In-depth series of teachings on The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and how practitioners in today’s world might approach traditional texts written hundreds of years ago.
Karma, pt. 2Download
Follow-up on free will and karma; ten non-virtuous acts; motivation/intention; the full ripening result; the results of a specific non-virtuous actions (taking life); the problem with purity; By not taking these mythic descriptions literally, are we somehow shutting the door to the mystery of life?; the three categories of non-virtuous acts; beliefs which prevent us from relating to what actually is; avoiding obsession; making the dharma relevant in western culture; Buddhism as “a” way or “the” way; karma and attachment to meditative states; description of janas; meditation for the upcoming week: the experience of lying. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 6.
Good? Okay. This is the 15th class in the series of Then and Now, January 29th, 2008.
A couple of things before we turn to the material: I am going to change the format of the class slightly. Instead of giving people via Facebook, the Facebook group, meditations to do in preparation for the class, I am going to do a short guided meditation at the end of the class on the material to be practiced for the week.
Then at the beginning of the subsequent class I will take up people’s experience with that practice. A week is not a long time but probably enough to get clear about the mechanics of the meditation and some idea of the issues or the facets of our psyche that it’s likely to bring up.
This is our second evening on karma. And last time I did an introduction to this topic, a fairly general one. And one of the things I gave, three analogies to karma: god’s will, gravity and evolution. You’re smiling at that Randye. Any reason?
Randye: My logic protests…
Ken: Take a mic, there’s one behind you. Raquel? Your logic protests. Against which? Or all three?
Randye: God’s will. I’ve set off to the side, I don’t have any comment on that…
Ken: It’s an analogy [laughter]. It’s not a categorical statement about the nature of the universe.
Randye: It’s that sense of determinism versus free will, which we talked about a bit last week.
Ken: Yeah, that links to order and chaos though, and there’s both. The problem only arises if you set one against the other, and if you follow the Aristotelian logic, that it’s one or the other. If you don’t insist on them being mutually exclusive then there isn’t any problem.
Randye: It’s just it’s hard to imagine how some things can be, some actions can be determined by free will and some actions can be determined by karma? And who decides which?
Ken: [laughs] So you really want a supreme being? Do you? Sounds like it! Well, let’s take a look at our experience. Do you ever do anything without thinking? In the wrong way?
Randye: Conditioned responses?
Ken: which is exactly what karma is talking about, okay? So that’s determined!
Randye But I can always stop and choose whether or not…
Ken: [laughs] Well this takes us back to Yogi Berra’s quote doesn’t it?
In theory, there is no difference between practice and theory. In practice, there is.
I mean you can say “in theory,” but there you have just presupposed exactly what we are talking about, that you have free will. The fact is that sometimes we act without thinking, or we act in such a ways and there is— no matter how much we put into it—something in us that makes us do that.
We look at addiction. And we can say, we always have choice. It’s only meaningful to talk about choice when there is the possibility of perceiving an alternative. If you can’t perceive an alternative it’s meaningless to talk about choice.
In those situations, things are determined. And it isn’t that I decide or some supreme being decides. It is largely a matter of the density or solidity of the conditioning and the amount of free attention that is available at any given moment.
Randye: It makes more sense thinking about a macro level than day-to-day behaviors because then I get into that tangled weed of who decides which behavior. At what point do I choose to wake up? And what controls that?
Ken: Oh, I don’t think you ever choose to wake up!
Randye: Isn’t that what we’ve been practicing?
Ken: We haven’t been practicing choosing to wake up. You’re in the middle of a thought in meditation, you don’t choose to end that thought. That never happens. No? Thoughts take us, conditioning takes us, or decays attention. And it is only when that particular thing exhausts itself that we wake up. And in that sense we don’t choose to wake up.
What we do choose to do is to engage a discipline which increases the probability that we will be awake at any given moment. We need to be very clear about this. That is why training and practice is so important because it’s not a choice.
The more that we practice, the more momentum we build up in attention then the greater choice we actually have in our life, because there is more awareness or awareness has a greater range of functioning, so we perceive alternatives where there were none before.
Am I being too heavy about this?
Randye: No, Processing it.
Raquel: But wouldn’t you say that a beginner meditator at the point of recognition does choose either to continue their thought or…
Ken: Yes, at the moment of recognition, at the moment of recognition the thought has already dumped them, now they can choose to go on with the thought in which they get lost, or they can choose to return to the breath, or awareness, or whatever. And that is the moment, so right in meditation you find that we have both free will and determinism.
Raquel: In that moment.
Ken: Yeah, and you can regard that—if you want to use a modern analogy— as a fractal. The fractal reproduces itself on all scales in life. And from this point of view there is no difference between the macro and micro because it is the same dynamic operating on different scales. That’s how I look at it anyway!
Raquel: It’s making sense.
Ken: This is why in chaos theory, and self-similarity, and fractals, and all that stuff—they’re very helpful, because that’s exactly how evolution operates. There’s something on NPR on the makings of a snowflake. Apparently the number of ways that the water can crystallize in a snowflake vastly outnumbers the number of atoms in the universe. So it is very unlikely you’ll ever see two snowflakes the same.
Okay, so this evening, we are going to go through the 10 non-virtuous acts and if we have time the 10 virtuous acts, which form the basis of Buddhist ethics.
But before we do that there was something else I wanted to do: and it slipped my mind. Well we’ll plunge in and maybe it will come back to me.
In this, Gampopa discusses three kinds of actions that produce karma: the non-virtuous actions, virtuous actions, and meditative states. Whether you call meditative states an action or not, that’s a philosophical discussion we don’t need to engage right now.
Now within this there are a recognition that there are four factors, and Gampopa doesn’t go into this explicitly—but it is important—there are four factors which determine the degree to which a given action conditions or sets in motion this process of evolution that I described last time.
The four factors are, if I can remember them correctly: the motivation or intention, doing the action or causing it to be done, the object that is acted on, and experiencing the completion of the action. Let’s go through those four one by one.
If you don’t intend the action—we’ll take lying for example. You say something which isn’t true but you think it is true. So there is no intention to lie, you just happen to be wrong yourself. That doesn’t constitute lying. It may have the same results.
I mean in terms of how things unfold in a given situation, but you haven’t conditioned the action of lying in your stream of experience. So there has to be the intention. That’s actually recognized in law as the distinction between homicide and manslaughter, for instance.
Then there is… you have to do the action, or you have to cause the action to be done. Which means you direct somebody to do it and you have the authority or whatever to make them do it. So, when you order people to go out and kill people, the general reaps all the karma of all of these soldiers, and so forth. But if there is no action, or no active involvement, again the conditioning process isn’t set in motion.
Third, there has to be an actual object. So that thinking that you, dreaming or thinking about the action doesn’t constitute doing the action. And an added aspect of this is the nature of the object can affect the degree of the conditioning. Again, we will use the example of lying.
If you lie to your spiritual teacher, that’s a person with whom you have a close relationship, a very important relationship. That has a much greater conditioning effect than if you lie to a person who asks you for change and you say “I don’t have any,” because you don’t have the same kind of relationship. So the degree of relationship enters in here.
And finally, you have to experience the result. That is, if you tell a lie, and the other person isn’t fooled or taken in by the lie, there is some karmic conditioning, but you haven’t actually deceived anybody, you may have tried to, but you haven’t actually deceived, so it is attempted deception. Again this is recognized legally in the difference between murder and attempted murder.
So those are the four conditions that need to be present for the process of conditioning to be set in motion. And when all four are present, then things grow within our experience. And usually there are four results described. Gampopa breaks them down a little differently because he puts two together. These are quite important.
The first, result, which is called “the fully ripened result,” or “the full maturation result,” refers to how your projections of the world, i.e. which one of the six realms arises from that action, so if you take lying for instance, we will stay with that one, we usually lie because we want something or we feel we need something.
So lying, usually is coming from desire or greed. So the fully conditioned result of that is to experience the world not providing enough, that’s why you lie. And so that’s hungry ghost realm of course.
Now there can be other ones. You can lie because you don’t want to admit something to somebody else may be out of pride or shame. That would in turn produce the full ripening result of either the god realm or the animal realm.
The second and third results are the predispositions, and we covered this last week, but I’ll repeat them now.
The way that we experience the world and the way the world responds to us. So when we lie, we regard people as fools, people who can be deceived. And when we discover that we can do this once, then we create a predisposition to do it again, and it becomes easier and easier to lie. We have created that predisposition within ourselves.
Yet at the same time, we are creating the predisposition in others not to trust us. And the result is that because they don’t trust us, we are going to have more and more difficulty, so we are more likely to lie again, so both of these work in two different ways, to increase the likelihood that we will continue to lie.
And this is where it moves towards determinism you see. And the more conditioned that is, then the more deterministic it becomes.
And then the fourth result is the way that we are likely to experience things. This is usually some reflection, though not quite as vivid, of whichever of the six realms. The hungry ghost realm for instance is often likened to a desert, so it is said that when you lie, you will experience things being dusty and rocky, and a barren country.
But I think all of this—I want to encourage you to look at, and think of—in mythic terms. So when they go into these very literal things, what is the image describing and how does that sit with our experience?
So if you take the first one: the taking of life. Three possible motivations: Guenther got a little carried away with his translation here. We kill because we want something, we kill because we hate something, and we kill because we are indifferent. Basically, the three poisons.
Now these are quite straightforward, taking, third one, taking life because you don’t know better. And what’s specifically referred to is sacrifices, where you think this is virtuous activity, but from the Buddhist point of view, it’s not.
Then you will see that he goes through the maturation of the act, that means, that because this is usually coming out of anger, it produces the hell realm. So we experience the world in terms of opposition, because killing is the extreme expression of opposition. And once you’ve killed, its easier to kill and people will tend to attack you, because they regard you as dangerous.
In Scandinavian culture back in pre-medieval times, where there were basically a bunch of tribes, if you were wandering around and looking for work, you had to tell what you’d done in the past. You had to give your resume or whatever. If you had killed somebody, which wasn’t unlikely, because tribal societies, you’re warring with tribes, it’s quite possible. If you had killed somebody, you had to say “I have killed somebody.”
If you didn’t tell that person, and it was discovered later that you had killed somebody, then you had no protection under the law. Then that person was entitled to do anything that they wanted to you. That’s where the word “outlaw” originally came from in our society. It was someone who was outside the protection of the law.
You get there very easily, because you killed somebody, you didn’t want anyone to know it, and if you weren’t open about it, then you fell outside the law and you had no protection whatsoever.
All of that, those two things, the internal predisposition, and the way that the world we experience is predisposed to regard us, all comes under the result similar to the cause. I would say similar to the genesis, because the act, the genesis here is the action of killing. So it creates the internal and external predispositions.
And then the general result of the force. It’s interesting he translates that as force, because sometimes I have seen it translated as to do with the senses, or power or whatever, means that the actor will be born in an inauspicious place where there is little dignity. And in other accounts, more detailed accounts, it says the actor will be born in a place where there are steep cliffs and deep ravines, and traveling is dangerous, etc. In other words, there are many, many, ways you can get killed.
Now what is being termed, described here if we look at this mythically, is that when you kill, the world becomes a more dangerous place for you. Now when you think about this, most of us in today’s day and age, we kill each other relatively rarely. I know there is a lot of that goes on in America but it is still relatively rare. It’s not an everyday occurrence.
However, there are forms of killing that are far more frequent. How many of you sometime have killed? I mean, I doubt that anybody here has killed. Has anybody here killed a human being? You should… you have to tell us, otherwise you’re outside the law!
Okay, how many of you have killed the trust of another person? A few heads nod.
How many of you have killed somebody’s affection? [Positive acknowledgements].
Okay, so there are different forms of killing. Sometimes you do those without knowing that we did it, sometimes you do it quite intentionally, sometimes out of anger, sometimes because we’re trying to get something from the person.
So the same things apply. So when we consider these 10 non-virtuous acts, I think we should not. I think it’s helpful not to take them only literally. But to say, “Okay, what does this actually mean in the way that I live?” I mean sometimes we kill relationships, and so forth, and there is a death.
When you fire somebody if you are in a managerial position, you are killing that person, in terms of their job at that company. That’s death at a company, is to be fired. When you quit, you’re severing that relationship so it’s a form of death as well.
Susan: Some forms of killing are as death is change, so how do you distinguish between killing and change?
Ken: And this is exactly as you say. Some things… sometimes things just change as is but sometimes you are the instrument of change and you intend that. So that goes back to those four factors I was describing at the beginning of this. If there is no motivation, if there’s no intention, no preparation for it, then there’s no conditioning. But if you intend to do, and you act in a way to bring it about…
What are you of thinking of here?
Susan: Nothing specific but…
Ken: Suppose you are in a relationship with someone, and you tell… you can tell it needs to end. It’s not going to go anywhere and you tell the person, “This can’t go on. I’ve got to stop seeing you,” or whatever. You’re killing the relationship. They may not agree with you.
Susan: But if there is wisdom in it? Then they’re not seeing it, but you are.
Susan: Like when you discipline a child…
Ken: Yeah, I know. The teachings on karma, for me, are about bringing attention to what we do. And it’s not about living utterly purely because that never happens. We’re in this mess. We’re compromised.
So yes, we are going to do that, but how we do it, whether we do it… The motivation in it, that influences very significantly how deeply the conditioning goes. If we bring our full attention to it and say, “okay this is the way it’s going to go,” then we choose whether to set it in motion or not.
Sometimes a better motivation will be, if we’re bringing that kind of attention to it: What is the way this is going to cause the least hurt? What is the way it’s going to cause the least suffering? That naturally comes from employing attention, because once we figure something out, that is going to happen, if we are thinking how we can cause the most hurt, then we are inflicting harm very clearly.
So when you are bringing attention to it, you are going to be looking at how can I do this in a way that is going to cause the least hurt? And so you are bringing full attention to it. And then you act, and you accept the consequences of one’s actions, but you cannot escape the fact that you are making a decision to do something that’s going to set in motion a process within you.
Dudjom Rinpoche was one of the great Nyingma teachers of the last century. And the story is told that he came to a monastery, and every monastery in Nepal and India had dogs. They were basically guard dogs but they weren’t well taken care of. They weren’t groomed. They were thrown scraps. So they were usually flea-bitten, somewhat mangy curs.
In this one monastery that Dudjom Rimpoche came to—it was in the back parts of Nepal—he rode in on a horse—the dogs were in terrible condition. That is they had horrible open, festering sores, some of which had maggots living in them. It was just terrible. And he looked at this and said, “Why are these dogs like this?”
And one of the monks said, “Well, we can’t give them medicine because we’ll kill the maggots.”
And Dudjom Rinpoche said, “Heal the dogs. I’ll take the karma.”
So he knew exactly what he was doing. And that is all we can do, is bring our attention and make those decisions. We get into extremely great difficulties if we try to be completely pure. And as I comment on the Heart Sutra, the motivation that is connected with a search for purity, or this desire for purity, is anger. And that anger spreads out in the society.
The Jains are a religion in India. Along with Hinduism and Buddhism it is particularly prevalent in the eastern parts of India. It is very strong.
Jains! J-A-I-N. It’s pronounced jines. In that tradition—it is a kind of extreme Brahmanism—every effort is made in the society so that the priests are completely pure. They never have to kill a bug. They wear gauze over their mouths all of the time, the water is filtered so they never drink anything.
But the result of this is that everybody in the society is killing things in order that the priests don’t. And you get those kind of displacements, necessarily, when you go for that kind of extreme purity.
Okay? Lynea? Susan could you get that? Thank you.
Lynea: I have a…
Ken: Uh oh… [laughs] I don’t like that expression. [laughs]
Linea: I have a… feel like… I may have to muddle through my question.
Ken: That’s fair enough, go ahead.
Lynea: I have a question about mythic language.
Lynea: And so, on the one hand I understand the whole point of reading a text and saying, “This is written in mythic language essentially, so interpret it for your own experience in your life, something along those lines.” What I am wondering is—how do I put this?
If I am not separate from my projections, what is the harm of taking, for instance, the hell realm literally, if it’s just another experience?
Ken: Well, I have to ask you, what exactly do you mean by taking it literally? [laughs]
Lynea: I’ll give an example but… [laughs] So, for instance, this came up after hearing someone talk about Buddha being attacked by Mara. So it brings up, each time you mention the mythic language I keep thinking about this. So…
Ken: Buddha was continuously attacked by Mara.
Ken: Yeah, You’re talking about Stephen Batchelor’s talks or?
Ken: No. Okay.
Lynea: So there’s one thing to say that Mara is internal, and the experience of whatever it is that I’m battling is internal. The other thing is to, you know, say well this is literally, Mara was out here tempt… you know?
Ken: The devil.
Lynea: Exactly. [Ken laughs] So I guess what I am saying is that I feel like… I hear a lot of… I like, if this is mythic language and therefore this is useful to recognize that. I understand that, but then there is this other part of me that is wondering, in consistently placing the quote unquote “devil,” or the hell realms, or the things that we might experience in this place of mythic language, are we not shutting the door to a certain relationship to mystery of… ? Well if it were just literal, what difference does it make? If we don’t call it that, call it “mythic language”?
Ken: I think I am getting your question, but I just want to check here. How, through the use of the terminology mythic language, are we shutting the door to mystery?
Lynea: It seems that it implies that the most useful way to relate to it is as mythic language and if we were to relate to it…
Ken: Most useful way? For what? See, you are introducing all kinds of interesting things here! What determines use?
Lynea: The extent that we understand the teachings, to bring us closer to our experience, or to put or place us… to help us cultivate presence.
Ken: According to Tibetan Buddhist teachings, the world is flat. Do I take that literally or not?
Lynea: What difference does it make, if it’s simply a representation of my experience ?
Ken: Well, if I happen to be a NASA scientist, it’s going to make my job a lot more difficult to do those calculations.
Lynea: That’s true.
Ken: Also it may lead to certain incorrect conclusions about, or a way of acting, which is going to put me in conflict with a very large number of people.
Lynea: I understand that, but that doesn’t seem to be the same as accepting without coloring some of the language of, for instance, the hungry ghost or…
Ken: Well, as we touched on when we were doing the six realms. For most people in Asia, until probably the 20th century, those realms actually existed. Maybe they still do, I don’t know. And they had physical locations.
And the cosmology—or actually, in this case, the geology—of the world doesn’t give any physical location to the hungry ghost realm, or the animal realms, or the god realms or things like that. So this is why I was asking what do you mean interpret them literally?
So taken straight literally, doesn’t make any sense. On another level, yes, they can be literally true in the sense that when we die, we are born into or we come to experience another realm. Maybe the hell realm, may be the god realm. It doesn’t have any physical location in the same way that our present world doesn’t have any physical location. Is that what you’re talking about?
Lynea: Exactly. So…
Ken: Yes, okay, now there is nothing, there is absolutely—from my perspective—nothing wrong, and in fact from a strictly Buddhist point of view it is probably more logical to take that interpretation, because there is no thing that dies.
In the Shangpa tradition, we have the teaching of “no death, no deviation,” and one of the questions is, what dies? Well the body at death, the body just rots. And the mind, there is nothing to the mind, so there is nothing there to die. So neither case is there anything which dies. So what’s death?
But it’s the nature of mind to experience. So experience arises just as when we go to sleep or just as when we’re sleeping, one dream ends and another dream arises, we don’t go to different worlds. They just arise. And so past/future lives can be like that, but then there isn’t any universe. There is just those experiences. And yeah that puts you straight into the mystery! I have no problem with that at all!
Lynea: Okay, fair enough.
Ken: Now I am not going to go through all of them in this kind of detail.
There are three acts that have to do with the body. There is the taking of life, stealing, and inappropriate sexual relationships.
There are four that have to do with speech: to say what is not true, lying, or to deceive through speech, to divide through speech, to hurt through speech, and to waste time through speech. Which are respectively, lying, slander (or calumny if you want the old term), harsh language, and gossip.
And then there are three that relate to mind, that is, malevolence or ill will, wishing somebody harm or intending them harm. That in itself is a mental action. Envy, which is connected to desire, wanting what somebody else has.
And the third one is a lovely term, wrong views, which I have toyed with various translations. The Tibetan is lok tha. lok is the word for incorrect or the wrong way, and tha is the word for view, the way you look at the world. So it’s looking at the world in the wrong way.
There are three kinds of wrong views: one is the view that actions, how we act, doesn’t have any effect on how we experience things. So it’s refusing to acknowledge the working of karma. The second one is the view that spiritual freedom is impossible. And the third is that the Three Jewels are meaningless.
Well these are all regarded as expressions of stupidity or ignorance or however you want to translate it. Well, they are. If you look at the way that we act, obviously conditions our experience of the world, creates predispositions and so forth. So how we act does influence the way we experience the world. To deny that is a form of stupidity.
“Spiritual freedom isn’t possible.” Well, effectively this means that we contradict our own experience, because in every moment in our experience, there is this open quality—which we may or may not recognize, but it’s there—where things aren’t determined, where there is freedom of choice. There are possibilities, and so, to say that there is no possibility of spiritual freedom is to ignore what one actually experiences. That also is a little bit stupid.
The Three Jewels—the Buddha, dharma and sangha—can be viewed in many ways. There is the historical Buddha and what he taught, and the fellowship or what have you of those who took ordination, the monastic tradition, the monks and nuns. That’s the literal interpretation of the sangha, of the Three Jewels. But there’s a deeper interpretation, and that is, and this comes out when we are taking refuge.
What are we actually taking refuge in? When we are taking refuge in Buddha? This goes back to the very first class in this series, and that is the Buddha nature. That is, there is this open dimension to our experience. If you want it formally, we refer to that as emptiness.
And when we take refuge in Buddha we’re taking refuge in the fact that there is that open dimension, what we are is not carved in stone. And so in the way that we were discussing last time, when we talked about or a couple of weeks ago the importance of zero, the importance of emptiness is that it makes anything possible.
So when we taking refuge in the Buddha, we are taking refuge in the emptiness of our mind: that is anything is possible with that. And that’s what Buddha represents there. When we’re take refuge in the dharma, we’re taking refuge in the clarity. that is the clarity of mind, the clarity of experience. That is in every moment of experience there is the possibility of knowing, the potential for knowing.
And pure knowing, not knowing through the intellect, not even knowing through our emotions, but just natural knowing that is present in each moment of experience. That’s what the dharma refers to is that clarity, is that potential.
When you have that openness and clarity then experience arises without restriction: this is what the sangha represents.
And so when you take refuge in the Three Jewels, you are actually taking refuge in mind itself: empty, clear, unrestricted knowing. Now that’s what’s there. So if you regard that as being meaningless, then that is another kind of stupidity or ignoring.
So this particular one, wrong views is not about beliefs at all, and the use of the term wrong views can easily steer us in that direction. It isn’t about beliefs at all. It is actually having beliefs which prevent us from relating to what our experience actually is. That’s what wrong views means. So I wanted to go into that one in a little more detail, because there is a lot of confusion about that one.
Another one that is worth touching on because it touches on many people’s lives is inappropriate sexual relations. And Buddhist texts can be quite explicit on this subject. It goes into improper parts, improper sexual partner, place, number, and behavior.
Improper parts are the mouth and the anus and so forth. Improper times are during a retreat, or when pregnant, or when nursing etc. Improper number is to have intercourse more than five times at one go—We were saying, “dream on!”
Again without getting caught in the details, what is the underlying message? What are they really pointing to?
Sexual desire can and does in some people become obsessive. What is being pointed to here is having some limit, knowing some restraint in sexual desire. So that it isn’t just an obsession that is running rampant because that leads one to live a life—well the terminology we would use today would be one of sexual addiction, which can be a major problem.
A lot of theses actual strictures come, in my opinion, from the culture which existed back then, and which had very significant tribal elements to it. So in tribes, in tribal cultures what is the most important thing for the tribe?
Student: To live on, to procreate.
Ken: Procreation. And so anything which diminished the probability of procreation was taboo. It makes sense? So that’s why you get a lot of these strictures in there. It was very much oriented towards tribal culture.
We no longer live in tribal cultures, though it is possible that the earth may revert to that at some point in the future. If there is enough of “us versus them.” And also, certainly with the advent of birth control, it’s now possible to engage in sexual relationships without having to consider the inevitable consequences such as pregnancy.
So there’s a lot more freedom, which is fine in one way, but also means that one’s approach to it actually has to be internalized much more deeply. Like what am I actually doing in sexual relations? Because the way I prefer to translate this now is as inappropriate sexual relationships because most people in this culture, are going to have more than one partner.
And so there’s this whole transition period from one partner to another. Which is where people usually get hurt. Where things really go nuts. So inappropriate sexual relations, would be sexual relations which cause pain and suffering for people.
And so in my opinion, this whole section is about being careful how we are interacting with others sexually, so that we don’t cause them and ourselves suffering. And that there’s an exercise of attention there, just as there is in all of the others. If you’ve taken monastic ordination, of course, then any form of sexual activity is inappropriate because you’ve taken a vow not to express yourself sexually. So that’s a very different situation from our lives. We’re living as lay people in this sense.
Ken: Yes? Molly.
Molly: So this wasn’t written necessarily for the monks, the monastic community?
Ken: No… this…
Molly: This was for everybody?
Ken: You get into the Vinaya, which is the Sanskrit word for the monastic code, and it becomes quite funny and it’s a wonderful lesson in human fallibility.
Buddha said, okay, you take this vow not to have sexual intercourse, if you’re a monk or a nun. So the next section is, “Well, Is a quarter of an inch okay?” Buddha says, “No.” “How ’bout a corpse?” “No.” “What about animals?” “No.”
So it goes through all of these different things because obviously monks were trying to figure out some way out of this! [laughter] And so it goes. So you can read, you can go through all of this in the Vinaya and its all translated into English so just enjoy!
This is where all of the extra vows came from because—and it wasn’t just with sex, it was with stealing, it was with killing, things like that, everybody trying to figure out a way to get out of the actual intention of the vow.
So again I want to encourage you not to base your practice on applying, assimilating all of this absolutely literally. I want to encourage you to think and reflect in yourselves: What does this actually mean in terms of how I relate to the world? What is it trying to tell me?
Buddha’s last words reportedly are, “I have shown you”—and it’s usually translated as “the way.” But it probably could equally be translated as “I have shown you a way. Work out your own freedom.”
Now, this is extraordinary, I mean when you come to religious traditions. Because Buddha there is saying simply, “I have shown what is possible. You have to do it yourself.” And this to me is right at the heart of Buddhist practice. It is not about following rules, although you will get many who take that interpretation of it, and that’s fine.
But it is about: “Okay I have this problem, I don’t experience being free.” Just the way you were proposing earlier this evening, Randye: “I don’t experience being free. I have this stuff which runs in me and runs my life, creates suffering for myself and others. I want to find a way.”
A way, not The Way—just want to take note of that. “A way to live, which doesn’t do this.”
And the answer to that, and this we get on way at the end of this book, is one. “Is this possible?”
And Buddha’s answer was, “Yes, I found that this is possible.” And how to do it? And basically it’s a life of attention, and that’s summarized in the Noble Eight-fold Path.
Okay, so now our task is: How do I find a way to live in attention?
We have a huge body of experience, and the wisdom of that experience that comes down to us over 2500 years of history. It’s a very, very long time. It really is a very, very long time. People practicing and thinking about these things. And every one of them thinking it through for themselves, because that’s the only way that it has actually come about.
And that’s what gives the vitality and vibrancy to Buddhist teaching. Is that in each generation each person has to work this through for themselves. We can draw on that experience. We know that certain things are very unlikely to work.
We don’t know that they don’t work—maybe they will work for us! But they are very unlikely to, and so we use them probably only as extreme measures, you know, when everything else fails.
And we have a very large body of things that are very likely to work. But we still, within all of that, we have to find what works for us.
The teacher has a certain role in that, in the way that we discussed before in that we can’t always see what is getting in our way. And the teacher is able to show us the possibility of presence, train us in the skills, and also to point out what is actually getting in our way. Because he or she may be able to see that where we cannot.
But all of this is about fashioning our own way, which one can argue maybe the way, but even if it is the way, we have to travel it. Do you follow?
So in reading this, this is why I am offering these different perspectives and why I’m using such phrases as mythic language because when I was studying in India, Rinpoche insisted we take all of this absolutely, literally true. Because that was the culture in which he lived and practiced.
But it was a very different culture. Rinpoche once told me that before he left Tibet he had heard rumors of the First World War. He hadn’t heard a thing about the Second World War. It was like, “Oh, there was this big war was there? It must have been really important.”
The same is true with the monks at Sinai. When Israel took over the Sinai Peninsula, after the Six-day War, back in 1967, Mount Sinai, which is a really important pilgrimage place in the Jewish tradition because that’s where Moses received the 10 Commandments, so really important.
Well, there’s has been a monastery, and it’s right in the middle of the Sinai desert, and it’s been there for centuries. So all of these modern Israelis showed up at this monestery, and the monks said, “What’s this?” They had never heard about the Second World War.
So these are different cultures and what we have to do is to find how to find how to use this material in a way that is relevant in this culture. Now there are some who say, “It has to be done this way. This is the tradition.” And then you get into a very interesting discussion of: what exactly is “the tradition”?
For me, and I am speaking very personally here, what the tradition is talking about, and what the transmission and so forth is talking about, is this quality of wakefulness. And everything else is form, and form changes over time. Some of the forms are more useful than, sometimes, than others. That’s how I look at it, but others will disagree with that.
Raquel: So when Buddha said “a way” do you think he was…
Ken: I don’t know whether he said “a way” or “the way” because in that particular language there weren’t any definite or indefinite articles. So we don’t know! [laughs] He could have just said “way”! [laughs]
Raquel: Was he leaving an opening for other traditions? So that in the future, or in the past?
Ken: Oh, I think so. Yes, I mean, he was saying, “Find your way. Work it out for yourself.” You see…
Raquel: I mean as another religion not just…?
Ken: Buddhism doesn’t even think in those terms, because if you find freedom through another religion, well fine, that was your way. And it doesn’t set up itself in opposition to other religions, which drives other religions nuts.
That’s why you have, certainly in the 70s and the 80s—it was actually more like the 60s and 70s—you had a large number of Catholic priests training very, very, deeply in Zen. I mean, to the point that they were recognized as very qualified Zen teachers, and they would do this, and they would teach these methods, as part of Catholic contemplative techniques. That was discouraged by, fairly strongly, by the most recent Pope.
One of my students in Florida sometimes goes to retreat with a Jesuit priest, who teaches Zen practice. There is a wonderful person, a very interesting person. Ah, I can’t remember his name now. He was an Indian who traveled around India and learned all of the religions in India which is no small—well I wouldn’t say all of them, but a lot of the religions in India, certainly all the major ones. And didn’t find answers to his spiritual questions.
Ah, Kunnu Lama Tenzin Gyeltsen! That’s right. I had occasion to meet him once briefly. And then he journeyed to Tibet where he learned the four major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, practiced them. And he was highly regarded because he was such a brilliant Sanskrit scholar, and since he learned Tibetan, he was one of the people who actually knew both of these languages, because Tibetans didn’t really know Sanskrit.
They haven’t been in touch with India for 1000 years. And so the Gelugpas loved him, to the point where even though he was married, they allowed him to stay in the monasteries because he had all this authority. And he had a photographic memory.
If you met him—it didn’t matter if it was like 50 years later—he recognized who you were and that occasion. And he lived very, very humbly.
Apparently he was once asked “You have studied all of these religions, which is the best?” You know this stupid kind of question, a typical journalist question. And he thought for a few minutes and then responded, “I don’t think I can say. However, if you study Buddhism, you will find that your understanding of your own religious tradition will deepen.”
And so Buddhism doesn’t set itself against other traditions because it is about finding a way.
Now having put that out on the Internet, I’ll probably have all kinds of people writing me nasty emails disagreeing with me, but that’s how I look at it, because I do see Buddhism more as a set of tools.
I certainly don’t see Buddhism as a set of beliefs or as a set of forms, or anything like that but there are other people for whom that is how they relate to Buddhism so I don’t want to say that they are doing it wrong. But this is how I view it.
Is this helpful?
Now, I think the rest of this is pretty straightforward, and I don’t need to go through each one of these. I am going to spend a little time, oh, we should go through meritorious karma, these are the opposites.
But what’s important here is that virtuous or meritorious actions can be just as conditioning as non-meritorious ones. Generally they lead to more openness and clarity, because they aren’t based to the same extent on reactivity. But they still condition one, and this is why doing good isn’t enough to be free in Buddhist practice.
You can’t do this by good works alone. There has to be insight and understanding. That’s why we have this very famous line, which was one of my teacher’s, a very famous verse, which was one of my teacher’s favorites:
Cease to do evil.
Learn to do good.
Train your own mind.
These are the Buddha’s teachings.
And the third one is about training your mind in being able to see things as they actually are, see things without the projection of thoughts and emotion. This is why we have the direct awareness traditions such as Mahamudra and Dzogchen in the Tibetan tradition, shikantaza in the Zen tradition, and so forth. That brings about a quality of wakefulness which is not subsumed in either, particularly not, non-virtuous activity but is also not included in virtuous activity. It is not intrinsically there in virtuous activity.
There is the third kind of karma that Gampopa discusses: it happens when you get attached to meditative states. Some of you may have heard of what are called the four janas, which is jana in Pali, is J-A-N-A, but in Sanskrit is D-H-Y-A-N-A. These are four levels of the resting mind. It’s just the resting mind.
And they are described, I think it is in the first one that there is. Some, examination and investigation, and joy and equanimity, I think the four.
Student: What did you say the first two were?
Ken: Well, Guenther translates them as examination, investigation, joy, which is also sometimes translated as rapture or bliss. And I think the fourth one is equanimity. I can’t remember. It’s probably in Guenther’s notes, because he is very thorough about this kind of thing.
Now when I was studying this stuff, these seemed extremely remote, but in 1996, I was in Boston at a Buddhist conference. I took a workshop, an afternoon workshop—Henepola Gunaratana, who is a Sri Lankan monk—teaches in Virginia if I remember correctly.
Ah. Here are the four. I was not correct: there’s investigation, examination, joy, and bliss. Those are the four characteristics.
And he taught—this was just a 90-minute thing—and he taught this stuff, and it was just like listening to a string quartet. His teaching was so clear, and so beautiful, it was just wonderful.
These aren’t, because the sense that I got—even though they are in the Tibetan tradition—they aren’t practiced that much. Alan Wallace has done a lot of work in this area. But the way Gunaratana described it was like, “Oh!”
And he said very simple things: You rest attention on the breath. And at a certain point, the breath and mind join. And when that happens, both mind and body relax, and you experience some joy—and even some bliss.
So the first stage is where you are paying attention to how you are doing. That’s what the examination and investigation is about. But as you progress through the janas, you are acquiring such momentum that you don’t need to do—that examination and checking of your experience falls away, and now you just experience bliss, or joy and bliss, and those even become more and more subtle, until you just have the resting mind.
There is a book by Gunaratana on these, and there is a tradition coming out of Ayya Khema that teaches these as states of meditation which a lot of people find very helpful.
The point here is that unless one intentionally cultivates a knowing quality, a seeing quality, these become states of extreme quietude so you just hang out in these states for extremely long periods of time, which is what is described here.
And resting this way, in itself, does not lead to freedom. It leads to very, very little suffering, and that’s why you get the form realm gods and you just hang out in meditation for eons. And into the formless realms which is even more subtle, so that any sense of a body begins to dissolve. You can’t tell whether you’re really aware or not because the mind is just very, very still.
But stillness alone isn’t enough. There has to be that knowing quality. So there is a kind of karma that comes, that you can condition yourself to these very, very still states, develop a kind of attachment to them, so you hang out in them. And that is what this whole section is about. I am not going to go into it into any more detail than that.
Is this clear?
Student: To not do that, you need to bring a seeing quality?
Ken: Yeah, that’s why we have insight practice because it does that.
Now if you want to meditate the old way, to practice meditation in the old way, the Third Karmapa, Ranjung Dorje—the First Karmapa was a direct student of Gampopa, so this is a couple of generations later—his teacher wouldn’t allow him to do any insight practice until he had done resting practice for three years solid, like in retreat kind of things. Because he wanted all of that power and momentum of that “resting” in place before he introduced them.
Resting is very, very important. There is a lot that comes out of the resting but just cultivating stillness isn’t enough.
Gampopa said of one of his students, “he is up in the mountains and he’s trying very, very hard not to have any thoughts. If he hadn’t regarded thoughts as an enemy he would have been enlightened ages ago.”
So, our paths are a little bit different than that. Oh, here’s something I forgot to bring tonight. That’s unfortunate. Ah. We’re almost there—and I’ve gone over because I wanted to lead you in a guided meditation. Okay Let’s do that, very briefly.
What I want you to do over the next week is to get a sense of the conditioning effect of action. So let’s take the one that we discussed this evening, lying.
Student: Which one?
Ken: Lying. So for this, let your body and mind settle for a few minutes
And consider a situation in which you actually did lie or one in which you can see lying, for whatever reason, we’re not going into the reason, and what I want you to do is to just call the situation to mind.
Bring into your attention, into you Attention, your intention to lie.
And note what happens in your body.
Don’t try to change it or eliminate it. But as you think about lying, and you intend not to tell the truth here, what happens in your body?
And using your breath, just be in your experience. Stay with it.
What happens emotionally?
Anxiety, peace, anger, desire, conviction?
Keep in touch with the physical, the body sensations, but include what happens emotionally.
Maybe there’s conflict.
When you are able to stay present in all of that, then include the stories: Why is it necessary to lie here? Why it’s a good to idea. Why it isn’t a good idea. We usually have all of that stuff flying around. Keeping the body sensations and the emotional sensations and now all the stories. The rationalizations, the defenses, the injunctions, so forth.
Now you are in the experience.
And this is just the experience of intending to lie. We can do the same for the actual action of lying, which we don’t have time for this evening.
And then we can do the same for experiencing the completion of the lie: this person is deceived.
So that’s what I’d like you to do in terms of meditation practice over the next week. Take a number of these unwholesome or wholesome actions and play through them. Now we just did this in just a very few minutes but realistically you will probably take, spend at least 10 to 15 minutes going through this. And in each of the three stages intending, doing, and completing.
You experience the body, the emotions and the stories which includes the pros, for and against, all of that, at each stage. By the time you do this, you’ll probably get a pretty good idea of what habituations are laid down in your system through the act of lying. And then you might consider: How do you feel about that? I usually don’t feel very good about it. But you may be different. Is this clear?
Any questions on it?
Do you like this practice Raquel?
Raquel: Like? I wouldn’t choose that word. No.
Ken: What word would you choose?
Raquel: Challenging, humbling.
Ken: Okay. Any Questions?
Okay, We will close here for this evening then.