The Suffering of Samsara (pt. 1)Download
Recap of chapters previously covered; about the word dukkha; what “suffering” means in Buddhism; what is the question to which “the vicious cycle of samsara” is the answer?; why not just eat, drink, and be merry?; relating the three types of suffering to the three poisons and the three types of faith; exercise on experience and our reaction to experience; a closer look at the first two types of suffering. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 5.
This is the next class in Then and Now. We’re working principally with the Jewel Ornament of Liberation, in either of the two translations. And our focus this evening is on the chapter which Guenther translates as the vicious state of samsara.
To review: we started off by looking at an answer to the question, “What makes spiritual practice possible?” and the answer to that is buddha nature. “What do you need to have in order to be able to develop spiritually?” and the answer to that was, the precious human birth. Or to interpret that in modern language: being sane a sufficient amount of the time in our lives in order to appreciate that there is some work to do. And then, “How or where do we find out how to practice?” and the answer to that is from a spiritual guide. From a teacher essentially.
And what do you do? And that is work with instructions. The first set of instructions that we worked with were instructions on death and impermanence. And the function of death and impermanence practice is—at least in the early stages of practice—primarily motivational. And it is to draw a distinction between what we ordinarily accept as the aim and significance of life that’s being defined by the society and culture that we find ourselves living. And the fact that actually this experience we call life is ours and ours alone. And it’s really up to us to decide what to do with it.
The next chapter, where we’re going to start now, is on the nature of ordinary experience. And I’d like to begin by posing a question. “What question is all of this teaching of suffering of samsara (and I’ll talk more about that word in a minute) an answer to?” It’s something we’ve looked at before and I’d like to come back to that.
First, I want to talk a little bit about this term suffering. The Sanskrit is duhkha. In Pali, I believe the word is dukkha. In those languages it has a very broad range of meanings covering anything from anxiety and slight discomfort to extreme physical and mental anguish. We don’t really have an English word that has that same range of meaning. The most common word that is used now is suffering. But a word that I’ve been experimenting with, actually fairly good results, is the notion of struggle. We’ve talked a bit about this before.
If you ask a person in our society, “Do you suffer?” they will say no. They don’t relate to their experience as suffering. But if you say to them, “Do you struggle in life?” pretty much everyone says “yes” to that. There can be little struggles, and minor struggles and there can be big struggles. And there’s all kinds of things we struggle with: things inside ourselves, things outside ourselves and so forth. So we could also call this on the chapter on struggle, struggle in life.
So at this point, what’s the question that all this teaching is an answer to? That this set of instructions, information or perspectives would you say? I know this wasn’t on the assignment and I’m springing this on you completely unprepared but I know you’re up to it. Anybody? Julia.
Julia: Why do we practice?
Ken: How did you get there?
Julia: This chapter gives a description of ordinary existence as struggle, and I think most people would like to find a way to relate to their experience so it’s less painful.
Ken: Less struggle or less painful? I’m being sticky on words here.
Julia: Yes. Less struggle.
Ken: Okay. Why do you say less struggle instead of less painful when I raised this as a distinction?
Julia: Because after many years of studying your teaching, I’ve come to understand practice as changing the way you relate to what arises in experience. It’s not an anodyne, it’s a different approach.
Ken: Okay. We come here to a very important point. This term, dukkha, which I’ve described as having this wide range of meanings, is often or usually translated into English as suffering. It could be translated as discomfort but that doesn’t deal with the more dramatic forms of dukkha. It could be translated as anguish but that doesn’t deal with the lesser forms. I’ve suggested struggle. But there are other words we have in English, such as pain.
What’s the difference between pain and dukkha, or suffering or struggle? And what was behind my question— and I think Julia was aware of this—was pain and pleasure are sensations. Happiness and suffering are states of mind. We could go a step further and say that there’s what arises in experience and how we react to it. What dukkha is referring to primarily is the way that we react to what arises in experience. And Julia’s proposed the question that this chapter is an answer to is, “Why do we practice?” And I presume the answer takes the form of, “We practice because we struggle with our experience.” Would that be right?
Ken: And so then the question is, “Is it possible to find a way to experience things without struggle?” which would be without dukkha, and so forth. Okay, anybody else? Anybody have any other candidates here for the possible question? [silence] Everybody happy with that one? Susan.
Susan: What will we run up against as we practice?
Ken: Oh, you think that if we don’t practice we won’t run into dukkha do you?
Susan: I was thinking about it and it seems like the different realms are the different ways we are not awake. So if we’re on the path to awakening then that is what we would come up against. That was my thought.
Ken: Okay. I’m going to suggest a different wording for your question. You tell me if this fits: “How do I actually experience things now?” The reason I’m suggesting that is because it isn’t really conditional on our practice. If you follow. So it’s not simply what we run up against in our practice, but when we start to practice, when we start doing meditation, we find that there’s something rather screwed up or distorted or confused about the way we experience things. That’s what we discover in our practice. Okay? Anybody else? Chuck.
Chuck: It just seems like there’s a difference between struggle and suffering. Part of growing up and developing is a struggle. But it isn’t necessarily a suffering. Growth is a struggle but it’s not a suffering.
Ken: There might be differences of opinion with that but okay. So your point is?
Chuck: I just don’t think struggle is a good word for suffering.
Ken: You think suffering works? Okay, Randye.
Randye: The word I think of when I think of translating dukkha is unsatisfactoriness which is a relationship between what the experience is and how I’m responding to it. So, for me, the opposite of that, what I’m striving for is satisfactoriness. An acceptance of, “Well here’s the the experience, and here’s me, and that’s okay.”
Ken: So, what would you think the question is here, then? “What makes life unsatisfactory?”
Randye: It’s not just unhappiness, because sometimes happiness can be unsatisfactory, too.
Ken: Yes, quite often, actually.
Randye: They don’t last quite long enough, or—
Ken: Or it’s not enough.
Randye: It’s not enough. Whatever. There’s always a little fly in the ointment there. And so it’s more an attitude in relationship with the experience. It’s not the experience itself and it’s not me itself. It’s the relationship between the two.
Ken: Okay. So how would you word that as a question that this chapter is answering?
Randye: To be in, or to learn to be in a satisfactory relationship with my experience. That’s not very good, but that’s the best I can do.
Ken: Okay. Given the nature of the material to describe this chapter, might be more in the direction of, What makes life unsatisfactory? Does that work? Because it’s describing how it’s unsatisfactory. Anybody else?
Ken: So we’ve had several suggestions here and I think they’re all good candidates. There isn’t one definitive question, but what’s your question? What’s the question you find that this answers for you? Monika.
Monika: Why do I struggle or suffer?
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Because what’s very important here, if we are going to work with these teachings, is we have to consider what is the question to this answer, for us, which means what are our own questions? How many of you have the question of, “What makes my life unsatisfactory?” or “Why do I struggle?” or “Why do I suffer?” Does anyone else besides Monika have this question on their mind? Okay.
Let’s take that from where we’re starting from.
In reading this material over, the assignment I gave is primarily on the six realms which is what we’re going to get to next week. We had a rather short time on that, so I want you to, over the next week, continue with looking at the six realms and we’ll go into that much more next week.
The first thing that Gampopa does is open the chapter with a question, which is implicit, but it’s there: “Okay, if we know we’re going to die, why don’t we just eat, drink and be merry?” That’s what the first sentence is about there. So what’s your answer to that? Alex? [Laughs] You don’t know? Okay. Anybody have an answer to this? Heather.
Heather: The only thing that comes to mind is something like that it’s just not our nature.
Ken: [Laughs heartily]
Heather: To just enjoy. Like you said about how we relate to things?
Heather: For whatever reason it’s just not our nature to eat, drink and be merry.
Ken: Just not our nature? Well, I think we have it kind of conditioned out of us in this culture, perhaps. But there are other cultures which perhaps seem to do that. So why don’t we just learn to eat, drink and be merry then? Cara?
Cara: Because in our society, you gotta have money to eat, and you gotta have money to drink, and if you don’t have money, then it’s not very merry.
Ken: Then leave this society and go somewhere else.
Cara: I can’t afford the plane ticket.
Ken: Let’s face it, to afford the plane ticket, put it all together— two or three months max—then you could just be out of this culture.
Cara: I just think it’s a waste of time to just focus on all of those things in life.
Ken: Ah, now you’re…this is a totally different thing, okay.
Cara: I was kinda kidding, sorry.
Cara: But from a logical perspective, we can’t eat, drink, and be merry because somebody has to plow the fields, somebody has to do the laundry, you know. On a basic level the things that make us happy have to be produced by someone, so someone, somewhere is not going to be able to eat, drink and be merry.
Ken: Okay. The reason we can’t just eat, drink, and be merry is because we don’t know when we’re going to die.
Ken: We could be here for a long time. And, we have to take into account that we might have to have a place to live for a year, or two years, or God forbid, twenty years! Right, Heather?
Heather: I have a question about that, then. Maybe I’m contradicting myself or something, but in the midst of plowing and working, and whatever else you have to do to put yourself in shelter and have food, whatever—can’t you eat, drink and be merry in the midst of all that?
Ken: There are some people who live that way. They just live for enjoyment. They do their work, and they go and live for enjoyment. Is there a problem with this?
Heather: Or enjoy the work. Some people would be merry plowing.
Ken: Yeah, well, some people actually like their work. They’re a relatively small number but they’re fortunate.
Cara: When you brought that up, I thought of all those old Dutch pictures of, you know, the drunken villagers, and like everybody is just—
Ken: Oh, Pieter Breugel?
Cara: Yeah, Breugel. Yeah, I was thinking about Breugel. That was immediately the image it conjured.
Ken: There’s also Hogarth, The Rake’s Progress [Laughs]. So what’s the problem with this? Art.
Art: It’s been my experience that because of life’s circumstance and my own nature, the third one is strangely elusive.
Ken: [Laughing] You got the eating down, you got the drinking down, but being merry is a little harder.
Art: Yeah, you know.
Ken: What gets in the way?
Art: Oh, people die. And what was merry once changes, and then you’re not quite sure what’s merry next. You know, it’s strangely elusive.
Ken: Okay. So basically, it doesn’t work, is what you’re saying. This is very important to realize. Guenther [page 55], in his inimitable way, opens this up with:
It is plain hedonism if you think, “What does not matter that the transitory dies,” or “Why should I not make the most of it when I have obtained the most perfect wealth of sensuous and sensual enjoyments among either gods or men…”
Ken: In some way, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t satisfy. Right? And we’re right back to the problem we had in the beginning: this is not satisfactory.
So, the first of the Noble Truths is the truth of dukkha, the truth of suffering or, if Chuck will allow us, the truth of struggle.
We have this strange situation where here we are, and it’s very difficult it seems for most of us to experience satisfaction or peace or whatever one wants to call it with our lives as they arise for us. Just eating and drinking works up to a point, but then as Art was saying, being merry loses its flavor. If you notice people who actually live that way, they grow more and more desperate as their life goes on longer. It’s like a party that’s gone on too long.
So, what the First Noble Truth is an invitation to, is to get curious about our experience. And again, this is a very good way to come to this material. As I’ve mentioned many times, the Tibetan tradition really presents things. With Buddhism being in India anywhere between 1,000 and 1,500 years before it came to Tibet, so this stuff has been really thought out and churned over and over again. And in Tibet Buddhism was a hugely civilizing influence. So much so, that the word in Tibet for Buddhist is nang-pa which means basically insider. You’re civilized if you have an interior life. They regard anybody who doesn’t have Buddhism as being barbaric, because they were essentially barbaric until Buddhism came in and was a civilizing influence for them.
It’s very important for us, to relate to this material not as “this is how things are,” but as an invitation to become curious. Now, what generates struggle? This is moving of course into the Second Noble Truth. What is the genesis for the struggle, what is the genesis for the suffering?
And if you look in here, you’ll see (I’m using the Guenther translation) three kinds of struggle, three kinds of misery, Guenther uses the term misery here for dukkha), three kinds of suffering, conditioned existence of change, and the suffering of suffering itself.
What I want to do this evening is relate these three kinds of suffering to the three poisons, and also to some material that we’ve worked with earlier: the three kinds of faith. You may recall the chapter on relating to a spiritual teacher. There was faith which is rational appreciation. There is faith which was coming from longing, and there’s faith, that clear open quality—you can say inspiration or what have you.
Ken: Now, part of my reason here is: when we get curious about where does this struggle come from, we come into contact with what in Buddhism are known as the three poisons. In the Theravadin traditions, they are given these wonderful Victorian era translations of greed, hatred and delusion. My preferred translation for these three now are: attraction, aversion and indifference. I use these because what the three poisons are referring to are fundamental deep-seated reactions to experience. Later on we’ll study these from a different perspective, but I want to bring this in right at this point because it’s highly relevant to this whole chapter.
Attraction, aversion and indifference are all dependent on something else. What might that be? [Pause] Susan?
Susan: A self that has the attraction, aversion or indifference?
Ken: Yeah, basically. I was going to take it in two steps. So you just did two in one. One is that there is a frame of reference. And what defines that frame of reference is the sense of self, which is attracted to some things, is averse to some things, and just doesn’t care about other things. Now, I don’t want to get into detailed discussion about the formation of the sense of self. How many of you have some idea of what I’m talking about here in this sense of self that experiences attraction, aversion, and indifference? This is clear? Okay, so I don’t need to go into it. You can relate to this experientially. Now I would actually say, I think it’s fair that there are many different selves. There are different parts of us. Some parts of us are attracted to one thing, and other parts of us averse to the same thing. Anybody experience that in themselves? These internal conflicts?
Ken: So, in terms of these three forms of suffering or struggle or whatever, what’s the problem with indifference? Art?
Art: It causes you to ignore or not pay attention to what’s going on. You just sort of look past it.
Ken: And that’s very much related to the subtle suffering of conditioned experience. We just ignore things. What’s the problem with attraction? Cara?
Ken: What’s the problem with attachment?
Cara: I don’t have a single word but you just get caught up in something and you lose.
Ken: Yeah, you fall in love! What’s the problem with that? [Laughs]
Cara: You fall out of love.
Ken: Ahhhh. The problem is change. Yes. That’s the second form of suffering. What’s the problem with aversion? Anybody here ever experience aversion?
Cara: You don’t get a chance to fall in love.
Ken: What’s the problem with aversion? We don’t get to fall in love? Can you say a bit more?
Cara: Well, if you live your life in a bubble, and you don’t experience things, you don’t experience change, then that kind of stasis is not going to contribute to your moving forward or growth.
Ken: Okay. Anybody else? What’s the problem with aversion? Julia? I hear you chuckling in the background, do you have something to say here?
Julia: It’s unpleasant! [Makes an unpleasant noise]. It’s just downright unpleasant.
Ken: Okay, I’m going to suggest that’s primarily connected to the third form of suffering. It’s just not much fun. There are a few people who enjoy being angry. But most people…You’re looking at me? No, I’m—
Julia: I know one or two of them [Laughing].
Ken: That’s very often because they’re ignoring very large parts of their experience.
So we can establish a certain correspondence between the three poisons and the three forms of suffering. When things intrude upon our world and the way we want our world to be, that’s when we experience aversion, right? When I drop a brick on my foot, that’s an intrusion, and it hurts, and I have a reaction to that. And then when everything’s going nice and it changes then I experience a different form of suffering. That’s the second one. And then there’s just cruising through life but that just doesn’t feel quite right. That’s the one most of us just ignore. And you can see people actively ignoring that. They don’t question their lives. And we explored this to some extent in the workshop we did at the beginning of December. Many people just ignore the actual role of money in their life and get caught up in all of that.
Ken: So, that’s one way I wanted to look at it. The second way I wanted to explore a bit was in terms of these three forms of faith. Now, in a certain sense, these three forms of faith could be regarded as antidotes to these three kinds of suffering or struggle. For instance, we feel aversion when there is the seeming intrusion into how things are. Something falls on my foot. But if we can accept how things actually are and come to an understanding of how things actually are, then we are less likely to feel aversion.
In my business work, this comes up a lot, because there’s an awful lot of aversion flying around in the corporate environment. A large part of what I get paid for is telling people how things are and helping them to see. I’ll give you an example that comes up all the time. Somebody will come to me and say, “I want a promotion. I’ve worked here ten years, I’ve done a lot of good work, and I haven’t received a promotion yet and I feel I deserve one and I feel really angry about this.” See, that’s where the aversion comes in. I look at them and say, “Well, it’s got nothing to do with deserving.” And they look at me like, “What do you mean?” “Well, you’ve already been paid for that, so that’s all in the past. You can’t use that as an argument for getting a promotion. Now that they’ve paid you for something, why should they pay you more for something that’s in the past? Or give you more money for that?”
At this point, they’re beginning to feel a little averse to me! [Laughing]. I said, “You’re in the business environment. You’ve got to present an argument as to why it’s worth the business paying you more. That is, what you can you contribute to the business if they give you this promotion? How is that going to help the business.” Then they say, “Gee, you know, I’ve never looked at it from that point of view.” Then they start thinking about it and say, “There are lots of things I can do.” And they come up with a whole different argument. But now that they see how things are, the aversion disappears and it becomes much more constructive.
Ken: So being able to see how things are, seeing things rationally this is a very good antidote for the aversion. It’s kind of like that first kind of faith: understanding how things are and the faith that comes from understanding just how things are.
Now the second one, you may recall, is the faith of longing. There’s a certain ideal, a certain picture we have, and something we want to move forwards towards. This is all about attraction. There’s two ways of relating to attraction. One is as a source of suffering. So we’re reaching for something where things change and they aren’t the way we want them to be and we feel pain from that. Or we can relate to attraction as a source of inspiration, as a source of energy, and actually build on that and get curious and push more deeply whatever is going on in our lives and how we can relate to them and turn that longing or that attraction into something constructive.
Ken: And then the third one, is this indifference. Now, as we’ve noted this about ignoring how things are for us right now. One of the things you can do, and I suggest you try this over the next week, when you find yourself in an ordinary situation. Let me give you a few examples of ordinary situations where ignoring takes place a lot: the ten to fifteen minutes you’re in a movie theater before the movie starts. There are people coming and going, things going on, and basically we’re not paying any attention to any of them. Or waiting in line at a bank or a store or something like that. We’re usually in a pretty dull state at that. We’re usually thinking about something else. We’re not in that situation. Those are the kinds of things, I mean about very ordinary situations, situations where we’re ordinarily bored.
What I want you to try is, in those kinds of situations, open to what you’re actually experiencing, everything, right there. So you’re sitting in the movie theater, so you just sit there and you hear all the people talking. You don’t have to listen to the conversations, but just hear the sounds of all of those conversations. Because that’s what’s happening there. And maybe all of the activity. They have made this a bit more difficult now, because they’ve got into these weird slide shows which are completely boring, etc. so you’ve got to include those. And you do the same thing when you’re waiting in line at the bank, at the post office or the store. Just open to that actual situation. What’s that like? And you find actually that when you stop ignoring your experience it strangely becomes much richer. There’s a whole world there. Maybe it’s not as boring as we thought it was.
Have any of you seen that movie that came out in the late 80’s, The Thirty Two Short Films About Glen Gould? It’s a totally pretentious movie, but it has some interesting bits to it. In one of them, Glen Gould comes into this truck stop and there’s all of these truck drivers drinking coffee, eating donuts, all of this conversation going on. The way they present this: all he does is sit there and listens to the rhythm and the waves of the conversation and just like, “Oh, there’s this whole experience there.” This is a way of not ignoring. It’s actually opening to and appreciating what’s there in each moment. And it’s a a way of overcoming this indifference, which is a form of suffering. So that’s something I’d like you to experiment with.
Ken: Now, another thing I’d like to do is look at how suffering or struggle arises in your own lives. What do you struggle with? You might get curious about “Why am I struggling with this?” The texts, you may recall relates this in terms of food. The subtle form of suffering is like unripe fruit, and the suffering of change is like poisoned food, poisoned rice, and the suffering of suffering is like mold on fruit. You’ve got this nice thing, and it’s rotten.
Do we have those ice cubes? I want to do an experiment with you. We’re going to hand out ice cubes to everybody, and you’ll have a paper towel to hold them in until we try this little experiment. Because what I want to do here is distinguish between experience and our reaction to experience. So it could be a little painful, but it will be interesting. You can accuse me of torture later. Susan. Art?
Student: This may be the stupidest question on earth, but you’re just talking about all-pervasive suffering, suffering of change, and the suffering of suffering? I don’t get what all-pervasive suffering and what does the suffering of suffering mean?
Ken: Well, these are terms. If we relate these to the three marks of existence; the suffering of suffering is the struggle just to stay alive. So struggling for survival. Okay? And that’s what people are saying: you have to do some work to just provide for ourselves. It’s where we experience that we have to do something to stay alive and things intrude on our experience all the time.
Then the suffering of change has to do with the second mark of existence: getting our emotional needs met. The reason that we experience change as sufferin—as we just discussed a few moments ago—is because we become attached, or we want things to stay the way they are, and they change, and now we suffer. Then we struggle to get back what has changed or replace it in some way. And that’s why it’s likened to poisoned rice. Konchog Gyaltsen points out, and the food represents the body here. So the body changes, and it doesn’t stay the same and things change in our world. We’re always trying to go back to that and keep things constant in what we thought were a happier state. [Various logistics about ensuring everyone has an ice cube]
Ken: You have the towel so you don’t get too wet in the process here. What I want you to do is hold the ice cube in the palm of your hand. Just let it sit there. What do you experience? How cold is it getting? Anybody feel it’s getting so cold, it hurts? [various responses].
Now, I want you to open to the actual sensations. When it’s cold, the ice cube hurts. We want to take the ice cube away from our hand, right? Now just open to the actual sensation. Is it cold you’re feeling, or what actually are you experiencing there? Is it a burning? Is it a cold? Or is something sharp? Sharp, Okay. So just experience sharpness. What other qualities does it have besides sharpness?
Ken: Hmm, the actual intense sensation, do you get wet in that?
Student: No, I guess not.
Ken: Anybody else?
Ken: I don’t get numbness in the sharpness, either. Okay, tingling, electric shock. What was that you said? Okay, so there’s some throbbing? Okay, so there you are. Open to that sensation of sharp, tingling, throbbing. Don’t try to push it away, because that’s the aversion. Now when you’re right in the experience, do you experience any aversion?
Student: I feel pain.
Ken: Do you? So explore the feeling of pain. The sensation of pain. What is this pain? Randye? This is not an intellectual exercise. You have this experience you’re calling pain. So describe that experience to me.
Randye: It feels like it’s burning. It feels like a flame on my hand.
Ken: But it’s an ice cube!? Okay, so it feels like burning. Can you experience the burning?
Randye: I think I am experiencing the burning.
Ken: So what if you just experience it? What if you don’t call it burning and just experience it? What happens then?
Randye: There’s still a wanting to pull away from it.
Ken: What wants to pull away from it?
Randye: My hand?
Ken: Does it? Anybody else?
Ken: Let’s take the ice cube out. Mine’s almost gone. Anybody injured by this? It’s really not that bad! [Laughter]. Now, if we’re thinking about the experience, then we have such notions as, “This hurts, I want it to stop” etc., etc., etc. What if you just experience it? Lynea?
Lynea: I feel like it requires a willingness to just keep opening, because there’s layer after layer and you can sense the aversion.
Ken: What if you keep opening, what happens?
Lynea: It’s just experience, at the same time.
Ken: It’s vivid experience, right?
Lynea: It’s vivid experience. It presents a little confusion.
Lynea: I can keep opening, and opening, and opening. So if you cultivate the capacity to expand to everything, how do you know? Or what part of a person then takes responsibility for recognizing when something needs to stop?
Ken: This is a whole other question, and I agree, it’s a perfectly legitimate question. The purpose of this question was not to answer that question but to try and point out the difference between pain, which is a sensation and suffering or struggle, which is the reaction to the sensation. And I think actually having something physical like this is much better than using a Bunsen burner or something like that [Chuckle]. Cara?
Cara: I found when I was holding my hand up, and the struggle I felt was my hand getting really cold, and my wrist tensing, and then my arm tensing, and then my shoulder tensing, and so there’s all this like scrunching taking place.
Ken: That’s all a manifestation of aversion, isn’t it?
Cara: Yes, it’s all aversion, absolutely. Then, whatever, it stopped. Then when I put it back on my hand and put my hand on my leg and just let it go. You know, it didn’t feel good, but it wasn’t intolerable.
Ken: So you moved from reacting to to just experiencing.
Cara: I was trying to melt it with my mind.
Ken: [Laugh] But do you follow the distinction?
Cara: I totally do.
Ken: In a sense, this is what Buddhism is actually about. Nothing more than that: how to accept experience and just be with it. Yes?
Cara: It’s like Fight Club, where he has to [unintelligible] his hand—
Ken: I don’t know, I haven’t seen that movie; I’ll have to see it. Is it like Fight Club?
Student: It’s exactly what it’s like.
Ken: Lynea’s question about “How do you know?” takes us into a different realm completely. Just to respond to that question, because I don’t want to go there in depth at this point, because it takes us out of the subject matter of this chapter: it’s a matter of perceiving where the balance is. And when things are moving out of balance, then you know that harm is being done, and so then you move back into balance.
Here, there’s no harm being done, so its just a case of tolerating something which most people wouldn’t tolerate very well at all, and would be like: “Ooh! Ow! Ooh! Ooh!” and then get rid of it very quickly. That’s a perfect example of reaction. Then, just open to the experience. Then, okay, maybe it isn’t the greatest experience in the world, but that’s all it is. I don’t have to do anything about it. Now, translate that into your lives. How many incidents in a day do you react to that you don’t actually have to do anything about? [Pause] Give me a number between 1 and 1,000, Art? [Laughter].
So that’s something else that I’d like you to explore over the next week. Something arises. “Do I have to actually do something about this, or can I just experience it?” Now this is going to run into all kinds of levels of conditioning in us. “I want this, I don’t want that.” And we’re back right into the attraction and aversion again. “I want it to stay this way.” That’s the second kind of suffering “And it’s not staying this way,” and so forth. That’s what I‘d like you to explore.
Ken: So the rest of this evening I wanted to talk about he first two kinds of suffering a little bit more. Then next week, we’ll talk about the third kind of suffering since it takes us through the six realms.
One way of thinking about or understanding the first kind of suffering is: it’s the slight grating feeling you have when everything is going right in your life. The way it arises, frequently, is a subtle sense of separation from the world or the world of experience. Everything’s fine, but we don’t feel quite there. Anybody know what I’m talking about? We’re like, one microsecond behind. We’re one microsecond behind because we’re interpreting experience, not just experiencing it.
Now, how often have you experienced that? Does anybody have an idea of what I’m talking about here? How often have you experienced that? Explicitly? And how many in here recognize this? When you experience this, what do you usually do?
Student: Can you clarify the question?
Ken: That slight feeling of not being quite there. As I said, that slight, grating feeling when everything’s going right. Cara?
Cara: I was recently at Disneyland with someone who I’m very close to. And it was a lovely day, and it was really, really enjoyable. But this person has a tendency to err on the side of Eeyoreisms. So we’re going along, having a great time, and we’re sitting down and there are lots and lots and lots of people walking by. She looks at me and goes, “One day the Earth day is going to swallow us all.” and I wouldn’t let her finish! It was like, “We’re at Disneyland, the sun is shining, it’s beautiful, I haven’t been here since I was like four. I’m wearin’ ears, you know. What do you want? Yes, global warming exists, and so does Mickey Mouse, right?”
Ken: Okay, so. your point?
Cara: My point is that it was one of those moments of disconnect, but it wasn’t necessarily that I wasn’t thinking—that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind.
Ken: Okay, so let’s go back to just that thought crossing your mind. There you are, you’re having a great time at Disneyland, and well, there’s other stuff going on. What do you do with those thoughts?
Cara: I just don’t get attached.
Ken: You ignore them, right?
Cara: I just let them go. I’m not just going to shove them out of my head. That’s focusing on it.
Ken: What I’m going to suggest here is that when that feeling comes up, most of the time we just ignore it. And that’s what Gampopa was referring to. Now, when don’t you ignore it?
Student: You’re saying when that feeling of…
Ken: That slight feeling of disconnection. When don’t you ignore it?
Student: Going back to the last one, you said, “We ignore it.” Is it that when we ignore it, that’s part of the suffering?
Ken: That’s the suffering that Gampopa is talking about. That’s ignoring it.
Student: Because I would actually think that’s the opposite way, that you don’t really ignore it. It’s present and you kind of…from my own experience, I sometimes pay too much attention to it and it kind of destroys the moment, even though on the surface, you’re experiencing the moment in a positive way, there’s kind of that nagging feeling like it’s temporary, and whatever that fun thing is, is going to end, or something.
Ken: Here we’re talking about two slightly different things. Actually, two quite different things. What you’re talking about is the intrusion of other interpretations or ways of relating to your experience which prevent you from just enjoying what’s there. What I’m talking about is the very subtle feeling of not being quite there, which most of the time it arises, we just ignore it.
Ken: And my question now is: “At what point, when that feeling arises, do we not ignore it? And I’m going to ask, ”And why not?“
Student: When we’re just sitting quietly.
Ken: Exactly. It can be in meditation, or it can be sometime you are sitting quite quietly, and there’s this feeling of not being quite there. This is what Gampopa is referring to when he says [paraphrasing from page 96]: To ordinary people it’s like a hair in the palm of the hand, and for the noble ones, it’s like a hair in the eye.
Now, when he’s referring to ordinary people he’s referring to ordinary people, the way I would tend to read this is: he’s talking about when we’re caught up in the ordinary way of experiencing things, just like you were at Disneyland. But when everything’s quiet, then that vague feeling becomes a source, we actually experience it as a form of separation, of not being there. We experience it quite clearly, and we experience it as a form of suffering. And going back to what Julia said right at the beginning, that is usually, at some level, what drives or provides the impetus for spiritual practice. There’s that slight sense of disconnection from the world. You follow?
So I just wanted to bring that out as a way of connecting with that particular form of suffering. Julia.
Julia: Ken, the way you’ve been discussing this, you’re talking about a slight sense of separation. But I would argue that, for some people, they feel it very profoundly.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Okay. Lynea?
Lynea: I assume that you’re implying this, but it seems like it’s a separation is not necessarily…Well it’s from the world, but the world is…I feel we’re talking a lot about it as if the world is out here.
Ken: Yeah, that’s the world of experience. Yeah. Quite right. Okay.
We may experience as it as a certain alienation, or a certain separation. We may experience it as a question like, ”What am I doing here?“ Anybody have that question? I’ve been having that question a lot lately. It may come up as, ”What is the point to anything?“ Anybody have that question? Okay.
Now when those kinds of things come up, what do we do? We usually ignore them. We just go on with what we’re doing. But we don’t always ignore them, and then, we think, ”Wow!“ Then we realize that much of our life is a kind of struggle against those kinds of questions. That is what Gampopa is referring to, when he’s talking about this very subtle kind of suffering. Actually, I’ve never really felt it was really as subtle as they were talking about it was.
Ken: Now, let’s take a look at the second kind of suffering: the suffering of change. The suffering of change arises from the experience of pleasure. Things are really nice. They’re good. You’re having a great time at Disneyland. And then your friend says, ”Well, what about global warming?“ And you get irritated, or you seemed to, anyway [Laugh]. You don’t have to say that.
It arises out of the experience of pleasure. Why? Because we try to hold on to the state of pleasure when things change. Can you do this? How many of you have tried to? Okay. It doesn’t work! And it’s very much connected with wanting to get our emotional needs met, because we usually experience pleasure when we feel that that’s happening. And then things change, and we go [whining] ”I want more of that“ or, ”I want it to stay.“ This very much of course connects with impermanence, because it is the nature of things to change. Yes, Cara?
Cara: But don’t we suffer when we start to try to anticipate that change within the pleasure? Isn’t that what creates the suffering? I find that’s the middle ground. You’re feeling the pleasure, but then you are anticipating change, instead of, like, the change is not so bad.
Ken: Well, there’s already change. What leads you to anticipate the change? Well, you brought it up, so I’m asking. What leads you to anticipate the change? The Eeyore mentality?
Cara: [sarcastically] Yes. Past experience, history.
Ken: Okay. So, we cease to…here we are experiencing pleasure, fun, enjoyment, whatever you want. But we don’t actually stay in the experience. We start thinking. And, now things change. And just anticipating has already initiated the process of change. That’s a change in itself.
Ken: So, the way that you end the suffering of change, is you experience things just as they are, moment to moment. There’s a poet—I should have brought him this evening—a Japanese master called Ryokan. There’s been a couple of volumes of his poetry translated into English. My favorite one of the two or three that’s been translated is, One Robe, One Bowl. In some of his poems he describes how he relates to each moment. So he’s playing ball with the children. And it’s just completely happy. Then evening comes, and he realizes he has spent the day playing ball with the children and not begging for food. So he has nothing to eat. So he goes back to his cabin with nothing to eat. And he’s totally sad about that, but that’s his experience. It’s just so. You read his poems and they’re just about what his experiencing right there. They’re quite wonderful that way. So, One Robe, One Bowl is the name of the book.
When I was in the three year retreat, I had a great deal of illness. So a lot of physical and emotional pain from that. Someone sent me this volume in the middle of the retreat. It was very helpful to me, because Ryokan describes himself, struggling with illness and struggling with loneliness. He’s able to relate to these experiences just for what they are. This is the way we end the suffering of change.
Then the last form of suffering is termed the suffering of suffering or the struggle of struggle, however you want to do it. In this, Gampopa goes through each of the realms. I’d like you to read this material over between now and now and our class next week. These are very much presented as realms in which we are born. This is what we experience in this realm, and this is what we experience in this realm. What I’d like you to do is to read them as descriptions of particular emotional states, and see how you can connect.
So when you’re going through the hot hells, for instance, you have the piercing hell where you feel like your body has been impaled on a red-hot iron poker which runs right up the center of your body and it’s just burning your body from the inside out. Does anybody experience anger that way? That’s how I tend to experience anger. But other people tend to experience anger as if flaming boulders are crushing them from the outside. They’re just tumbling down and they’re getting crushed. That’s the crushing hell.
So you go through these hell realms. Say okay, ”Where do I connect with this?“ You’ll find that you probably connect with some of them and you may not connect with others. Then you have the cold hells. The cold hells are not about anger, they’re about hatred. Hatred makes you very rigid. And that’s why it freezes you. And then, reading about the pretas, the hungry ghosts, and what it’s like to experience the world through greed. You can go through all the realms that way. The emotions connected to each of the realms. It’s anger/hatred for the hell realm. Greed, for the hungry ghost realm. The animal realm, I usually translate as instinct, is doing things automatically.
Ken: On January 13th, Julia is hosting the film night and the film this time is, Thank You for Smoking. There’s many things that I like about this film. One is, there are some really clear depictions of what I call mind killing. Which is the way patterns work on us to prevent us from doing what we know we should be doing but don’t. But they’re very well portrayed in this movie. The second is—it’s a wonderful portrayal at various points—of the animal realm, where you’re doing things just to survive. And that’s why it’s called instinct or automatic, or sometimes termed stupidity, though I don’t think stupidity is a terribly good word in English for this, because it’s really about doing things on a very limited range of experience and ability, so you just do it automatically. That’s why I use the term instinct. The human realm is about desire and how that manifests in one’s life. titan realm is jealousy. And the god realm is pride.
And rather than reading these, as I said, as realms that exist somewhere else, where in your own experience can you connect with that? For instance, is there anybody here who has a feeling of moral superiority?
Student: Maybe it’s connected to the fact that we’re all here right now?
Ken: [Laughter] Okay. That’s a form of god realm, right there.
The other thing I’ve asked you to do is to throw out some pictures on FaceBook, or videos—there’s lots of stuff out there on the Internet. It will be very interesting; it should be very entertaining, so I’ll be looking forward to looking over those.
Work with these in your meditation. Read over the descriptions, then sit and go through your day. You might keep track, actually, of how many realms do you move through each day. Just do that for a couple of days. Just take an index card or a little notebook, and every time you change a realm, write it down. Just note which realm you moved to. It’s going to be very interesting to see how you move from one realm to another. There are certain mechanisms which move you from one realm to another. We’ll try to explore that a little bit, too.
How much time, if any, do you spend not in a realm? And what is that like? These are the things I want you to explore. Okay? It should keep you off the streets for awhile! Any questions before we close?
Alex: So would you say, Ken, that the extent to which we struggle or suffer in different forms, if gradually we can see things more as they are, we should then suffer less?
Ken: That’s what I have found. The aim of Buddhism is to end suffering. We suffer because we cannot experience things as they are. So the more ability and skill and willingness we develop, the more we’ll experience things as they are. And what I have found is that when people are able to see how things actually are and accept them, then both body and mind relax. I’ve seen this over and over again. The suffering ends right there. They stop struggling against it. Often a very different avenue in their life opens up at that point. So I think it’s a reasonable basis to say that when we can really experience things as they are, yes, we stop suffering.
Alex: Process of practice with these and gradually working through and reducing these mistaken conceptions?
Ken: I actually see there are three components to practice. One is to develop the willingness to experience things as they are. A lot of times people are just, ”I don’t want it that way.“ So that’s one component.
Second is to develop the skill, the know-how to be able to experience things as they are, and that has to do a lot with what you were just naming: being able to recognize mistaken conceptions and let them go. The third component is building the actual ability to actually do so. Sometimes we can be willing and know how, but we just can’t do it because there isn’t enough strength in our attention, or what have you. So I don’t think it’s all reducible to one thing. I think we need all three of those components.
Alex: Thank you.
Ken: You’re welcome. Any other questions? Randye?
Randye: How about change? Intellectually we all know things change.
Randye: We’ve never experienced any state of being where change doesn’t happen. Emotionally, we can understand that we don’t want things to change. We can say that’s a natural human desire. What I don’t understand, is the feeling that comes up so much is that things shouldn’t change. That it’s somehow wrong that they do change. And where that came from, given that we’ve never experienced a state of non-change? That there’s something wrong about the fact that things change.
Ken: There is a little demonstration that I learned from Charles Tart, who’s up in the Bay area. I’ve done this a couple of times in groups. You get a Styrofoam cup. What he does is put it on the floor, and everybody sits around. He says, ”Okay, everybody meditate on the Styrofoam cup.“ So everybody sits there and meditates on the Styrofoam cup. After five minutes, he gets up, without any warning, and goes [stamps foot] on the Styrofoam cup. And every body goes [gasping sound]!What do you think the dominant emotion is in the room at that point?
Randye: He shouldn’t have done that?
Ken: What’s the dominant emotion?
Ken: Sometimes it’s anger. But the dominant emotion is loss. People feel they have lost something. And, he points out, it takes less than five minutes to form an attachment to a Styrofoam cup! [Laughter] This is where the notion that things shouldn’t change come from. Anything we put attention to, we form an attachment to. It doesn’t take very long at all. And it doesn’t matter what the object is, a Styrofoam cup. Much less someone that we’re interested in, and enthralled by, it forms very, very quickly. And then we don’t want it to change.
This is why there’s a term in Buddhism, which has been sometimes called outflows, it’s like something goes out from us to the object and it’s an attempt to describe this phenomena. Our vitality is being leaked out and being absorbed by the object. So the idea was to hold that back. That was one model. To dry out the outflowswas an old term for a form of awakening. When you give that to people it usually just leads to a bunch of suppression, so I don’t find it a particularly helpful thing. But, you ask, ”Where does this idea come from?” It comes because we become emotionally invested in any aspect of our experience to which we pay attention to, for even a short period of time.
Ken: And so to develop the freedom to accept change, as it arises, that’s a significant challenge. Part of that is being willing to experience the grief or the loss that comes with that. And grief is, to my mind, the term grief means the experience of the pain of separation, or the pain of change. Now you just experience as a sensation. The suffering comes because we react to that; we try to hold it constant or not experience that pain. Any time we’re separated from something there is pain. We need to distinguish very clearly between the pain of separation and the suffering of change. The suffering of change is trying to deny or is a reaction to the pain of separation.
Randye: So that feeling of should is just a protective mechanism to try and avoid the suffering?
Ken: Yes. It’s a counterproductive protective mechanism in myself, because it’s trying to impose and idea on the world rather than relate to things as they are.
Let’s close here. Can we do the dedication, Susan?