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.
Bodhicitta, pt. 1Download
Students’ experience with previous week’s meditation exercise on engaging in wholesome and unwholesome activities; reading behind the lines when a text references other text (using opening of Chapter 8 as an example); what is bodhicitta, what cultivates it, and what it means to be awake; a different perspective on what it means to help all sentient beings; discussion of some of the 22 similes for bodhicitta; meditation instruction for upcoming week: study similes. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 9.
Ken: Okay, March 5th, session twenty on Then and Now. This evening we will be beginning to look at the generation of bodhicitta or awakening mind. The exercise that I left you with was to consider, or actually do, or consider doing an unwholesome action and what happens in your body, emotions, etc., and ditto for a wholesome action.
What was your experience with this? Cara?
Cara: I couldn’t get past the word wholesome. I was telling Lynea earlier…
Ken: Okay, do we have a more modern word for it?
Cara: No. But I was just telling Lynea that it just conjures to mind like “Quaker Oats” when you say wholesomeness, like…
Ken: Okay, but we have all of these nice old-fashioned words like virtue or wholesome. What do you suggest?
Cara: I don’t know. I mean I think that you are trying to stay outside of the vocabulary of like saying things like moral or immoral, right?
Ken: Well, they have these words in Tibetan—dge ba, [géwa], mi dge ba [mi géwa], and sdig pa [dee(k)pa]—and I think Trungpa toyed with the translation of sdig pa as neurotic crime. It seemed a little bit of overkill! Anyway, what was your experience with this?
Cara: It was good. I think, maybe? I mean I wasn’t unwholesome. I was given a lot of opportunities to contemplate unwholesomeness and how I felt about it. Be it sort of my own behavior, but then definitely observing others.
Ken: When you contemplate doing an unwholesome act, what happens? What do you experience physically?
Cara: I guess, depending on the act, I would say excitement.
Cara: Little bit.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Anything else?
Ken: Fear. Anything else?
Cara: Anger, if it’s something like you know in traffic or something.
Ken: When you contemplate doing something unwholesome, like cutting somebody else off, you experience anger?
Cara: No, after somebody has cut me off.
Ken: No, well I’m talking about when you are…
Cara: Oh, going to do something unwholesome?
Ken: Yes. This is about you, not the other people.
Cara: But what if something that someone else does it inspires me to want to do something unwholesome to them?
Ken: Yes, okay, that’s fine. What do you experience? Yes, there you are, you are going to go for revenge here. Okay, what do you experience?
Ken: Yeah, what else.
Cara: Like heat. I feel hot.
Ken: But you know that what you are going to do is against your own moral codes. What do you experience?
Ken: That you’d actually consider doing it?
Cara: For a split second, yeah.
Cara: Because, I think we’ve talked about, or I don’t know if we’ve talked about it, but I’ve thought about in the course of our conversations, that I think driving in some ways is the most reflexive of actions, like we do it, especially in LA so much that…
Ken: Yeah. What happens in your body?
Cara: I get very tense. My breath moves from being in my diaphragm area to just being in my upper chest.
Ken: What about when you contemplate doing a wholesome action?
Cara: I don’t think that I contemplate doing wholesome actions.
Cara: I think that’s more just my nature.
Ken: Okay, anybody else? Lynea.
Lynea: When I contemplate doing an unwholesome action, it depends on the severity of the action, or how unwholesome it is. But if I’m actually aware of it, I feel like there’s an opening, and a fiery sense of pain. If I do something that I might a moment later recognize as unwholesome, but I’ve already done it, in that process I’m not experiencing much, other than a little catch and like completely stuffing it down, like denying it immediately.
Doing something wholesome, actually is a very similar opening feeling, but is more a sort of warm and open, as opposed to a kind of painful-shooting open.
Ken: Okay. Julia.
Julia: I have sort of two different things, depending upon the degree to which I’m shut down. When I’m not shut down to it, I feel a really horrible gripping feeling in my chest. If I’m shut down, I feel kind of like steely, a sort of a metallic thing. It’s like part of me knows that this isn’t wholesome, but there’s a sort of a “I am going to do it anyway quality.” there is a sort of an overriding thing that involves some physiological steeling or hardening.
Ken: Chuck? Oh—just a sec. What about wholesome Julia?
Julia: I have little bit of a problem with that.
Ken: Doing wholesome actions?
Julia: Sort of contemplating it.
Ken: Yes, what’s the problem?
Julia: It sort of feels smug. Contemplating something as being wholesome rather than just doing it feels smug.
Ken: You come across a homeless person who asks you for change. You can say, “I don’t have any,” or you can give him some. What is your experience in either case?
Julia: I think not giving something is unwholesome.
Ken: Yes, so what do you experience there?
Julia: That nasty sort of steely thing I was talking about.
Ken: Okay, give him some. What do you experience there?
Julia: In the case of a homeless person, I feel pain.
Ken: In the giving you feel pain?
Julia: Yes, because it is never enough.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Do you feel smug?
Chuck: Well some situations aren’t just black and white like “thou shalt not lie.” You know, it’s more of…like, we were invited to an expensive charitable event, which we didn’t want to go to, by these friends of ours. He was being recognized as “the kindest person of the year,” and that’s one half of the pattern, so you can guess the other half, so anyway we told them…
Ken: He’s a rather ruthless businessman?
Chuck: [Laughs] At times—he’s gone through more secretaries than anybody else. Anyway, so we told them a lie that we couldn’t go, for this reason, or that reason. But it’s sort of like a scale-down of discomfort. The most discomfort was going to the event, the second discomfort would have been telling him the truth, and so this one was a sort of a moderate discomfort. It still didn’t give a good feeling, but on the scale of what we had to deal with…
Ken: The alternatives.
Chuck: The alternatives, this seemed the best. So whether it sets a karma in motion or something like that, I don’t know.
Ken: You are going to be born in the hungry ghost realms for eons. [Laughter] Dusty…dusty…
Chuck: [Laughs] All you can do is your best at the time.
Ken: Think Death Valley.
Chuck: And as far as…well I carry around some dollar bills in my car, so when somebody’s there I just have to—all I have to do is reach in the glove compartment and hand him out the dollar bill, so there is no effort on my part. In fact the effort is to, is if I feel this person might not be worthy, why should I give it, then that’s the effort of not reaching in, and giving him. So it’s fairly easy to just give him the money. And like you say, it’s really not—whatever you give him isn’t enough—because I think probably one of the worst things would be homeless and out of money.
Ken: Okay. Art?
Art: I found what immediately happens on the body and kind of like a real surface level is almost the same between wholesome and unwholesome activities. Sometimes I am anxious, or sometimes I am excited or thrilled or scared or nervous or whatever.
But checking in a little deeper, I find that when I engage in an unwholesome activity, there is a shutting down, a steeling, a hardening to—well, a disconnect—from whatever is going on.
And when I engage in a wholesome activity, there is more of a connection, more of a sense of presence, more a kind of an acknowledgment about well this is what is, and this is how one should or how I feel I should respond.
Ken: Or this is a good way to respond? Is there a should in there?
Art: It’s funny when you said that, the good didn’t…this is the appropriate…or this is what fits the situation.
Ken: Yeah, that’s what I meant by “a good way.”
Art: Yeah, yeah. In that there is a sense of momentum behind these, too.
Art: That…that going down one path tends to build momentum in that direction. Going down another builds momentum in that.
Ken: Okay, Randye?
Randye: When I contemplate doing something unwholesome, what comes along with it is an attitude that I can describe as reckless “not-give-a-shitism.”
Ken: [Laughs] Okay.
Randye: I don’t care what the consequences are.
Ken: So it’s another way of disconnecting?
Randye: Yeah, it’s a pushing away of what the consequences…what the results of the actions are…
Ken: So then you just say, “I’m just gonna do this.”
Randye: Yeah, and you know, “To hell with whoever might get in the way.”
With wholesome actions there’s more of a sense of seeing the whole picture, and being very grounded, in the exact center of it, of being very present with what’s going on right then and there.
Ken: Hmm. Okay.
Randye: And lack of tension, a lack of tightness.
Ken: Okay. Joe?
Joe: Like Cara, I had a problem figuring out exactly what wholesome and unwholesome meant. But that’s cleared up for me this evening.
Joe: In actually performing an unwholesome act, there is for me a moment of unconsciousness, where I don’t really have any awareness of what is happening. But immediately I get tense in the stomach on a physical level. On an emotional level I feel fear. And on a story level I tell myself that I’m going to be punished.
And in contemplating an unwholesome act, I immediately go to the tension, fear, and punishment, without that moment of unconsciousness and blindness.
In contemplating a wholesome act, I get tense in the chest, and on an emotional level I feel grief, and the story level is that I am separating, by making a distinction like that.
In performing a wholesome act, there is a seamlessness. On a physical level there is relaxation. On an emotional level there is joy. And on a story level there is a seamlessness. There is no separation. I tell myself. That’s the story I tell about that emotional and that physical sensation.
Ken: It feels natural?
Joe: It feels natural, yeah.
Ken: Okay. Steve?
Steve: With the unwholesome again, similarly, I have a little problem with the language here, but there is a hopelessness that goes along with it for me. Maybe anarchy, nihilist, nothing matters at all. And then Joe mentioned a punishment aspect that plays into it as well. And there is sometimes a shut down of—but it’s an intentional shut down, it’s not the unawareness shut down—it’s the “I’m gonna shut this down and drive through this wall on purpose, and then I’ll get my comeuppance.”
Strangely enough, and I think Joe mentioned this too, with wholesome acts, or even the contemplation of it, there’s a deep sadness that I realize goes with it for me. And it has something to do with at that moment having so much empathy or connection with someone else’s pain, or sadness and “fragileness,” whatever. And so, definitely thinking…sometimes doing it’s not, you’re just doing it, and it’s more natural, but in thinking about it that came up.
Ken: Okay. The reason I asked you to do this exercise is that we’re going into the bodhisattva vow. And there are a few things we need to look at before we actually start that.
At the bodhisattva vow ceremonies, all start with a fairly extensive act of confession or what might be a bit more accurate translation: laying down unwholesome activity, which consist of acknowledging it and letting it go; the idea being that to provide a suitable basis for the generation of bodhicitta or awakening mind. One wants to be free of the negativity and the distortions which are connected with unwholesome activity.
And so this exercise I gave you was a kind of preparation for that discussion.
A couple of things have come out for me in this discussion.
One, as several of you have alluded to, is the problem of language. If any of you have any ideas about suitable more contemporary language I would be very grateful because I don’t. I have thought about this for quite a while. I’m not sure what the right language is.
Whether the language of wholesome and unwholesomeness brings out a judgmental quality, as Julia referred to; there can be a pride connected with wholesomeness which is antithetical. So that would be one thing.
Secondly, pretty well all of you describe a closing, a hardening, or a shutting down in connection with unwholesome activity. I think this is very important to keep in mind/be aware of. Another way of looking at that is that when we do something unwholesome, something in us is just saying, “I don’t care about the consequences, I am just gonna do it.”
And it’s almost always some form of pattern-driven thing. And from that point of view, it’s not aware. Now that’s generally speaking. There are individual circumstances where that may or may not be the case. But generally speaking, when we do something unwholesome, it’s because something is just driving.
That’s really good to be aware of. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted you to be aware of this on the physical and emotional levels because the rational levels or intellectual levels can rationalize this all over the place.
But physically and emotionally, there’s just…that knowing is there, and it is more difficult to fool at those levels.
So staying in touch with where we are in our bodies is a very, very powerful method for meeting the world appropriately.
So this evening I want to turn to the…
Student: Ken? [Unclear]
Ken: Of course. Go ahead, Art.
Art: Just touching briefly on the language point—maybe it’s because of what I’m doing in my own practice that I just sort of looked at this from the framework of the ten virtuous and non-virtuous actions.
Art: Is there a reason why it wasn’t framed that way, or is there a distinction between…?
Ken: No, No. Wholesome/unwholesome, virtue/non-virtue—synonymous. And, do you have any ideas about language here or…?
Art: No, other than, and then again it just might resonate better for me because of what I’m doing on my individual stuff, but virtuous and non-virtuous doesn’t have the tinge of being smug, at least for me, that wholesome or unwholesome do.
Ken: Oh well, that may be an individual thing. Cara, then Steve.
Cara: I don’t think there is anything wrong with the timeliness of the language. I don’t mean to imply that—I know I tend to joke a little bit—but I think that if you said virtue or non-virtue, or moral or immoral, no matter what, you are establishing a pair of opposites. And one is, you know, good, and one is not so good, and so no matter what there is going to be a tendency to… Like when you say, when you contemplate something wholesome, or you do something wholesome, that if I consciously think that I’m doing things that are wholesome, then I’m somehow being arrogant. So it almost feels like a feedback loop, where I can’t win, in a way.
Ken: Okay. Steve?
Steve: One of the issues I have with the language is that—we can use the example of a lie. And there are times when a lie is—and the word I’m gonna use, you used, and Art used—is more appropriate than not. And I think that it’s more we do certain things that we feel deeply aren’t really appropriate.
Steve: And that’s us, it’s not an outside law. That even virtue/non-virtue, wholesome/unwholesome…
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Mmm hmm.
Steve: Feels like to me…
Ken: Okay. Julia then Lynea.
Julia: I like the word harmful.
Ken: What do you use for the other side? Helpful?
Julia: Yeah, helpful is a little stickier.
Julia: I like harmful because it refers both to harming somebody else, and harming yourself, in terms of the karmic patterns you are establishing.
Ken: Yes, and that is certainly what the Tibetan word sdig pa [dee(k)pa] means. It is derived from the word for scorpion. You’re stinging yourself.
Ken: Interesting. Well I will think about that, thank you. Lynea.
Lynea: I’m clearly not in the majority here, but the reasons I like the words wholesome and unwholesome, is because wholesome implies being present with everything and unwholesome implies separating from things.
Ken: And unwholesome, you’re out of the whole. Yeah, that’s a good point. Okay, but I think Steve’s—or is it Cara’s—who said setting up the opposites? Cara. I think that’s where the problem lies actually, because we don’t like opposites, or what appear to be or seem to be absolutes. They’re unpopular these days. So we’ll just keep working with it, okay.
I want to go back to the beginning of the refuge chapter very briefly. So on the Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation this is page 137 and Guenther’s translation, it’s page 99.
And in the paragraph after he’s set up the framework, he cites—Gampopa cites—a number of textual authorities for this:
This is because, as is mentioned in the Bodhisattva Bhumis, aspiration bodhicitta is required in order to cultivate action bodhicitta. The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment says that refuge must be taken in order to cultivate aspiration bodhicitta. The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment also says that in order to cultivate action bodhicitta one of the pratimoksha vows is required. The Treasury of Abhidharma says that taking refuge is necessary in order to receive a pratimoksha vow. The Bodhisattva Bhumis mention that without the Mahayana family one cannot receive the bodhisattva vow, even if one cultivates the mind through ceremony. [Gyaltsen, page 137]
Now, when we read this, it has a very authoritarian flavor to it. This book says this, this book says this, and one of the things that I’ve tried to do in this class, and the reason that I’m picking up this passage is, it’s a very good example of where it’s important—one could say—to read behind the lines, or it might also be fair to say, to understand how things are actually being expressed here.
If we take these, it is mentioned: in the Bodhisattva Bhumis, aspiration bodhicitta is required in order to cultivate action bodhicitta. Or as we’ll be talking later, other translations for this are aspiration bodhicitta and engagement bodhicitta.
Now we don’t need a scriptural or commentarial authority here, because what’s really being said is, “Intention precedes action. Action comes from intention.”
And in the next one in The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment [says that] refuge must be taken in order to cultivate aspiration bodhicitta.
Well refuge is our orientation in life. It’s oriented around waking up, and it’s expressed in terms of the symbols called the three jewels. So in order to give…before you can give rise to an intention, one needs to have a certain orientation in one’s life. So again we don’t really need a commentarial authority here saying that intention comes out of our orientation in life; action comes out of intention.
And then: The Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment also says that in order to cultivate action bodhicitta one of the pratimoksha vows is required.. The pratimoksha vows you will recall are the vows of individual freedom.
[Interruption] Is it coming off the recording?
Student: A little bit.
Ken: Because it’s coming through the speaker.
Well action bodhicitta—this is where you’re taking action towards waking up—this requires discipline. And the vows of individual freedom are the basis of discipline, moral discipline in Buddhism, because those are specific—the individual freedom ordination concerns very specific actions. As we discussed last time: not to kill a human being, not to steal anything of value, not to lie about your spiritual attainments, and not have inappropriate sexual relationships.
These are very, very specific actions. So learning how to restrain from very specific actions is the basis for discipline adn training which then can then be transferred to the more subtler discipline of action bodhicitta.
And then: The Treasury of Abhidharma says that taking refuge is necessary in order to receive a pratimoksha vow. So again, a discipline in one’s life arises out of an orientation in life.
So when you read a section like this, it sounds like, well this person says this, and this says this, and this says this, but one needs to read beyond that and see it as these are actually quite deep principles, very basic common sense, which are being supported by these commentarial references, not being ordained by them, if you see what I mean. And many people will skip over this and miss the inherent wisdom: that how one is oriented in life, how one views life; what one decides is important in life is the basis of everything.
Out of that comes what you’re willing to adopt as a discipline. Out of that comes your aspirations. And this is quite profound. But a reading of that, you know, most people reading that aren’t going to get that out of this paragraph, if you see what I mean. And to the extent that I can, what I’m trying to do is show you how to read these old texts, because they’re full of stuff like this, except it’s put in this extremely coded language, so that we tend to just go, “Oh, yeah—blah blah blah blah blah,” and just miss it.
I’ve been teaching for a while now, and I find that it’s extremely important for a person who is interested in a spiritual practice to be clear about their orientation in life. Because what happens when they take up a spiritual practice is that our orientation in life changes, orientation to life changes. And it changes quite significantly.
It changes sufficiently significantly that actions and values that we regarded as very important may now be rendered meaningless. And which means that we have to find a new basis for meaning in our lives. And that becomes progressively more subtle. So it’s a little thing in one way, but it’s also a big thing in another.
Does this help you understand a bit? How to read this? Joe.
Joe: Yes it does, and I just had a realization, and that is that this coded language has always been troublesome to me. And I realized it was because I was assuming unconsciously that it was written now, and that the person who wrote it was familiar with the multicultural, multilingual milieu that we find ourselves in, and was rejecting everything else. I just realized that the world he wrote for knew only this.
Ken: Knew ONLY this! You have no idea! There’s one overarching worldview which everybody accepted. There’s very little concept of multiculturalism. I remember, I mean, even in Scottish villages in the early twentieth century, when strangers showed up, they would throw stones at them.
Student: That’s because they were English.
Ken: No, Scottish. Oh, the strangers were English? Well, yes, but you have to admit they had some justification for that! [Laughter] So you’re quite right, this was not written in a multicultural milieu. And so we’re still really in the beginning stages of translating what has been a closed system for a thousand years into something that can be talked about in an open culture like this. Because, it is so self-referential. Thank you. Okay.
So we’re starting on chapter 9, which is the Cultivation of Bodhicitta. A reasonable English translation is awakening mind. Bodhi is the term for awakening; citta is a word for mind. However, as we’ve discussed before, citta could also be translated as heart in that it refers to both emotional and cognitive processes—not one or the other. We have that heart/mind split in English. So one could also translate this as awakening heart, which gives a different flavor to it.
And as it says in the first paragraph, The essence of the cultivation of bodhicitta is the desire to achieve perfect, complete enlightenment for others’ benefit.
Well, we might translate this into more modern language. It’s the desire, the wish, the intention to be completely awake in order to help others be completely awake, because that’s the only thing that really helps anybody—is being awake.
Now what does it mean to be completely awake? Joe. I was just asking you because the microphone’s right there.
Joe: What does it mean…
Ken: To be completely awake?
Joe: It doesn’t mean anything.
Cara: Oh, please…
Ken: [Laughs] Cara sees a higher relief. I got that wrong—heaves a sigh of relief. Oh, I think—try again.
Joe: The experience of being completely awake is—I can only describe by the words having no names for things.
Ken: Okay. You’ve been reading the Diamond Sutra.
Joe: [Laughs] Is that where that came from?
Ken: Well, there’s something pretty similar to that. But I understand. Okay. So you’re describing a certain immediacy of experience.
Joe: Yes. Yes.
Ken: Okay. Randye, what does being awake mean?
Randye: Being awake or being completely awake?
Ken: You can make the distinction if you wish.
Randye: Well, something Joko Beck said struck me a long time ago. She said if you could actually be present in your life 5% of the time you could probably consider yourself to be an enlightened being.
Ken: Yeah, but that doesn’t answer my question at all.
Randye: Well, I guess I’m associating being awake with being present and aware.
Ken: What does this mean? You’re just substituting one word for another. You’ve gotta give me more than that! Joe gave me nothing so he got points for that.
Ken: No, no—he gave me Nothing!
Randye: I mean in my own personal experience that phrase completely awake is nothing but a hypothetical construct.
Ken: What does it mean to be present, for you?
Randye: To be aware of what’s going on both within and around me without judging it.
Ken: Okay. Art?
Art: There is a dissolving of me and whatever else is out there. There is no distinction between the two—that sense of duality drops.
Ken: Okay. Cara.
Cara: I’d have to agree with Art that there ceases to be a separation between myself and whatever the other thing, person, place, whatever.
Ken: Okay. Chuck.
Chuck: I agree with that and I think that there is a no-reactivity to what is coming up. You are just with the situation.
Steve: I think it’s, for me, a crossing of the narrative, quieting.
Ken: The narrative?
Steve: Quieting. And pure experience.
Ken: Okay. Lynea.
Lynea: I’d say completely open, still, and present.
Julia: I think most of it’s been covered. For me it’s being open and resting with whatever is there.
Ken: Okay. Now, I presume because you’re all here that you’re all interested in this. Is that an okay assumption?
All right, how many of you want to achieve that so that you can help others achieve it? [Laughs] Is that really what you want to do?
Julia: The prospect scares me.
Ken: Okay, Lynea?
Lynea: I don’t think I have the capacity to experience anything—any desire—completely on behalf of others. If I had that then I think I’d already be awake.
Ken: Okay. All right. Chuck?
Chuck: I guess it would be I would want to see how I developed and then I would think that I would open up to others.
Art: I have more of a sense of…that in a more awake, present state there’s less of a chance of my doing harm.
Ken: Yes, but that’s not the question that’s before us. Do you want to wake up in order to be able to help others be awake?
Art: It wasn’t the initial motivation!
Ken: [Laughs] Thank you! Cara?
Cara: I’m kind of with Lynea. I can’t conceive of that, but then there are a lot of things I do in my life that I do simply because I really like to see how they positively impact other people. So…
Ken: Okay. Randye? Art?
Randye: Honestly, it is beyond my comprehension what it would mean.
Randye: I mean I struggle enough with the concept of trying to imagine, experience what my own awakening might be like.
Ken: Okay. Art?
Art: Well, based on my life so far, I’ve come to find out that helping others is not as easy as it seems, or I’m not that good at it. So, my motivation at this point is to help myself.
Ken: Mmm hmm.
Art: And what little I’ve had a taste of, of the path, I can’t help but think though, that the natural outcome of that is to help others.
Ken: Okay. You want to add something, Randye?
Randye: Yeah, just to add a little bit. That the part that, you know, where my mind goes into baffle mode is the all beings.
Ken: Mmm hmm.
Randye: And I’ve done a lot of focus on, “Well, I can help Joe Blow down the street,” maybe. But it’s the all beings thing that gets into the incomprehensibility.
Joe: On the level of contemplation I aspire to aspire to help others. But on the level of practice, I must say, of just being out in the world, and finding myself in the situation in which I have a choice to do something, it’s no longer contemplation.
Ken: Ah, it just arises.
Joe: It just arises.
Ken: You want to add something Cara?
Cara: I have an example. Steve said non-harming. Did you say non-harming? Someone said non-harming.
Ken: I think it was Julia.
Cara: Anyway, one of the principles that I feel like I live by is that I’m a vegetarian because I believe in, you know, the non-violent principles of not eating meat and not wearing leather, and, you know, I’m not a vegan because it would be impossible really in my life to be a vegan. But I do feel that on that level that I want to lead by example, like be a vegetarian by example but not a proselytizing vegetarian. But I get more people attempting to draw me into debate about being a vegetarian.
More so than 10 years ago when I was a proselytizing vegetarian, people just kind of looked at me like I was kind of kooky and now I never discuss it, and I have had more people bring it up to me.
And then when I say it’s basically a spiritual choice and I am doing it because I feel like being a vegetarian benefits all of humanity, then I get, I get a lot of anger. And so when I think about taking on, you know, the bodhisattva now, and making my life about other people’s wakefulness, I find that somewhat alarming because I don’t think…
Ken: Because you’re gonna get even a lot more anger!
Cara: Yeah, because I don’t think people want to wake up! [Laughter] Because that’s kind of my, you know, and I know that you have to surmount that, but that’s what I point to because even just a couple of days ago I had another coworker who was like, “We’re supposed to eat it,” and yelling at me for not!
Ken: Okay. Well, I very much appreciate everybody’s honesty here. Because often in these kind of discussions people become very idealistic, and they aren’t really honest.
It reminds me of a story about a group of people that went to a Sufi teacher and asked to study with him. And the teacher looked at them and said:
“Are you willing to let go of pride and be humble?”, and they all said yes.
“Are you willing to forgo pleasure and undertake discipline?” They all said yes.
“Are you willing to experience confusion and not know, in order to be able to learn?” They said YES!
“Very well, next Wednesday I’ll be meeting with some people that have been studying with me for three years. I’d like you to come.” So the new group came in and there were the old group. And the teacher said to the old group:
“How many of you would prefer to be proud rather than humble?”, and everybody stood up.
“How many of you would prefer to experience pleasure rather than undertake discipline?”, and everybody stood up.
“And how many of you would rather feel that you know, rather than rest and be in confusion?”, and everybody stood up.
He turned to the new group and said, “So, you see what the result of studying with me is? You’ll be worse off than you were now. Go and think about this.”
So I have another question for you. Some of you mentioned, you know, that you can help Joe down the street but this business about helping all beings…
Well, one way to look at bodhicitta, look at this whole topic is to look at it metaphorically. Joe, you’re the expert in the Diamond Sutra, how many sentient beings are there?
Joe: An infinite number.
Ken: I don’t think that’s what it says in the Diamond Sutra.
Joe: There are none.
Ken: That’s right, that’s what I remember. From the perspective of being completely present and awake in one’s experience, what is a sentient being? I’ll make everyone feel bad and say we’ve already discussed this back in chapters one or two or somewhere around there!
Julia: A collection of experiences that arises in one’s field of awareness.
Ken: So another way of looking at bodhicitta, of awakening mind is, wanting to experience being awake so that every aspect of your own experience can be awake. And being willing to bring that wakefulness into absolutely everything that you experience. How do you feel about that?
Julia: That’s why I said it scares me.
Lynea: I’m supposed to say it scares me, but that actually sounds delightful, however painful.
Ken: Okay. Chuck?
Chuck: It sounds more manageable than an infinite number of beings.
Ken: Take another look at it. You cannot…one of the implications of this is that there is no pattern, no vestige of confusion in your system that you will ever be able to indulge. For some people helping all sentient beings looks a whole lot better! [Laughs]
Ken: Yeah! They’re both saying the same thing in very different language. Okay. Steve.
Not a corner left in the dark.
Steve: It’s a more accessible concept.
Ken: Mmm hmm. How does it sit with you?
Steve: Well it sits with me as a metaphor, as an image of something.
Ken: All right. Cara.
Cara: Sorry, did you say when you were talking to Chuck (I was turning the air conditioner off) that there’s no part of you left that can be unhinged?
Cara: Indulged. [Laughter]
Ken: I mean I’m totally unhinged right now! So that’s done!
Cara: You don’t flip out anymore, what’s that about! The path to enlightenment is allowed! I feel good about it.
Student: It feels grounded.
Ken: Okay. Randye.
Randye: The theory sounds good, but the application scares the hell out of me. There’s no place to hide.
Ken: Exactly, that’s right. No place to hide.
Randye: And more than I would probably ever admit in public.
Ken: [Laughing] This is not public!
Randye: These are friends. I take refuge in oblivion of not being awake.
Ken: Yeah, I think a lot of us do from time to time! We have different flavors of oblivion, and different ways of getting there. Yeah.
Chuck: In those few brief moments, usually on the cushion, when I am able to equalize everything that I’m experiencing—sight, sound, thought—it all seems in one sense, as we said a little while ago, already liberated, including what arises for me in thought. At those points, it is obvious and non-threatening. Off the cushion, in everyday life, is a different story.
Ken: Yeah. The next section that I want to look at—these 22 similes… I don’t think we will go through all of them, but I would like to encourage you to go through all of them quite carefully. I am gonna go through some of them this evening so that you get a feel for this. Because these 22 similes, quite wonderfully, communicate just how deep and how rich awakening mind or bodhicitta is. Says also they will be related to the five paths. We will talk about the five paths in more detail, when we talk about buddhahood.
So the first simile is earth. It says,
The earnest desire to achieve enlightenment is like the earth because it is the basis for all virtuous qualities. [Gyaltsen, page 148]
So this is the first aspect of bodhicitta or awakening mind. This intention to be completely awake in order to help all others be awake—which we can interpret as all aspects of our experience to be awake—we just take that in, and hold it in your heart or mind for a few minutes.
What’s the only thing that can come out of that? In terms of action and approach to life? Is it possible to harm or to contemplate harming others from there? Art?
Ken: No, it’s completely impossible. This is like the earth, you know, it’s the ground, and the only thing that can come out of that are virtuous qualities.
So we go to the second one:
A general intention to achieve enlightenment or awakening is like gold; it never changes until one achieves enlightenment. [Gyaltsen, page 148]
Gold is valued because it doesn’t, it barely tarnishes; it’s not like silver. You just need to rub it a little bit and it’s fine. It’s a relatively inert metal, and it also has this luster to it. That’s why it valued. It’s valued because it doesn’t change. Once this intention or aspiration or whatever you want to call it takes root in one’s experience, or in one’s mind, it’s always there. It may be forgotten, it may be covered over, etc., etc., but it’s there!
This is why Shantideva wrote, or one of the reasons why Shantideva wrote this epic poem about awakening mind—Entering the Way of Awakening, the Bodhicaryavatara. And if you read the first chapter it is just a paean to awakening mind. And you really get the sense of how much he personally appreciated. He is awed to discover that he has the capability of feeling this way—because it’s like gold.
Possessing altruistic thought is like the waxing moon which increases all the virtues. [Gyaltsen, page 148]
So not only is it the ground from which virtue arises, but this attitude causes virtues to increase in your experience, in how you live. So this is what I mean about contemplating each of the similes. Actually feeling them in you.
If you skip down, take number 11, for instance. This is a much more evolved expression of awakening mind now because we’ve moved up quite a long way:
Possessing a skillful means is like a spiritual master who never forsakes benefitting all the sentient beings in all times. [Gyaltsen, page 148]
So one of the things we appreciate about our teachers is that they’re able to see things which we aren’t necessarily able to see, and point us to that seeing, and they have various ways of doing that, which we call skillful means. And here skillful means is being used as simile for, or sorry, the spiritual teacher is being used as a simile for awakening mind because the clarity and openness that are inherent in awakening mind allows you to or enables you to see things as they are and be extremely skillful. You follow?
And if we jump down to say 16. Here, awakening mind is being likened to a storehouse, a treasury. Now, we can say a bank. Banks are where the accumulated wealth of a society is stored. Originally these were monasteries. And that’s where the wealth was stored and then it was distributed in times of famine and difficulty. Go back to the pharaohs; remember the priests distributed the stored grain.
This intention to be awake in order to help others be awake, as our practice matures, it becomes a treasury, a resource which can be drawn upon in any circumstance, and drawn upon both in terms of what’s called here merit, which you think of in a certain way as good fortune or goodness, and wisdom, which is seeing—the ability to see and know things as they are. It becomes a resource that we can draw on whenever we need and that other beings can draw on. That’s quite wonderful. To be accumulating or developing that resource all through one’s practice, which then becomes available to everybody, whoever has need of it. You get the idea, you feel how this sinks in, becomes very powerful?
We come up to some of the later ones, like maybe the last one. It says,
Possessing Dharmakaya (I’m not sure anyone can “possess” dharmakaya) is like a cloud, manifesting abiding in the Tushita heaven, and so forth… [Gyaltsen, page 149]
Now what does a cloud do? You think of… All of this comes from northern India. What do clouds do in northern India?
Dump a lot of rain. Monsoon. Okay.
So this is the simile here. When you are completely present—that’s what dharmakaya refers to—then the only thing that arises out of you is actions which help others. Or to put it in a phrase that I use: one becomes an ongoing response to the pain and suffering of the world, which is exactly one’s intention here. Steve.
Steve: I’m not following how that is a cloud?
Ken: A cloud pours down the rain wherever it’s needed. What monsoons do.
Steve: So it’s not a cloud as in obscuring the sun?
Ken: No, it’s a cloud as a source of what nourishes. Yeah. Joe?
Joe: So all of us admit on an intellectual level that we don’t really aspire to help other people. And yet we intuit that it is something worth aspiring to.
Joe: So we must have… in our experience we must have or do experience the reality of that skillfulness, of that reality. That is how it works. Or else we would not have chosen this particular path.
Ken: Yes, I think that’s very true, and you said in one of your comments earlier Joe, that you aspire to aspire. And that’s exactly what you’re talking about. Because when we contemplate this, we’re contemplating a very deep good. And it is very, very deep. And we may not be able to discern it. I think you said we can intuit it, I think that’s what you were saying.
And what we have here is a path towards it. At least that’s how it’s presented. But it’s more… I think this is what you were saying—certainly how it plays in me—that we have a sense of direction, but we’re not quite sure how to get there. We have to trust something in that process. We have no idea of what it is actually going to look like.
What we have in this is an attempt to describe it, probably with the intention of inspiring others to follow the same path.
But, I think, possibly the better way is—rather than saying trying to be inspired—is to look in and open to what we are intuiting and trusting, not with the intention of trying to understand it, but actually letting ourselves feel it. And I think it arises, and this goes back somewhat to the discussion we had on faith.
I think you’ll find that three kinds of faith arise here. That is, on the one hand, it makes sense. On another level, there’s actually a longing. That make sense to you?
Joe: Mmm hmm.
Ken: And then on the third, if we let ourselves touch into it or feel it, then there’s a kind of opening, and just like “Oh!” A clarity or lucidity that arises.
So, over the next week, what I’d like you to do is to go through these 22 similes in your meditation. In the way that I was just touching into this evening. Not trying to understand them. Because that’s not how simile works. It’s not how poetry works. Poetry, simile speaks directly to emotion and experience, and not so much to the intellect and the cognitive aspects of our experience.
So that’s what I want you to do in your meditation is to do two or three or four a day letting each one of them speak to you in whatever way it does. I think the combination of Guenther’s translation and Konchog Gyaltsen’s, they’re… some are better translated in one than the other, but they should be able to give you a sense of each one. And if this one or more that just don’t make sense, then send me an email and I’ll do my best to clarify that. There is some technical language in there and that may cause some confusion. But again, just let me know if there’s any difficulties.
My intention here is, rather than trying to understand bodhicitta, or think about it, I’d like you to spend the next week feeling it, intuiting it, if you wish, through these similes.
And all of this puts me in mind of a book that I think I’ve mentioned before called Radical Hope. It’s about the last great Crow chief called Plenty Coups, who had a vision when he was eight or nine years old that the buffalo would be replaced by cows. He didn’t know what cows were but that’s what he saw in his vision. And the shamans interpreted this dream, and he became a great chief, and a very great warrior. But when the white man took over, he used this dream, this vision as a basis for guiding his people—and very different from the way that Sitting Bull did with the Sioux—in which he [Plenty Coups], the challenge that he was faced with, was being able to discern a good without knowing what it was actually like, without being able to see it clearly.
And moving towards a good that you can only intuit or discern, or feel, requires a certain kind of courage. There has to be a lucidity in that courage, a clarity. Because, and this was the dilemma that the Crow and the other Indian tribes were faced with, the actions by which they defined who they were and what was meaningful, were rendered meaningless with the advent or the taking over of America by white men. There weren’t any buffalo to hunt, they couldn’t steal horses. They couldn’t show bravery in the ways that they were used to. So all of these things were meaningless.
In essence, that is exactly what we’re doing in spiritual practice. There is a good that we can discern and intuit and feel our way towards, but to do so, we have to let go of all of the conventional notions of success, failure, meaning, and what defines us in our lives. And that’s a very, very difficult and very challenging thing.
It’s one thing to have it forced upon you, as the Crow and the Sioux had. It’s another thing to choose this intentionally. But I want to be under no mistake, that is the direction that this takes us, this path takes us. It is letting go of what is conventionally regarded as meaningful, and…or being a success. And trusting that clarity and courage which allows us to move towards a good that we, at this point, can sense but don’t know.
Okay. All right, we’ll close here then. Thank you, Art.