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.
Guidelines as support for mind training; use one practice to do everything; use one remedy for everything; two things to do: one at the beginning, one at the end; whatever happens, good or bad, be patient; keep these two, even at the risk of your life; train in the three problems; work with the three primary factors; don’t allow three things to weaken; keep the three essentials; train on every object without preference, training must be broad and deep. 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.
Somebody remind me to talk about the body before the end of the teaching. Okay. Just remind me.
Today we’re going to look at the guidelines. Unlike commitments, this is very definitely a Mahayana term. Whereas the commitments are instructions of things to either do or avoid because not to observe those commitments directly contradicts the intention of mind training. Guidelines are more in the sense of, “These are the things which are going to support your mind training practice.” So they’re just a really good idea.
In the bodhisattva vow, which we’ll be discussing later, there are lots and lots of guidelines. And many people interpret them as rigid moral precepts and approach them rather inflexibly. This is not the intention. You might say the guidelines are what people over the course of time have found helpful.
Another way to think about both commitments and guidelines is that they have to do with ethics: a description of behavior rather than a prescription for behavior. That is, if one was awake and present this is how one would behave. It’s a description of what it looks like. And so it is something to evolve into rather than just saying, “I’m going to be this way.” And many people find that a more fruitful and helpful approach to the whole area of ethics and morality.
So, the guidelines: Use one practice to do everything. Now, in Tibetan you have the words thun (pron. tün) and thun mtshams (pron. tün tsam). Thun refers to a session of formal meditation or formal practice, where you sit down and you go through refuge, and lineage prayer and refuge and bodhicitta. Sit for a period of time doing whatever practice, and then conclude. And then you get up. Thun mtshams refers to the period in between your periods of meditation. So the language is heavily biased towards meditation practice. [Chuckling] The idea, read this, is you’re not really living unless you’re meditating.
This is a very unfortunate impression, because it’s given rise to an awful lot of tension in many people’s lives between their practice and their daily life. They feel, “Well I should be practicing more and I should be taking more time for retreat.” And an unhealthy tension develops between the activities of life and one’s practice.
The way I’ve come to approach practice myself is that practice is really about cultivating and exercising attention. In formal meditation sessions, one is cultivating and exercising attention unmixed with other activities. You’re just sitting there. In one’s life, one’s cultivating and exercising attention mixed with activities, and that’s the only difference. One is unmixed with activity and one is mixed with activity.
If one approaches one’s life this way, then there’s no tension because one’s life becomes an ongoing work of cultivating and exercising attention. And one of the more popular reminders that I give students is once you step on this path there are no vacations. So even when you go on vacation you are cultivating and exercising attention. Rinpoche used to say that, “The law of the land or the law of the king is like a golden yoke, beautiful to put on and it grows heavier and heavier.”
Whereas the law of the dharma is like a silk scarf. You put it on, at first it’s a little bit tight, but as you go about your day it becomes looser and looser. When you approach your life as the purpose and the intention is to cultivate and exercise attention in everything, at first it’s like, “Oh my god.”
But you begin to appreciate after a while that things get screwed up when you’re not cultivating and exercising attention. And as long as you’re exercising and cultivating attention, then even when very difficult situations arise—as can happen in life—one is able to negotiate them. And the real problems arise when you’re not. So one’s life becomes more and more, or this practice becomes more and more—I won’t say comfortable—but takes meaning in its own right. The more you work with it, it becomes…it’s not an onerous burden, which is how it may feel in the beginning.
So, Use one practice to do everything. The one practice is mind training. Training your mind in emptiness and compassion. So when you’re sitting doing formal meditation, everything’s like a dream. No one home, rest. And in that space, one practices taking and sending, which is the expression of compassion. So compassion and emptiness are joined together.
And going about the day. For instance, we have the work activity. Then as you’re doing the work, or as you’re going for a walk in the afternoon or conversing with a friend or writing notes, whatever, it’s just experience. There’s nothing to it. And in that open space you are doing what you need to do in order to express your intention to wake up and be present so that you can help others beings wake up and be present.
In the Bodhicaryavatãra, Shantideva describes what it’s like to discover bodhicitta or awakening mind within oneself. Now, awakening mind is described as having these two aspects: the awakening to what is ultimately true, awakening to what is apparently true. Emptiness, compassion. But really they’re not two different things, it’s just a pedagogical device.
One discovers that there’s nothing to you, and compassion can manifest, and there’s an intention to open and bring awakening into one’s whole world, which means into everybody around one. It’s just there. It’s not personal; it’s just an expression of what one is. And it goes on for a whole chapter describing how wonderful it is to discover this. It’s really very beautiful poetry.
Basically, this line is about living out of that kind of appreciation. You just live it. And the amazing thing is that, once you uncover this in yourself—and it’s there in every one of us, in everything—everything you do works for the welfare of others. When you’re eating, you’re nourishing your own body so that you can practice and continue to cultivate and exercise attention and bring this seed or potential to its fullest realization. When you sleep, you’re resting, and resting the body and resting the mind so that you can continue that work. When you’re earning money it’s for the same reason. Everything becomes informed by this. So it really is like this wish-fulfilling jewel that Shantideva describes.
Next line: Use one remedy for everything. Okay, now, in the course of the interviews, some of you are getting the hang of this. You know, “My knee hurts!” Well, take in the suffering of hurting knees in all sentient beings. “I don’t understand but I’m feeling very happy in this meditation.” Well, give the happiness to all sentient beings. It doesn’t matter what is arising in your experience. Happiness, joy, freedom, pain, suffering, misery, you know, the feelings of incompetence. You work with every one of these mind states in exactly the same way. Take in what is unpleasant and painful from all sentient beings so you really feel [chuckles] what’s going on in you and give what you are enjoying and valuing and meaningful to you to all sentient beings. So one remedy works for absolutely everything. It’s one of the great features of this practice. There’s not a lot to remember. Not like all those lists, right? [Laughter]
Two things to do, one at the beginning, one at the end. This is how you frame your day, when you get up in the morning, that’s why we included the verses on page four.
From this moment until I awaken,
At least from now until I die.
And definitely from this year and this month,
And especially from today until tomorrow.
I will keep the two aspects of awakening mind
In me all the time.
This is taken right from our [three-year] retreat instructions. That was the first thing we were to recite when we woke up in the morning. And then, in the evening you look over your day and basically it’s, “How did I do? I don’t know. I spent today asleep.” Or, “I was pretty, pretty present today. But there was that little hitch there when somebody laughed and I just kind of lost it right there and just checked right out.”
So you review your day. And this isn’t with the idea of making you feel guilty. You know, there’s no penance here. There are no indulgences either. [Chuckle] You just look and say, “Okay, I was present here, wasn’t present here, some irritation came up there. Wasn’t very compassionate at that point, and quite resistant there.” And so you begin to see what’s going on in you. And then you form the intention. And this verse is modeled very much on one of the other verses we use in the dedication.
Awakening mind is precious,
May I give rise to awakening mind where it was not active today.
May I strengthen it where it was active today.
May the two aspects of awakening mind
Be present and active in everything that I do.
So Two things to do, one at the beginning, one at the end. One is setting intention and at the end of the day is reviewing to see how well you maintained that attention. And aspiring to work or to improve on that. Don’t regard this as burdensome; it’s more like constant improvement. And one of the best ways to think about practice in general is as continuous refinement.
Whatever happens, good or bad, be patient. Now, the irony here is most people have a much easier time being patient with really bad things than they do with really good things. You know, things that they enjoy, things like that. So when something bad happens, you can get angry, you can get upset, you can get depressed, things like that. But at some point you go “Okay, yeah, well I just have to accept this.” And you’re able to work into the patience. It’s very important and of course, you can use mind training to help in this.
When the good happens, those thoughts just never come to mind. You don’t think “Well, this is just how it is, I will just have to tolerate, you know, being wealthy and having lots of people doing what I want. You know and, it’s a complete drag but I’ll work with it.” Nobody thinks that way. They think “Oh wow, I must be doing something right in my life.” And one so easily is completely intoxicated and taken over by this stuff.
In mahamudra tradition, there’s a similar instruction called fall. The Tibetan word is bzang ltung (pron. zang tung), where ltung is the word used when you fall of a cliff (literally, it’s the word you use when you fall off a cliff.) At a certain point in your mahamudra practice, one of two things starts to happen [chuckle]: your life goes to hell [laughter] or your life goes to heaven. You know, everything just starts going wrong in your life, and it’s because the patterns are falling apart. Whatever your life is built out of, it just crumbles. You know, your friends leave you because you can’t relate to them anymore; they can’t relate to you. And you have to change your career because the job doesn’t fit with you because you were doing it to satisfy some pattern in you. Relationships change and everything just goes to pieces. That’s the bad fall.
And then the good fall is because you aren’t functioning out of the patterns, then everything starts going right. You get a better job; you have great relationships. People really think you’re a special person. They keep telling you how smart, or insightful, or wise, or helpful you are, etc.
Every text I’ve read on mahamudra says the good fall is much harder to work with than the bad fall. [Laughter]
So, whatever happens, be patient. Two instructions: regard it as a dream. You know, we go back to that one, and practice taking and sending. Have you heard these instructions before? So when everything is going good just keep giving it away to others, wishing that others have the same good fortune. Don’t take it seriously, it’s just a dream, it’s just something that you’re experiencing. It often changes.
Keep these two, even at the risk of your life. The two here are any vows, or ethical undertakings you’ve assumed, and in particular mind training—the ethics of mind training. You might find the phrase even at the risk of your life, even if your life is at risk, you know, “Are you serious?” Well, yeah, they were. They were quite serious about that.
Buddhism is a spiritual tradition in which there’s very, very little sense of martyrdom. So, this isn’t like dying to be an example for others, which has some subtle qualities of pride in it. But if you adopt this attitude, even at the risk of my life, then you are going to be really, really clear about where you stand going into situations. You’re going to be really clear internally. And that is going to cause you to bring a level of attention into everything you do. And the consequence of such a level of attention is that you discover all kinds of possibilities in situations that a more dogmatic or just, “I’m just going to be this way” approach would not uncover.
I think that’s one of the reasons, frankly, why there isn’t a long tradition of martyrs in Buddhism, and why it isn’t an ethic in Buddhism at all. Because out of this very, very deep internal commitment there’s a quality of attention comes into one’s life and one sees what is possible and what is not possible. And if you go into a situation, see it’s not workable, then you withdraw from the situation, you don’t push against it unnecessarily.
For instance, the Dalai Lama is a very good example of this. Buddhism has a long history of playing a role in conflict resolution. But it’s never been out in front. Buddhist teachers or people who are steeped in Buddhism play a role in the background and they talk to people behind the scenes where there’s no necessity for losing face or anything like that. And they just say you know, “Is this really what you want to do in this situation? I mean it’s going to cause an awful lot of suffering. Do you really want all of that on your shoulders?” And things like that. And talk very person-to-person appealing to such things as compassion, kindness, the larger good and so forth.
This is why the Dalai Lama entitled one of the themes that he’s often expressed as universal responsibility. And by doing this, a lot of situations which would have become very, very tense or erupted in war just didn’t happen. And the Dalai Lama himself has met [quietly] with probably every world leader. It’s a very, very good example.
So, this internal clarity, you know, being very clear about where you are, results in a level of attention into the world which is very, very fruitful.
Student: [Asks a question about a series of incidents in which monastics in Tibet setting themselves on fire in protest]
Ken: Yes. A total of seven monks, seven monastics, I think one or maybe two were nuns too, immolated themselves. And the first three or four of those were—from what I’ve read about them— were coming right out of the bodhisattva ethic. In the way that the South Vietnamese regime was operating against the Buddhist teachers, which were really the structure, the governing structure, in all of the villages. There was intense persecution and it was undermining not only the Buddhist network but also the very fabric of Vietnamese life.
The Buddhist teachers had tried several times to gain access to the American Ambassador—who was Henry Cabot Lodge at that point—and there had been no possibility. So, having no other recourse, one monk doused himself with gasoline, sat down in meditation, and lit it as Henry Cabot Lodge’s motorcade drove past. So he saw it. Then there were a few others after that. It seemed that the last two or three were emulating this and they didn’t have the same quality of ability in meditation and so forth. But the net result was that there was a change in the attitude.
Now, those incidents caused a great deal of controversy in the Buddhist world. Because suicide is a number one no-no. It was felt to be very aggressive, so there was a great deal of controversy about it. It was not universally regarded as a selfless act. It’s a very interesting thing. But that’s one of the very few instances of anything that could be regarded as martyrdom. But these people were not dying for a cause. They were dying to bring attention to the suffering of others. But it is a very controversial issue to this day. There’s another…well, I won’t go into that one.
Train in the three problems. Put a red mark around this one; this is very important. You know, if you have sequins or stars, you know, just pile it on because the three problems and three efforts—corresponding efforts—show up over and over again all across the board in practice. Here it’s referred to as three problems; you’ll find many other formulations. What are they?
Recognizing a reactive pattern is the first one. It’s hard to recognize a reactive pattern. That’s the first challenge. There are various ways you can recognize reactive patterns. My favorite is: what you don’t notice, what you don’t question, what you don’t laugh about. Any one of those three, there’s a reactive pattern.
The second problem, well, when you recognize a reactive pattern, you’ve got to do something about it. You’ve got to develop a practice that goes to work on it.
The third problem, you’ve recognized the pattern, you’ve got your practice, you’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to work that practice until that pattern crumbles. Now, those of you who’ve looked at Wake Up To Your Life may recall observation, reorganization and consistency. These are the efforts that correspond to these three. That’s why I say this cuts right across the board.
How do you recognize a reactive pattern? You observe your behavior. You observe how things go in your life. And the key element for recognition is when there’s a consistent discrepancy between your intention and the result. “I want to do this, but this keeps happening. I try to do this, but this keeps happening. Damn!” There is something going on there. And nine times out of ten it’s a reactive pattern. Okay?
Reorganization is where you begin to reorganize your relationship with the pattern through the operation of attention so it begins to change. That’s the practice. And consistency is you just keep going, and keep going, keep going. You keep cutting into the pattern until it crumbles. Guy?
Guy: Isn’t the practice pretty specific?
Guy: To develop practice?
Ken: You can use taking and sending in this. You can use everything is like a dream in this. You can use them both in this. Like that person I was telling you about who couldn’t recognize that he was really angry all the time. You know, many people I’ve worked with—and all of you know this yourself—you can see a reactive pattern in some people. “Ah, he’s got a big issue about competency,” or, “She feels very insecure all the time, and there’s no reason for her to feel insecure, that’s what she’s doing.” And you try to tell them, “Do you feel insecure?” “No, no, I feel fine, I feel fine. Yeah, I’m on top of things, everything’s all right.” You know, they’re twitching like crazy, but everything’s “okay.”
That’s the recognition part. You can’t work on something until you recognize that it’s operating in you, right? Once you recognize it, then you can start doing the taking and sending and everything goes. But, all of you know, you recognize the pattern, and then you start to work with it, like “Arggh, I don’t want to do this!” [Chuckle]
Acknowledgment is all part of it. And the other one that you run into is, “Okay, yeah, I have this pattern, and yeah, I can work with it, but I’m tired of working with it.” [Laughter]
It’s really helpful to have someone around. I find the rule of three very helpful here: If three different people, or even one person, points out something about you that you don’t recognize three times, start paying attention. It’s like, okay, “I’ve heard it from him, and her, and him. Maybe I better start looking into this.” Because you can’t see it.
Work with the three primary factors. The three primary factors are a teacher, a practice, and conditions that enable you to practice. Now, mind training’s wonderful, you know, if you have a teacher. If you have any of these, that’s fine: you have a teacher, that’s good; have a practice, that’s good; have conditions to practice, that’s good! What do you do with that? [Laughter] What do you do with it? You give it away! Okay, and what if you don’t have a teacher, and you don’t have a practice, and you don’t have the right conditions for practice. What do you do?
Student: You suck it up! [Laughter]
Ken: You take it in! Exactly. So, you’re learning, this is fine.
Don’t allow three things to weaken. The three things are: faith, enthusiasm, and ethics. There are many, many dimensions to faith, but basically in this context—and I’ll be giving a little different commentary on this later—it’s the inspiration of what inspires you. What gets you going in the practice. Because almost all of us approach practice—and this is really how Buddhism has worked—because we see it in somebody else.
This is exactly what happened with Buddha himself. He went out and saw old age, illness, and death. Then on the fourth trip outside the city, he saw this mendicant who was utterly at peace in this world of suffering. Here was Prince Gautama, totally shattered by his illusion of luxury, by seeing that people got ill, and they got old, and they died. He was just like, “How can this be?” And he saw this person who’s totally at peace, and went, “How’s that possible?” And that’s what inspired him to give up his princely life and embark on a spiritual quest. So, this business of faith is very, very important, as a sense of inspiration. And there are many other aspects to faith that I’ll go through later.
Enthusiasm is also very important. And it can be hard. There’s a close relationship between faith and enthusiasm. But enthusiasm comes, in the end, because we see that the practice actually works. It may take some time, but we can see, well, those are behaviors I used to do but I don’t do anymore. And my life and other people’s lives are better because of that. You see that something actually happens. So, one becomes more interested and more confident in the practice, and enthusiasm flows out of that.
And then—just as I was saying earlier about the discovery of awakening mind within oneself—then there’s virtually an inexhaustible flow of enthusiasm into one’s life.
Then ethics. The reason ethics are important is that…well, there are a couple of reasons. One is, in the end, if our practice doesn’t result in actual changes in behavior, then what are we doing it for? It’s our behavior more than our thoughts which create suffering for others. So, the practice has to actually manifest in changes in behavior. So, our ethical sense actually becomes richer and deeper. And also more fluid in one sense, but also much stronger and clearer in another, simultaneously. So, adhering to these ethical principles and cultivating the mindfulness which adherence to ethical principles brings out in us, these are very, very important aspects of practice.
When these teachings were first being taught in Tibet, they were totally secret. A teacher would give these instructions to only one student. It was that secret. What did the rest of the people do? You know, the monks in the monastery? All they were taught was ethics and philosophy. You know, they weren’t taught this stuff.
There’s a story of one teacher who saw a book open on a person’s pillow and it had the lines which I’ve mentioned before. It was Chekawa, yeah. And what it said was Give all victory to others. Give gain and victory to others, take loss and defeat for yourself. He was a profound scholar, and he said, “I’ve never seen anything like that.”
So he said to his host, “I’m very sorry, but I saw this book open on your pillow and where did that come from?” And the host said, “Oh, that was Langri Tangpa’s mind training teaching.” “Mind training, what’s that?” The host described a few of the practices. So Chekawa asked, “Well, where’s Langri Tangpa?” The host replied that he was at such and such monastery.
So, Chekawa went there and found that Langri Tangpa had died. And he went, “Oh crud.” So what do you do? And he asked around, “Well, who are Langri Tangpa’s students?” Well, you had these two students and now there’s this big debate going on at the monastery about who should be the lineage holder.
And Chekawa was just crushed. He said, “You mean with all this wonderful teaching, they’re arguing?” But then he was told, “Oh, but you don’t understand how the argument is going.”
“What do you mean?” “Well, one of the monks is very old and he’s very respected by the community and he’s very dignified, and the other is just this brilliant young monk who is so present. He’s just extraordinary.”
“The young monk is saying, ’Sir you’re very old, and you’re very respected by the community and you have so much wisdom, you should take the lineage holder position.’ And the old monk is saying, ’Yes, but I’m not going to live very much longer, and you’re very bright, and you have all of this learning, and you’re really on top of practice, and you’re going to serve people much better, you take the lineage holder.’” [Laughter]
It was felt dissemination would reduce its power. So, it was given to just very talented people in each generation.
Student: What was the real reason?
Ken: And what do you think the real reason was?
Ken: In many cases, similar cases, I would agree with you. But there are a number of instructions like this, which have been kept secret for a certain period of time. And I think there is some validity in it being given only to people who can actually make use of it. So, it isn’t disseminated. We see today that a lot of instructions are going all over the place and you see what’s happening. They’re being distorted by one person here, made into something there, and applied something there. And yet something good is happening in the larger picture, but also a certain power and energy is being dispersed.
The secrecy continued for about seven generations of teacher-student in Tibet. And then it started to spread widely around the thirteenth, fourteenth century, somewhere in there. And as soon as it started to be spread widely, it just went into every school of Tibetan Buddhism, [Ken snaps fingers] just like that, because it’s such a powerful teaching.
Keep the three essentials. This is very simple. The three essentials are body, speech, and mind. Keep them all engaged in the practice. Body, how you actually act, physical actions that you do. Speech, what you say. Mind, what you think. Keep taking and sending and everything like a dream, active in all three.
Train on every object without preference. Broad and deep ability in every area is essential. This is what I was saying yesterday about developing a way to make sure that every area of your life is covered, so that no area of life is protected from taking and sending. And this is where the practice can grate. It can become very, very inconvenient, in terms of certain patterns functioning.
And yet, this is where the real power comes from. And in order to ensure that it covers every area of life, my sense is that you have to develop some kind of system. You can’t just rely on, you know, “Well, I’ll just work through it myself.” Because the patterns are very subtle and very powerful in their operation. They can easily block whole areas. Whereas if you have some kind of list, or other scheme which just covers the whole range of experience and you work through it methodically then, you know, it’s amazing what you do. You go down the list, “That one’s fine, that one’s fine…oh god…[chuckle] I didn’t even know I had an issue there, damn!” And so there’s great benefit in working through things systematically.