Ethics as comprised of a set of five principles: presence, balance, boundary, obligation, and courage; what these are and what they mean
This afternoon, I’m going to talk about what constitutes the ethical system connected with the warrior’s solution. This is not the usual kind of discussion that one expects or has about ethics. There isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts. More a set of principles. But the principles are nothing in and of themselves, because the meaning of the principles and what they really signify is based in experience.
The first principle is presence. Presence is being in the full experience of what is arising—internally, externally and the awareness thereof. So right now, take a moment and return to the primary practice. Pick a focus. Expand to the field. And when you can rest in the field, then include the internal material. Drop the distinction of inside and outside. And rest in presence.
Now as you rest there, look directly at the awareness which knows. When you do this, you will probably experience a shift. And in that shift, looking directly at the awareness, you see no thing. And yet the capacity of knowing is undiminished. There is a natural clarity, even though you are looking at no thing. And there is the flow of experience. Experience doesn’t stop. It is a flow. So you experience emptiness, clarity and flow. That is presence. This is a description of what is. And being what is. The emptiness, the clarity and the flow are not states of mind. They are what is. Whether you are aware of them or not, they are there. They are what is happening in each and every moment of experience. By opening to what is happening in each moment of experience, you move into presence.
So that’s the first principle. Any questions about it? Not that I’ll be able to answer them. Yes?
Ken: Okay. You want the concrete or the abstract approach. You have your choice. You choose.
Ken: Okay. Look at your foot. What do you see?
Ken: Look at your knee. What do you see?
Ken: Look at your hand. What do you see?
Ken: Look at your head. What do you see?
Ken: Look at your head. What do you see?
Ken: Do you? Look at your head. What do you see?
Ken: What do you see when you look at your head?
Ken: There you are. That’s the concrete approach.
Student: I don’t get it.
Ken: [Laughter] Yes, but this was for her.
What don’t you get?
Ken: So when we went through the primary practice and you looked at awareness, what was your experience?
What did you see when you looked at awareness?
Ken: Okay. That was the third thing that happened. Try again.
Ken: Just do it. Don’t think about it.
You have a pen in your hand. Look at the pen. You have the experience of seeing the pen. Are you with me?
Now look at what sees the pen. What do you see when you look at what sees the pen? Right there. Right there. Now. What do you see?
Ken: That was the fourth thing that happened. Right when you look, what do you see?
Ken: Yes. And when you look at what sees the pen, what do you see? Do you see anything?
Student: There’s a shift.
Ken: There’s a shift. And do you see anything?
Ken: No. That’s that. The second thing that happens is you panicked. And the third thing that happens, you come up with all kinds of ideas. As we come into the internal material and then you start intellectualizing. That’s where you get into stories and things like that. But the first thing that happens is that you see no thing. That’s it. That’s the emptiness. That’s it. It’s not a big deal. Now, where is that emptiness right now?
Ken: Right. Does it go anywhere? No. It’s just what is. This making sense to you now? Good.
Any other questions on this? There’s emptiness, but in that emptiness, is there just a blankness? No. There’s this clarity, this knowing, right? And in that emptiness and that knowing there’s flow of experience. It just arises. That’s what is happening all the time. But most of the time we are not aware of that. We are justÖthere’s an object out there, and I’m here. We’re not actually in the experience in knowing. And presence is being in the experience and in knowing simultaneously. And it’s not a conceptual knowing. It’s what in the Zen tradition and the dzogchen tradition is referred to—transmission that is outside the scriptures and so forth. Beyond words. So that’s presence.
The second principle is balance. What is it? It is the union of knowing, being and acting at the point at which experience arises. Now that’s just a description. It cannot be explained or understood through words. Most people think of balance as static, it’s not, it’s dynamic. One of the easiest ways to know balance is ride a bicycle. You ride a bicycle, you experience balance. Is it static? No. When you’re riding a bicycle, do you just stay in the same state, or is there constant adjustment? There’d better be constant adjustment, otherwise you crash. And you know the experience directly. You are in balance, and you act in balance. Balance promotes balance. When you are in balance, how you experience the world, how you are yourself, and what you do are all in balance. The consequence of that is the results of your action are also in balance. When you are out of balance, what you are and what you do is out of balance, and so you have to compensate more and more for the imbalance.
There are two good sources I know for understanding balance. One, Jackie Chan movies. You just get a very clear sense of dynamic balance. One thing just moves into the next, but he’s always in balance. Another is a book called The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander. Very interesting architect. But he uses the principle of balance to determine how a building should be designed. Or to determine the design of the building itself. The placement of the doors, the placement of the windows, where everything is. And the balance arises out of how a particular space is being used. There’s quite a lot there. I’m not going to go into it. It’s a resource, if you wish to look it up.
Balance and imbalance are both indicated by the direction of increase. The sign of imbalance is that things become increasingly harder and require more effort. The sign of balance is that doors just open. Another way this is often talked about is, being in tune with things. Balance facilitates opening. Imbalance produces suffering. Balance is the optimum condition for presence to arise. Imbalance requires you to exert more and more effort to experience things as they are. The implications of that are, internally you resort more and more to compensating behaviors and suppression. And externally the world becomes more and more problematic. People and the environment take the hit.
One way to regard meditation practice is as the practice of balance. And as you practice meditation, or as your practice matures, your sense of balance, which initially is between busyness and dullness, becomes progressively more refined, until you can rest in stable clarity. And as that deepens and matures, you come to rest in empty clarity, which is nature of mind itself. In other words, by developing balance one comes to rest in the nature of things.
The third principle is boundary. When you’re sensitive to balance, you’re able to be present. Then you’re able to perceive imbalance and the causes of imbalance. That’s where boundary arises. What is boundary? Boundary is the point or place at which you are willing to stand and take what comes, even if it involves killing or dying. [Repeating] Boundary is the point or place at which you are willing to stand and take what comes, even if it involves killing or dying.
Now, people have quite absurd boundaries, these days. A significant boundary for many people, particularly in Los Angeles, is how they look.
Ken: That’s another one, but it’s just in how they look. And they will kill large parts of their lives, really kill it, in order to look a certain way. They will die for that. It’s absurd. From the perspective in which we’re working, there is only one boundary worth defending. And that boundary is balance.
The stoics, kind of an interesting bunch. One way to characterize stoic philosophy is you do not value anything which can be taken away from you—money, possessions. Okay, that makes sense. Property, friends, family, spouse, health, life—all of these things can be taken away. These were not what the stoics valued. So, you might ask, it’s an interesting exercise, what did they value? See where that leads you.
Self, others and all of the investments associated with them are, in the end, not worth defending, because they are all instances of imbalance. And we all know this. How much turmoil, suffering and misery have been generated because people tried to defend a certain self-image, a certain sense of themselves. All of these come out of patterns. Patterns by their very nature cannot be satisfied, and the effort to do so serves the patterns and generates imbalance.
In the end, nothing but balance needs defending. Defending anything else inevitably creates imbalances. And in addition to a sense of self, you can observe what happens when love, honor, duty, etc., let alone money, country and so forth are defended. Yes?
Ken: That comes next.
Let me give you an example, and I think you will see. I’m going to give an example. You have a friend. He’s a good friend. He asks to borrow a thousand dollars. He says he’s in trouble. So you lend it to him. A couple of months later, he asks you for another thousand. And you lend it to him. Another couple of months pass and he asks you for another thousand. What do you do at this point?
Ken: What does it depend on?
Student: It depends on whether you think the money is [unclear]
Ken: So you’re beginning to sense something, aren’t you? A little imbalance. And how do you defend that? How do you defend the balance that makes the relationship work?
Student: [Unclear] too many [unclear]
Ken: Right. That answer your question?
Student: That is the negative, not contributing to the imbalance itself. Is there a positive flip-side for contributing towards balance?
Ken: Yes, of course. This is the way it arises. How is it contributing toward balance? You’ve been married to someone for many years. And it’s a very close and deep and meaningful relationship for you. She falls ill. She’s not able to contribute to the relationship in the way that she used to. What do you do?
Student: You go over the half-point. [Unclear]
Ken: Yes. You nurture, you take care of her, you do everything you can to help her restore her health. And if that’s not possible, you’re still with her. That’s defending the balance. Right?
So, the fourth principleÖYes? Where?
[Several inaudible exchanges]
Obligation is the fourth principle. Obligation is what arises when you stand at your boundary. Obligation is the maintenance of the boundary that maintains balance in the relationship. And in response to your comment on co-dependence, co-dependence is by nature imbalance because it is serving something internally. It’s not serving the relationship. It is the perpetuation of an imbalance. Does that make sense to you?
Student: Yes, it does.
Ken: Thank you. Obligation is maintenance of the boundary that maintains balance in the relationship.
Now. There are three basis of relationship. We talked about this Wednesday evening in the community talk. Mutual profit, shared aim, emotional connection. And there’s a different kind of balance in each.
In mutual profit, the balance is that both people are profiting from it to the extent they’re putting into it. You see this in business all the time. If you are willing to assume 10 percent of the risk, you get 10 percent of the profit. If you’re willing to assume 90 percent of the risk, you get 90 percent of the profit, that’s how the balance is maintained.
In shared aim, the balance is, such as the teacher-student relationship. The teachers put certain energy in and has obligations in the relationship as we discussed yesterday. The student also has obligation and if both people are fulfilling their obligation, the relationship is balanced. But if the student isn’t making use of the material, or isn’t editing the material, the relationship is out of balance. Or if the teacher is using the student for something other than their spiritual awakening, the relationship is out of balance. And so that’s what sets up the boundaries and the obligations on both sides. Are you with me?
Every relationship is dynamic. It’s constantly changing, like everything else. The consequence of that is that the point of balance is constantly changing. This is why balance is a dynamic process, not a static one. This in turn means that the obligations are constantly changing, so you have to stay in touch with the relationship as it is now. A source of conflict in relationships very often is that the relationship has changed, and the obligations have changed, but neither party recognizes that. And they’re still functioning from an old picture of the relationship.
Obligations arise in two ways. They arise necessarily from the experience of exchange. And they arise voluntarily from the exercise of choice. An obligation arises whenever you receive something for nothing. That is, if somebody gives you something—whether it’s a material object, some understanding, trust, what have you, an obligation arises. You haven’t done anything. And there is no such thing as getting something for nothing. That’s the devil’s deal.
Obligation is not necessarily fulfilled with the party of the exchange. This is particularly important in the teacher-student and the parent-child relationship. The child owes nothing to the parent for his or her upbringing. But the child does owe it to his or her own children. That’s where the obligation is fulfilled. And in the same way, the teacher provides instruction and guidance to the student. And in coming to any kind of understanding or realization, the student owes nothing to the teacher, but does have the obligation to pass that understanding to someone else.
You may recall in my book I have the story of the monk who becomes a ferryman. And he waits until one of his passengers is a bright, young monk. He tests him. And in the middle of the river he turns over the boat. And the young monk says to the ferryman as he comes to the surface, “What did you do this for?” And he says, “What is your mind?” and hits him with the oar, knocking him under the water. And he has to do this a couple of times before the guy gets the point, at which point he signals that he has understood and he is grateful. And the ferryman says, “Now I have fulfilled my obligation to my own teacher.” And that’s it. So you don’t necessarily repay to—particularly in the shared aim relationship—to the party in which the obligation arises.
Obligation can also be assumed voluntarily. But it’s only an obligation when it involves no underlying service of internal agendas. It is free choice. You are never obligated to a pattern. It may feel like that sometimes. But you are never obligated to a pattern, because a pattern is a manifestation of imbalance. It is not a manifestation of awareness or presence. Patterns inherently serve imbalance. And one only has to look at family patterns, cultural patterns, organizational patterns, or national patterns to see. It’s all about imbalance.
What makes it possible to stand at a boundary and to fulfill an obligation? This is the fifth principle. Courage. Various people define courage in different ways. One of the simplest is, the ability to endure. But a fuller description is, Being able to stand fully in the experience of fear. Experience the fear in such a way that it does not prevent you from taking the action necessary to maintain balance. So you see that—
Student: Say that again.
Ken: Yes. Being able to stand fully in the experience of fear and experience the fear in such a way that it does not prevent you from taking the actions necessary to maintain balance. Now we’ve all experienced this. We’ve all experienced this fear, where we sense something is out of balance in a relationship. And we think we need to say something, and we go, “Ach!” And we fear that it’s going to be the end of the relationship or something terrible is going to happen. And that fear is almost always based on earlier conditioning.
One person I worked with many years ago—we were working in this area. And I saw him on one occasion, and I said, “Here is something you have to do.” He came back a couple of weeks later. And I said, “Did you do it?” He said, “No.” [Unclear, tape cuts out] And I said, “Did you do that?” He said, “No.” So I gave him a third assignment. And he came back, and he hadn’t done that one either. Now, our relationship is out of balance. He’s not making use of the material.
So I said to him, “These are three things that you haven’t done. If you come back a fourth time, you have to have done one of them. If you haven’t done any of them, don’t bother coming back. He was a bit shocked. One of them involved asking for a raise.
So he did come back. I said, ìDid you do any of them?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Which one?” He said, “I asked for a raise.” I said, “What happened?” “Well, my boss said, ëOh, you’re right,’ and he gave everybody in the company a raise.” What he was feeling was things were out of balance in the company. But he didn’t have the courage initially to address that. And then he found the courage, addressed it. And there was an imbalance, and it moved things more back into balance.
This is not about suppressing the fear. When you suppress the fear, you close the wound, you don’t feel anything, you operate blindly. That’s the predator. You feel the fear, but your capacity in attention is such that you are able to do what you need to do and feel the fear.
So, right now. Take a situation in your life which is out of balance, one which you have not yet addressed, for whatever reason. Just bring it to mind. Now, move into presence, sense the imbalance, sense where your boundary is, even if you haven’t maintained it and go and stand right there. And you know what to do, and you know what to say and you know what you have to feel. What arises? For most of us, fear arises at this point. Experience that fear. Don’t get lost in it. Don’t suppress it. Experience it.
And now, in your mind, say or do whatever you need to address the imbalance. And when you start to do that, often the fear will spike, but you say and do it anyway. That’s courage. Failures of courage are what causes things to move out of balance. In the end, you end up as one of the walking dead. A colleague of mine was describing a person she worked with who wouldn’t take…wouldn’t make any movement in her practice. So eventually this colleague asked her, “You’re in a box. The box is on fire. The only way out of the box is across a walk of burning coals. At the end of that walk, it’s not very far, there is a door. When are you going to go through that door?” And her student said, “When I know that it’s safe on the other side.” And so my colleague looked at her and said, “Our work ends here.”
Student: Can you repeat that?
Ken: “Our work ends here.” There was nothing to work with. She was going to stay in a situation in which she was definitely going to die and not make any movement. Courage is a necessary quality for this path. You do not know and cannot know where the efforts in your practice are going to take you. We do not know, at this point, what we have suppressed or buried inside us. We do not know what monsters we are going to meet. The reason we take this path is because we know the alternative is unacceptable. That, in Buddhist terms, is the essence of the meaning of refuge. It’s not that we’re going somewhere safe. It’s that we’re leaving behind what we know to be unworkable. And that act is courage.
Now. Necessarily, if you are in presence, attuned to balance, clear about your boundaries and the obligations they involve, and have the courage to stand there, you’re going to experience conflict. The conflict may be, apparently, with something outside. But in fact, the conflict is always with something inside. So it’s good to know something about how to work with conflict.
Some of you are familiar with this, but a review won’t hurt you.
One of ways to work with conflict is through the four stages of conflict, which are based on Vajryana principles of awakened activity. I’m grateful to Trungpa Rinpoche for an article that he wrote back in the early ’70s,
Garuda. The four awakened activities are: pacifying, enriching, magnetizing and destruction. These are the four stages of conflict.
Student: What was the third one?
In pacification, you seek to resolve the conflict by utilizing the resources that are already at hand. An apology. Opening the door for someone. Standing out of the way. Giving the other person space to do what they want. These are all forms of pacification. When you use pacification to resolve a conflict, you build relationship.
If that doesn’t work, then the next level comes into play, and that’s enrichment. Enrichment means to resolve the conflict by bringing in additional resources. Bribery. Training. Education. A facilitator. A mediator. All of these are forms of enrichment. There are many more, of course, I’m just mentioning a few. Enrichment can lead to connection, but is not as solid as the connection. It’s a different kind of relationship from what comes through pacification. So you bribe an official to let you on a train in India, it happens all the time. Well, you have a certain relationship with that official, but it has its limits.
When you can’t resolve the conflict by enrichment, you move to magnetization.
Magnetization is to use your own personal power to resolve the conflict. That may be done through challenge, intimidation, threat, withholding cooperation. Boycotts are an example of magnetization. One of the ways that I like to approach magnetization personally, is to become a spokesperson for the situation itself. That takes the personality out of it. This is just what’s going to happen. And it avoids, in many cases, the sense of you against me. It can be more productive.
But if there’s no response to magnetization, then you move to destruction. And destruction means destroying the situation in which the conflict arises. Which can mean: removing yourself from the situation, destroying the other person, or destroying what the conflict’s about. Parents use this all the time when their children are fighting. They’re fighting over a toy, they take away the toy. That’s destruction. Y’know, it’s destroying the situation in which the conflict arises. Now later in this retreat, we’re going to go through methods of destruction.
But one of the things you need to understand is that when you enter into conflict, you do not determine to what level the conflict goes. Your opponent does. The other party does. All you are doing is defending a boundary. You’re maintaining balance. You see what is necessary. We’re making the assumption that you’re coming out of awareness here and not out of pattern. You see what is necessary, and you’re willing to stand there even if it involves killing or dying. That’s the definition of boundary. It is the other party that determines what happens. You do not control the course of the conflict.
My martial arts teacher likes to drive this home, in a rather graphic set of phrases that he has. “Why would I kill you if I can maim you?” “Why would I maim you if I could just injure you?’ ” Why would I injure you if I can just embarrass you?“ ” Why would I embarrass you if I can walk away?“ ” But if you don’t let me walk away, I will embarrass you.“ ”And if you don’t stop when I embarrass you, I will injure you.“ ”And if you don’t stop when I injure you, I will maim you.“ And so forth.
You do not control the course of the conflict. And so many people enter into a conflict and find themselves at the point of killing or dying, not necessarily literally. It may be that their job is on the line. That’s dying in the business world, you get fired, or somebody else gets fired. Or it may mean the end of the relationship. That’s the death of the relationship. These are all different forms of killing or dying. And they wonder how they got there. So it’s very important when you enter a conflict, are you willing to go to that end? If you’re not, you have no business being there.
Student: Is that true with each [unclear] of the four methods [unclear] trying to do?
Ken: You’re going to start with pacification, but you have no idea where it’s going to end up, because you don’t control that. So as soon as the conflict arises, when you’re starting and if you are aware you will start at the level of pacification. But you do not know whether it will stop there. Yes.
Ken: What is the point of defending balance? Imbalance creates what?
Ken: So the manifestation of compassion is that you defend that which doesn’t create suffering, which is balance. Is that clear? And people who are very clear about compassion do this all the time. They are very clear about boundaries and say, ”No, this doesn’t work, we do it this way.” And that’s just it. I’ve seen it many, many times. There’s no enmity, there’s no sense of conflict. It’s just, this is where it is, this is what needs to happen. And you have people working at the international level that operate this way and they’re quite extraordinary people.
Ken: Now you’ve never experienced that with me, have you? [Laughter] I mean, we were discussing yesterday that one of the teacher’s responsibilities is to point out the internal material of the student. That usually is not a fun process. Sometimes it’s very painful. But if the student is to wake up, it is absolutely necessary. This is why it’s so important that our actions be based on presence and awareness and not serving any patterns, our own or anybody else’s, because down that path is abuse, suffering and all kinds of other stuff. Yeah. Jeremy?
Ken: Yes. What’s the question?
Ken: When you give something to somebody, are you getting something for nothing?
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Are you getting nothing for something? That’s the other side. See, if somebody is getting something for nothing, then somebody else is getting nothing for something.
Student: That’s okay.
Ken: [Laughter] Are you getting nothing for something, when you give freely?
Ken: Yeah. So the question doesn’t arise, does it?
Ken: That’s right. Because to give with the expectation of return is not to give. It is to coerce. Arlene?
Ken: Oooh, this is the last question, we’re way over. Yes?
Ken: [Laughter] I’m sorry, no Catholics here.
Ken: Yeah, I think that’s one, that’s a workable way of looking at it. Yes. Yep.
Right, okay. We’re already past 5:30. I want you to have a break before dinner, so we’re going to close here. Now, your practice this evening? If you’ve had a clear experience of doing something that you couldn’t do before, that is, doing something in attention, then spend the evening, the three sessions in the evening, working on the primary practice.
If you haven’t had that experience, then continue to work on doing the five elements, taking the sword and doing something that you couldn’t do before. OKay?
We’re going to be going back and forth between these practices of awareness and the practices which bring you in touch with the internal material. So a certain amount of, you can judge, or determine what’s most fruitful to a certain extent. But once you have a clear experience, then go back into the practice of awareness, which in this case is the primary practice.
Okay? Have a good dinner, and see you at 7 o’clock.