven’t you heard that line?
And you don’t go around saying, ”Well, I don’t think that’s very fair but because I’m practicing mind-training, I’ll go along with it.“ No. This is nonsense. This is making it about yourself and your self-image. Don’t tell anybody what you’re working on. And work on it very, very hard. Work on changing the attitude inside so that you really are open to the suffering of others and giving away whatever you value and enjoy.
Remember the phrase that we’ve been working with somewhat, Give away all victory and gain to others. Take all loss and defeat for yourself. You defeat the purpose of that entirely and say, ”Well, I’m going to lose because I’m working on mind training.“ It doesn’t work at all. What’s important when you accept loss and defeat, you accept the humiliation. You accept the other person, you know, exulting over the fact that they won. They won the argument, or if you’re playing a game with them, they won that—things like that. And you can feel how attached you are to winning or being the best or whatever. And by experiencing all of that, you’re undoing your attachment to that self-image.
How many of you play some kind of competitive sport? Okay. I have an exercise for you. Lose intentionally. Doing one-on-one basketball, lose. You’re playing tennis, lose. And do it totally intentionally. Amazing how hard it is. One person I worked with, took him six months before he could lose a game on one-on-one with his son. Just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Why would you want to learn to lose? Yeah. It means you’re freed from the tyranny of having to win.
I was playing tennis a year or two ago. And it was a pick-up game at the local court. And the guy I was playing was so good. And I could hit my best shot and he could put it away from wherever it landed in the court. Just couldn’t believe it. And he did it so effortlessly. Shoo. And I just couldn’t get to the ball. So after we’d rallied for about half-an-hour, 40 minutes, something like that, ”Well. Should we play a set?“ ”Sure, we’ll play a set.“ You know what the score was? Six-love for me. He didn’t care about winning at all. He was totally into the activity of the stroke. You know, it’s like, ”What’s going on here?“ This guy could wipe me off the court. Just shooo! It was a great. It was a great experience. Okay.
You stay natural. You know, you just behave as everybody else. You don’t make a big deal of it. Just go along with what’s going on. But you’re working at this transformation inside. And it’s going to show up in your behavior but not in any way that anybody is going to notice. Nobody notices when you lose. They think they won. Very reliable.
Don’t talk about failings. The idea here is when you talk about failings, you’re developing a critical attitude, judgemental attitude. When you see someone and they’re obviously doing something wrong in their lives or they have a serious problem, what is the taking and sending approach?
You take it in and you give them yours. And you can’t really do that if you’re sounding off, ”No, so and so did that. And you know, that was kind of stupid.“ So anything that you see, anything that you experience, you immediately take as fuel for your practice. Don’t make it something solid by talking about it. Follow? Yes, Judy.
Judy: What about when feelings of resentment build up? How do you work with that?
Ken: How do you address this in the context of taking and sending? Very good question. And why does that happen?
Now, this is where taking and sending gets juicy. Because if you’re building up resentment, this is not doing you any good. And if a relationship moves out of balance, the person who’s putting more energy into the relationship than they’re receiving experiences resentment. Right? What does the other person experience?
Ken: That’s close. The way I put it is disdain. Okay. They lose their respect for this person. Right? And that’s a symptom that it’s moved out of balance. It’s working for them but they don’t respect this person. Okay. So how do you move it back into balance?
You don’t do it by pointing out their failings. You do it by describing your own experience. ”When you do this, I experience this.“ And you can stand in your own experience without telling the other person that they have done anything wrong by just describing your own experience. You follow? That’s how you rebalance it. But you have to be willing to describe your own experience. You have to be willing to own your own experience and then describe it. Guy?
Guy: Can you say more about the rebalancing?
Ken: There are two things going on. If you’re in a relationship with someone and it can be a business relationship, it can be a work relationship, it can be working on a project together, you know, something that you’re both enthusiastic about. It can be an intimate relationship. If one person is putting more into the relationship than they’re receiving, and the other person is receiving more than they’re putting in, and that persists, the relationship moves out of balance. And relationships cannot endure if they are out of balance for long periods of time because the resentment and disdain build up. So, if you value the relationship then you will move to rebalance it. You move to rebalance it by describing your experience in the relationship. Now the other person may listen to that and say, ”I don’t care.“ Well, what does that tell you?
Guy: The relationship is on the rocks.
Ken: Yeah. The relationship you thought existed, doesn’t. So now you’ve stepped out of an illusion, which can be very painful. I don’t want to overlook that. Or the other person listens and says, ”Oh. Yeah. Okay.“ And that starts the readjustment. But you’ve done this without saying, ”You’re to blame for this.“ You’re just describing your own experience. Very important. Franca.
Franca: You have to be able to be very clear about what you’re feeling before you can describe it to the other person…
Ken: That’s right. Yeah. And that’s exactly right. Because if you haven’t really taken in what you’re feeling—experienced it fully—then that projection goes onto the situation and creates further problems. And many people do interpret this as being a doormat and then build up tremendous resentment. Not only about relationships but about the dharma, because they just feel like they’re being pushed down and down and down.
I think you’re going to be in better shape if you say, ”If you value the relationship, you’re going to move to restore the balance.“ And so the feedback you’re giving the other person about your own experience in the relationship is an expression of your value of the relationship. You’re saying, ”I want this relationship, but right now it’s not working for me because this is what I’m experiencing.”