Then and Now 26
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.





Training in bodhicitta, pt. 1Download

Participants’ experience with meditation on bodhisattva vow; creating conditions for bodhicitta to arise in oneself; five training principles: don’t close your heart to anything, be mindful of the benefits, nurturing goodness and awareness, spread and deepen attitude within, avoiding four black dharmas and instilling white dharmas; meditation assignment for upcoming week on experiencing the four black dharmas. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 9 and Chapter 10.



Okay. This is our class twenty-six in the Then and Now series. I can’t believe we’ve had that many; it’s half a year. And today is April the fifteenth. And today we’re going to conclude the Bodhisattva vow material, with your experience of this, and then go into the training in bodhichitta or awakening mind.

So, what I left with you to do was to do the bodhisattva vow on a daily basis over the last week and how was that for you?

So let’s hear from you. Joe, do you want to start? Microphone right there.

Joe: Only just tonight I realized I probably should have actually been doing the vow, rather than just saying it.

Ken: We’re going to talk about doing the vow this evening, yes.

Joe: Okay. Well, because saying the whole vow, it’s such a large piece that I had a hard time recognizing any physical response to it, because I went to stories so fast. I could make many stories about those stories. But when I broke it down into pieces, then I could find some specific…

Ken: Umm-hmm.

Joe: …reactions. I could find reactions to just about every piece of it. Because I was under a lot of stress this past week, some of my physical reactions were exaggerated. They all took the form of anxiety reactions, which…I discovered a new one which is sort of…when I don’t act out my anxiety, I sort of like exude it from my hands and feet and the backs of my upper arms. It was very interesting. But the emotion that went along with that was [Inaudible] anxiety. And the one that I suppose is most…created the strongest reaction was, I confess all evil actions that I have done. And the story around that—after those physical and emotional reactions—was “confessing.’’ I know we talked about this some when we were going through the book.

Ken: Yeah, it’s a translation problem. I may…maybe I should change that to “I lay down,” or something like that.

Joe: In the sense of unburden?

Ken: Yeah. Let them go.

Joe: Hmm… Yeah!

Ken: I mean, you were very influenced by Catholic sentiments—

Joe: Exactly.

Ken: But the Catholic of, or rite of confession is very much the same thing; it’s an unburdening. It’s like when you confess it to the priest, you’re confessing it to God, “So, okay, I did this.” It’s exactly the same process, and the purpose of it is to unburden.

I was reading something the other day, and the word for sin apparently comes from the root to separate. So you confess the sins in order to lay them down, so that you can move back into a connection again with God. And it’s very…very analogous to the process here. That help?

Joe: Yeah, it does. The laying down is clear. Of course, my understanding of the Catholic use of these is locked into such an immature, you know, young state. It never matured into the kind of understanding that we’re bringing here.

Ken: I see.

Joe: Very, very young. And very deep. So…so yeah, it is helpful.

Ken: Okay. What about the vow itself? Just as the sugatas of former times aroused awakening mind. Because you have the stages, you have the taking of refuge, then you have the seven-section prayer, which is generating the right basis, going through all of those, and then you take…actually express the vow, and then there’s the rejoicing, and then there’s the dedication.

Joe: I am stopped…it seems like I…I failed to have a very direct experience of it, because of the liturgical nature of it. I find it hard to translate it into…a direct relationship.

Ken: Okay. We’ll talk. I’ll talk about that a little bit more, because it’s important. Thank you. Okay. Who else? Chuck?

Chuck: Well, I used the brown book. And—

Ken: Yeah. It’s the same thing.

Chuck: Okay. The refuge…the refuge part, I had a feeling. I felt the feeling of trust, and something to rely on. Some sort of a solid base. And the vow itself, was more of a feeling of getting into action.

Ken: Okay.

Chuck: Going out and really doing something.

Ken: So really directing energy in a certain way?

Chuck: Right.

Ken: Okay. Anybody else? Randye? Julia? Chuck, can you hand it to Julia? Randye, go ahead.

Randye: Each piece brought up a different emotion, and all very close to the surface. And I’m pleased to say, I didn’t act it out all week. And the..the curious…I liked the vow, the phrase step by step, [Inaudible] twice in there. I can cope with that. You know, I can’t do this big leap of all beings and great awakening mind, but I can chunk along step by step. So I resonated with that.

And all week, I found myself in all kinds of different situations where, when I’m starting to get into the story line, a piece of this came up, different pieces. They all seemed appropriate for whatever was going on in my head at the time. It kind of pulled me out of the story line—

Ken: So it cut the stories.

Randye: Almost as if, you know, somebody was saying it to me.

Ken: Umm-hmm.

Randye: So, it was interesting.

Ken: Okay. Julia.

Julia: Yes, like Chuck, I did the brown book version. And I love…I love the sense of belonging to a tradition that comes with that, in both the vow and the rejoicing prayers.

Ken: Anything else?

Julia: Well, there’s a lot of energy associated with that.

Ken: Umm-hmm. Okay. Nava.

Nava: Also, it always brings just a very strong sense of…of knowing what to do, kind of in opening. However, when I get to, Without delay, may I become a wonderful leader for sentient beings. and all the, From now on, I will do only what befits this family. I will do nothing to disgrace this noble and faultless family. All of these…it just always brings…“How can I?” I mean, I know I don’t do it, so it…I’m questioning what is leadership for me? And what does it mean—

Ken: What is leadership?

Nava: Being a leader. And what does it mean…is it just said to begin something or… It’s a big commitment, so.

Ken: Yeah. Okay. Anybody want to…anybody else want to say something before we…before I talk about this a little bit?

Student: I was going to say that it brought up for me…I think I identified or had a good feeling from the rejoicing section and the refuge section. It just made me feel very grateful. I just felt…

Ken: Okay.

Well, I’m going to start from Joe’s comment here.

In terms of context, I guess, I’m not quite sure what the right word is.

Tibetan Buddhism as it was practiced in Tibet was a medieval institution, so utterly medieval. And the Catholic church today is still a very medieval institution in many respects. And one of the characteristics of a medieval institution is that there is a priesthood and everybody else is a child. And the function of the priesthood is to take care of the children.

So I found your comment that the ritual of confession…you never developed a mature understanding of it, of its actual spiritual purpose. And I think there are many people who grow up in the church for whom that is the case. And I know from talking with people, that people who grow up in Buddhist countries relate to Buddhism the same way that many people in this country relate to their Catholic or Christian upbringing. It’s like, you know, it’s irrelevant, etc., etc.

In one of the classes I had, there was a woman who had grown up in that environment and then just said, “You know, this is all nonsense. This doesn’t mean anything.” And then she came into Buddhism as a westerner. She’d come from Viet Nam or something like that, so she came in from a different route. And it really meant and…and felt very, very differently. So .that’s one important thing to keep in mind about this.

Second, this is a ritual. And one of the reasons I asked you to do this on a daily basis was for you to have the experience of doing something ritually.

Now when you do something ritually, your mind isn’t always there, but you keep going back and doing it again and again and gradually it becomes part of you. And what Randye was saying is very much one of the effects of ritual. And that is that you do it again and again. It begins to soak in, and it just comes up, and it is just always available to you and serving as a reminder of something for you throughout your day. That’s if you keep it fresh. If it just becomes an empty ceremony for you, then it loses that.

When I was doing my three-year retreat training, we did this. We did many other rituals and we would read lots of prayers every day. And it just made all of that teaching that was embedded in those prayers available to me. So, I just have that. I don’t have to go and look things up; it’s just there. And then a lot of the Tibetan lamas, they memorized [prayers], as part of their monastic training. There are large numbers of prayers, so they were just always…always available to them. That’s one of the great advantages of that…of that kind of rote training. Which is completely out of fashion in the educational system today, but it actually has some really, really strong merit in terms of giving you a basis to train from.

The…the third thing is that, when you do this on a regular basis, you keep coming back to it; the vow sinks in. What several of you reported: that it gives energy, it gives direction. That’s what ritual is meant to do. It’s meant to focus your energy in such a way, leads you through an actual sequence of conceptual and emotional understandings. And so that you are familiarizing yourself. And that’s one of the reasons why we do the prayers at the beginning and the end of our teaching sessions here. And why I took the time to explain, at least to some extent, those prayers a couple of weeks ago.

And from here, one of the things you can do is just incorporate this, if you wish, into your daily practice. When you take the bodhisattva vow formally, then you’re meant to renew it in some way very, very consistently, so that it actually goes in. And that’s what we are going to talk about today, is actually training in this. If you’re mindful, you know, if you’re actually reflecting on the meaning of the words, then everything is a constant reminder. As you were saying, you know, confessing all evil actions, reminds us of, “Okay, well maybe that wasn’t such a good thing I did today.”

And then, one of the other verses in the preparation, in the seven-section prayer, is the rejoicing in the good works of others. So that acts as a reminder. And reading these things over again and again, remind us, keep these things fresh in our minds, so that they’re more present with those ideas, or those ideas are more present in us, as we live our lives.

And I also noticed Randye’s comment about, step by step. In the Zen tradition, they’re much more absolute. You know, Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all. You know, it’s like, that’s it! Reactive emotions are infinite, I vow to release them all. The ways into the Dharma are without limit, I vow to enter them all. You know, it’s like, “Ahh!” What do you do!?

But in the Tibetan tradition, there’s far more emphasis on a progression. And again, I want to talk about that this evening, of initiating a process which then unfolds. And that is the purpose of doing this on a daily basis is to plant the seed, and to provide the ground and the conditions in which that seed is nurtured and grows in us. Because we’ve talked about karma earlier, as a process of evolution.

And the approach in the Mahayana—as Gampopa is talking about it here—is very much seeing awakening as a process, as the result of a process of evolution. You’ll find that, in the Tibetan tradition, there are what are usually translated as the causal vehicle and the result vehicle. Now that term cause or causal, is our old friend which I just think should never be translated as cause, because it’s wrong! My little soapbox there!

I would prefer to call it—and it may seem a little clumsier—the genesis vehicle, in that we have this potential which is the genesis of awakening. And we’ve talked about this idea of genesis a lot. And we provide it with the right conditions, and it grows and…and manifests in our life more and more completely. And that’s the process of…of waking up.

That is why generating goodness, which you’ll see translated in these texts as accumulating merit, but I prefer to think of it as generating goodness, and, you know, nurturing pristine awareness, which they also call accumulating awareness. I’m not sure how you can accumulate awareness, but that’s the old banking metaphor there! These are methods of fostering that process of evolution. So, please understand that it’s a very good thing for you to incorporate this little ritual that I gave to you—and I put up on the website—as part of your daily practice.

Now if you’re really pressed for time, you can leave out the seven-section prayer, but I think the seven-section prayer is a good thing to do in its own right; we went through the sequence of what each of the verses is referring to. Each of the verses actually counteracts one reactive emotion or one problematic way of approaching the world. So it is actually very carefully constructed. But the essence of the vow, which is, Just as the sugatas of former times aroused awakening mind, and followed this training step by step, so too for the benefit of the beings I arouse awakening mind and follow this training step-by-step. This touches on what Julia is saying; you are entering a tradition, a way of practice.

Now there’s another little element that I want to touch on, which has actually only come to me relatively recently; so I can save you maybe thirty years here, which is always nice! Some of us are just very slow that’s all!

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Buddhism is its great emphasis on path. Which is…distinguishes it from a lot of the people who have spontaneous awakening, like Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi. And all of these people are very notable in their own right, but they downplay the role of path. And path is basically the process of the stuff basically evolving and growing in us, and creating the conditions for that to happen.

One of the things which the way that the Tibetan tradition is expressed—and the way that it’s translated—is that this is the path. And that I’ve always had a little bit of tension with that, because what is, you know, the stages of the path that you were meant to follow never worked for me, so I’ve always had to find my own way. And then I realized that I actually do the same thing with every student that I work with. I never work with two people exactly the same way.

And then some comments that I was listening to from Stephen Batchelor pulled the whole thing together for me. There isn’t the path. You find a path; and what you actually do is you find your path. So it’s a path to awakening for you.

Now it’s very much working with that genesis of awakening which we all have, and finding, discovering through a lot of trial and error, and a lot of effort, how to provide that genesis of awakening with the conditions in which it can grow and find expressions in our lives. And I don’t think that any one person’s path is identical with anybody else’s. There are certain factors which really help and which have been tested by time and experience.

And that’s what Gampopa is…is relating here, you know, everything we’ve talked about in terms of impermanence and karma, and the six realms, and loving-kindness, and compassion, etc. All of these things—and what I talked about in Wake Up to Your Life. These are things which all help in this, but one has to find one’s own relationship with them. And it is through that, through taking them in and finding one’s own relationship, that you find the path for you, through which you wake up, or this awakening manifests in your life.

Is that clear, what I am saying? Okay.

So let’s turn now to the next chapter. At long last! I don’t know how long we spent on that last one. But it was a very substantial chapter (the last one), and actually could be regarded as the core of the whole book.

This is, in Guenther, this is page 142. This is Chapter 10, Training in Enlightened Attitude, which is his translation for awakening mind. And in Konchog Gyaltsen, it is Chapter 10, again. It’s on page 173. He calls it Training in Aspiration Bodhichitta;bodhichitta being the Sanskrit for awakening mind.

Now, there are a couple of things that I want to try to get across today. First—and these aren’t in any particular order—I’m just numbering them because I just do that. One of the things I want to talk about is again, it’s a certain sense of how to read this text, how to understand this kind of text. But this is a little more specific in that, in some of the stuff we’re going to hit today, we find some principles which are applied to the cultivation of awakening mind or the training one in awakening mind. But these principles are actually applicable in many, many other areas of life. And I am going to give at least two examples of that.

So one of the things that, when you read this and you come across this list, you know, and you go, “Oh, yet another list.” Well, actually these lists embody a tremendous amount of distilled experience and understanding. And they’re well worth studying. And it’s said of these lists that you not only have to know all of the items in the list, you also have to know the order. Because there’s another layer of, or dimension of, experience and understanding in the order of the list. The orders of these lists are usually not arbitrary at all. They’ve been thought out quite carefully. So that’s one aspect that I want to touch on. The other thing that I want to set as a framework is that this is a system of training.

Now how many of you have ever trained in some kind of athletics or sports in your life? Okay. What do you do when you train? Chuck? You got a mike somewhere? Yeah.

Chuck: You go out and work out on a regular basis.

Ken: Yeah, and do you do the same thing over and over again?

Chuck: Yes.

Ken: A lot! Right?

Chuck; Right.

Ken: Okay, that’s training. Why do you do that? When you do it, “Oh, I know how to do this.”

Chuck: Well, so you’ll…it’s like playing the piano, so you’ll become an expert at it. So you’ll internalize it.

Ken: Yeah. And there are two things that have to happen here. One is, you’re building strength like the example you gave of playing the piano. You know a concert pianist’s fingers are so strong that, if they hit a note, they can break the key every time. I knew a concert pianist when I was at university. And he would practice on an upright, and he was always breaking keys. There was that much strength in his fingers, just from all of that practice. So that training builds strength or, to put it another way, it builds capacity. That’s one part of the internalization.

And then, you were saying also that, so you know how to do it. It also is training so that you don’t have to think about it, it just happens. So if you’re training in football, to move a certain way, then when you’re running down the field with the football, you don’t have to think, “Oh, I need to do this move now.” It just happens, because of the circumstance, and that’s how good football players work. Same thing with piano, or same thing with anything else. The only way this comes about is by doing it again and again and again and again and again. Repetition. Okay?

So, when you look at this, this is not about getting an intellectual understanding. What he’s talking about in this chapter, is training in this stuff. Boring, repetitive, nose-to-the-grindstone, however you want to look at it. But you just do this again, again, and again. That’s why I gave you this ritual last week. So you would have a little experience with that. If you really want to cultivate bodhicitta, cultivate awakening mind, then you train it. Because it is through that training process—going back to the example of or the analogy of evolution—that you create the conditions so that this awakening mind can actually evolve in you.

Now this is a way of looking at things which is really, really out of fashion these days. Because everybody just wants to understand it, and that’s good enough. And then move on and do something that’s more interesting. But it just doesn’t work that way.

If you want to give expression to awakening mind, you train it in yourself, which means working it again and again; it goes in more and more deeply. Every time it goes in another layer, it starts hitting all of the material that doesn’t want to have anything to do within us. And we have lots of those different layers. You ran into a big one when we were talking about this just a couple of weeks ago, just like kkkrrrhh! [Laughs] And that’s part of the training process.

And you’ll experience plateaus where you don’t seem to be getting anywhere; but basically what’s happening is when you’ve hit material which you don’t have the capacity to penetrate. So when you’re experiencing a plateau and you keep training, you’re actually building up the capacity which is going to allow you to penetrate into that. And so it’s not a particularly linear process. It doesn’t proceed smoothly.

How many of you have studied evolution at all? A little bit? Is it a smooth process? No, if you just look at, what is it, the Precambrian explosion, you know? The way evolution works when you look at it, and it…it doesn’t matter what’s evolving. .I’ve watched the videos in which…now they have these really amazing algorithms for generating solutions to extremely complex problems. And what they do is, they throw a couple of solutions in but they don’t work very well. And then they have the solutions mate, and produce a whole bunch more solutions. And they try them all out, and the ones that work a bit better, get a bit more energy, and then they get to mate. And so you can watch these things.

And you’ll see that something goes up like this, goes up and up. And then it reaches its limit and it collapses, and the next one moves up, and things like that. And it’s a totally non-linear process, but through this, through these evolutionary algorithms, they get to things that no human would actually ever get to, because they just wouldn’t have enough time. And they solve the problem! And you have the same thing in the animal and in the plant world and in our brains. There are so many things that function through a process, through evolutionary processes. It’s a very powerful way of looking at things.

But it’s not particularly linear. When things build up to a certain point, you find yourself in a new space. And in that new space, all kinds of things are possible that simply weren’t possible before. So you find, at a certain point as you train in this, that something opens up. And now you can move and express awakening mind in areas you never thought were possible before. It’s just like…huh! And then, of course, once you do that, you find there’s a whole bunch of new stuff to work through as well.

What’s being described here are very, relatively high level principles that are going to cover this whole process. So this is not going into the details of the process at all. That’s the kind of thing that you do with your teacher, where you find yourself working with the thing, “How do I work this particular thing?” Or… and as your own experience develops, you understand more and more how to work with different problems and difficulties and challenges that come up. And that again is the evolutionary process that I’m describing.

These are very high level principles which create the conditions in which this process can take place. Okay? But how far this process goes and how deeply it goes, is basically dependent on one thing, and one thing only. It’s how much energy you put into it. Because all evolutionary processes work on the basis of accumulation of energy. And so you’ve got to put energy in, if there is going to be…it doesn’t happen by itself. Okay.

Is this making sense? Okay. It’s a little different way of looking at this thing. It’s not about following rules. It is about creating conditions that…in which a process can take root and grow in you. Okay. Let’s take a look at this.

So, I’m in Guenther’s translation, there’s not a huge difference for this. I’ll keep the two in front of me and see.

Gampopa starts off by saying there are five tasks that complete the training in aspiration. I think, comprise as Konchog Gyaltsen translated is better than, complete. And the five are: not to exclude beings from our thoughts; to be mindful of the usefulness of this attitude or how it’s beneficial; to accumulate the prerequisites (which is a terrible translation).Gathering the two accumulations is Konchog Gyaltsen’s—which I don’t think is that much better.

The two accumulations are traditionally translated as merit and wisdom, or merit and pristine awareness. I prefer to translate these as generating goodness and nurturing awareness. If anybody can figure out a word, a verb, which has both the meaning of generate and nurture, I’ll be grateful for that. I suppose you could say nurture goodness and nurture awareness. So, the “two nurturings.” I think that’s closer. That’s the third one.

Practicing the enlightened mind repeatedly. Or again, purify this attitude, that’s the same thing. And then, the…accepting and rejecting the four positive and negative qualities.

Now here I have to go on a little rant of the translation, okay?

In Tibetan, as a language…

Cara, is there any water here?

Cara: I was going to ask you if you wanted water.

Ken: Yeah, I would, thank you.

To say temperature you juxtapose hot and cold. That’s the word for temperature in Tibetan: tsha-grang,: hot-cold. To say distance, guess what you say?

Student: Near-far.

Ken: Near-far. Okay? So, this also applies to verbs, except very few translators apply it to verbs. They just translate both verbs.

And so, to me, when it says, to accept and reject, that would be like saying, “How much is the hot-cold right now?” You know? We’d say, “What is the temperature?” So you have to “accept and reject.” Well, that’s exercise discipline. Okay? Or…so it’s exercise discipline with respect to the four positive and negative qualities.

It doesn’t have to be—you know, I mean it does mean accepting the four positives or—actually, it doesn’t mean accepting. It means taking up. It actually is the verb to pick up. And so it’s not really accepting. And it’s not rejecting either. It’s stopping. So these are overly-literal translations as far as I’m concerned. Because—Joe?

Joe: Do you mean there’s one verb? There’s not a verb that refers to the four positives and a verb that refers to the four negatives?

Ken: Well, you see, in Tibetan, what you can do is you can use these parallel structures, and you can go on for like… There’s a sentence Rinpoche wrote that I’ve translated which he kept this parallel structure going through about five different things. But it was all practicing this, stopping that: this, this, this, this, this. It just piled up. It was a monster sentence to translate in English, but it was absolutely beautiful in Tibetan, because it was so concise.

So here you would have positive and negative, would be black and white—that’s what the literal Tibetan is. So you would have black-white, no white-black, accept-reject, etc., etc. That’s how the actual sentence is constructed in Tibetan. But they’re referring to both of these processes, which are just flip sides of each other the whole time. In English, it would be more appropriate to translate just the process. Which loses some of the color, but is actually much more English. You follow?

Joe: This is really…it’s really…how can I put this? It’s frank about the dualistic way of the way we express—

Ken: Well, it’s not really dualism in the sense of subject-object. It’s not talking about that at all. What it is, is a recognition that every process, something goes up and something goes down at the same time. So it’s…so it’s like two sides of a coin. That’s not dualism. It’s every coin just happens to have two sides.

Joe: Right. Maybe it’s the wrong word. But you can’t have positive…the concept positive without the concept negative.

Ken: Exactly. Yeah. So it’s emphasizing the interrelationship of those two, very much. Yeah, exactly.

So, now these are the training principles. Well, the first thing, if you’re going to train something, is to stay on the path. Right? And so, the first one, is not excluding sentient beings from our thoughts.

Again, thoughts isn’t really…Konchog Gyaltsen’s is much closer. It is: not forsaking sentient beings from one’s heart. If you’re going to say this in English, you don’t close your heart to anybody. That’s what they are really saying. You don’t close your heart to anyone. Ever. Now, why? Because awakening mind is the intention to wake up in order to help all beings. Well, if you closed your heart to someone, you’ve negated that intention right there. So it’s a very, very fundamental thing.

Now, it goes on to say, if you go down to, towards the end of page 142:

To call ourselves bodhisattvas while—and I’m going to use my terminology—’closing your heart to sentient beings,’ is altogether unreasonable. It’s like killing your own child and preserving his things.

You’re just preserving the form, but you’ve actually killed the essence of it. You follow? It’s a pretty dramatic image. So Gampopa is a little serious about this. What this means, as I think it says elsewhere, is that, yeah, if you go on to page 144, it says, every hour. I can’t remember where it is exactly.

But if you harbor an attitude like this for a period of an hour to two hours, it’s regarded as having taken root in you. So, you know, if you’ve got angry at someone, and all of us do from time to time, and you think, “I’m never going to help that person again!” Okay? Then make sure that within an hour you go, “Okay, I’m not going to help him for awhile.” So that absolute rejection and closing down doesn’t happen within you.

When you think of this, this is a very, very powerful thing. You don’t close your heart to anyone.

My father told me the story about a Scottish woman in a small village in Scotland who had the reputation that she had never said anything bad about anybody ever in her life. And some wag came up to her and said, “What would you be thinking of the devil, Madam?” “Oh, he’d be busy, I warrant,” was her reply.

Not closing her heart to anything. You know? It’s a very powerful thing. If we look at it more internally, as I’ve suggested is a way of working with this…this idea of bodhichitta, is that if you look at it in terms of the world of our experience, not closing our heart to any being, translates as not closing our heart to anything that is in us internally.

Now, how many of you have closed off some part of yourself you just don’t want to have anything to deal with. Okay? It’s the same thing. One is just internally focused, the other is externally focused. But they’re both talking about the same thing. So number one part of the training is: you don’t close your heart…you don’t shut down or close your heart to anything. That’s…that’s really tough. But that’s…that’s where the training starts. Okay? This is really no-joke stuff.

So we find on the top of page 143:

When harm has been done in return for a good deed
Even then it has to be answered by Great Compassion.
The best men in the human world
Return a good deed for an evil one.

How many of you are familiar with the Prisoner’s Dilemma?

Okay. It’s a game. It’s a very highly studied game and there’s a professor I know at UCLA who did his thesis on the Prisoner’s game with imperfect information, which it gets really interesting. I won’t go into the details; anybody who’s listening to this can look it up on the web because there’s oodles of stuff on it.

But it’s a game or…or it’s a situation where if you don’t co-operate with a person and the other person co-operates with you, you get the best payoff. If you both co-operate, you both get a good payoff. And, if neither of you co-operate, then you both get a very bad payoff. So it’s not a zero sum game at all. And…and it’s an iterate thing. You do round after round after round with the same person. Well, apparently when there’s imperfect information—you’re not sure what the other person is doing—one of the best things is to randomly co-operate so that you you’re always injecting something in there which builds a basis for trust.

And this is applied very extensively in negotiation theories, and creating the conditions where you can develop the trust that is necessary for resolving difficult conflicts. So there is a very practical application of returning harm with good. There’s the very, very famous line from The Dhammapada which is:

Hate is never conquered by hate; hate is only conquered by love.

And it’s very, very true. You know, people will fight and fight and fight and nothing actually happens. You get into a win-lose, maybe. But nothing really changes in the relationship until one or both of them said, “I’m tired of fighting, can we work something out?” So it’s very, very important.

Number two. Number two is to be mindful of the benefits of this attitude or why it is a good thing. And the purpose of this is to protect or safeguard this environment in which this process of evolution is taking place. So, he refers to the Gandavyuha sutra, which is a small sutra inserted into the Avatamsaka sutra. I didn’t have time to look it up. I imagine all of this is in Tom Cleary’s translation of the Avatamsaka sutra: the 230 similies for awakening mind and why it’s a good thing. Basically, for this, when you think of awakening mind, what happens in you? When you remember it, when you recall it, what happens in you? Anybody? Randye?

Randye: I’m nicer to people.

Ken: Okay. That’s how it manifests in your behavior. What happens in you when you think of it?

Randye: It’s very much of an opening. It’s a relaxing. It’s a letting go of a lot of stuff, capital “S”.

Ken: Yeah. It cuts through a lot of stuff. What does it do with your reactive emotions—like anger, jealousy, pride, greed—you know, the usual suspects?

Randye: I can look at them, rather than get caught up in them.

Ken: Yeah. So it cuts through reactive emotions, improves behavior, etc. You don’t have to memorize a long list here. You can if you wish. All you have to do is recall what the actual effect is when you connect with awakening mind. You feel it immediately. It never has a bad effect. Okay? That’s what I want to get across here.

Okay. Point three. So, by being mindful of all such virtues…I mean this is the typical way of training. What I would say is, in terms of the way we might train in this culture, is not memorize this list and constantly be reminding ourselves of it. That’s sort of like…it’s a little bit of a childish way. It is just to recall it and feel it. And recall it and feel it again.

And that does two things: it not only reminds you of why it is a good thing, you are also connecting with it again and again every time you recall it. That’s part of the training. The method for obtaining a strong enlightened attitude. So again, this is Guenther’s rather contorted English. This next one is about building capacity.

Student: [Inaudible]

Ken: Yeah. That’s my, the way that I would interpret, strengthening awakening mind; it’s building capacity. And how you build capacity is you nurture goodness in your life and you nurture awareness. That’s how you build capacity.

And then there’s a whole list of things that you can do there.

There’s the ten fundamental rules, which Guenther has a footnote on. And then, the four expedients by which sentient beings feel themselves attracted by us. Ugh, give me a break, Guenther! I mean, he’s a great person. I had the joy of meeting him when I invited him to give a program in Vancouver. And he’s just, was just a great guy. Very, very, very generous and super-knowledgeable and…and really very, very sincere. But his English is terrible!

Retranslate the four expedients by which sentient beings feel themselves attracted by us. We will translate that simply as four ways to gather people around you. And the four ways are…And this is one of the things I want to show you: this has a much wider range of application than just the spiritual domain.

The four ways are: be generous; specifically, provide people with the necessities. Okay? Speak gently. Be courteous. I think that’s…yes, be courteous. And engage people in meaningful activity. So provide people with the necessities, speak gently, treat people courteously or politely, and engage them in meaningful activity. Now, that is how a bodhisattva attracts people so that he or she has somebody to teach.

Let’s shift contexts for a moment. These are very, very effective management principles.

You have people working for you. You provide them with what they actually need to do their work. You speak to them gently. You’re courteous to them. You’re polite to them. And you engage them in meaningful activity. Who wouldn’t want to work for you? Things that are interesting. Very, very simple. And this is what I mean about some of the principles of Buddhist thinking have very, very wide range of application. And that’s just one application. You can make up other ones. But it’s a very, very good way to live your life, you know. Where you can, provide people with what they actually need. People always appreciate that.

While I was driving here, I was listening to a report of this bank in New Orleans. All of their records were wiped out—because they were right in the ninth ward—as well as almost all of the documents for the customers. So, what did this bank president do? All of the customers of the bank could have $500 a day maximum withdrawal from ATM. He had no idea whether they actually had the money in their accounts or not. But that’s what he allowed them to do. And he lost about a million dollars on that.

But the bank prospered and the customers prospered tremendously because he just provided them with what they actually needed in the wake of Katrina. Phenomenal! It’s only one of three black-owned banks, the first black-owned bank in New Orleans. And this was the attitude of the president. And just really making the bank serve the needs of the community. It was great. But it was just a wonderful example of providing people with what they need. Tremendously loyal customers. And his grandfather had said to him, Ninety-seven per cent of people in the world are honest, three percent aren’t. Work your business so that it serves the ninety-seven percent. Good principle.

Then we get down to the spiritual awareness. Now, again, you want to nurture awareness in your life? Very simply, drop the stories and act. That’s all you have to do.

And when they are talking about all of these fancy words, what they really mean is just drop the stories, drop all of the stories: all of the stories about who you are, all of the stories about who the other person is, all of the stories about what is right and what is wrong. You drop all of the stories. You just wake up, right in that moment and you do what comes to you. That’s how you nurture awareness.

Student: [Inaudible]

Ken: Pardon?

Student: [Inaudible]

Ken: No, that’s number four. But that’s the next one. The other one was how you nurture goodness. This is how you nurture awareness. All of this is part of three. Yeah, yeah. That’s right.

And you notice it comes down at the end, there’s also the fostering of attention.

A bodhisattva must always think: Today I will accumulate merits, and spiritual awareness, and bring merits to all beings.

I will re-translate that this way, “A person who is in the process of waking up, must always form the intention: Today I will nurture goodness and awareness, and bring goodness to all beings.” That reads a little better, in my mind. But that may be just my bias.

Okay, number four. This is: Constantly remind yourself of this attitude. And that is to spread and deepen this attitude, or this intention in you. And the way you do that is you just keep calling it to mind.

Skip down a couple of paragraphs, it says, Purification of mind is motive, substance, and correct conduct. Well, the motive—which is again the genesis of awakening mind (that’s one of Guenther’s translations for that term)—is intending to help beings. So you’re naturally going to cultivate loving-kindness and compassion. And again this goes straight to the one that we were talking about earlier, is not closing your heart down.

Now, you aren’t necessarily going to be able to engender lovingkindness and compassion for all sentient beings. That’s actually quite a tall order. But you can foster the intention to do so. And you can foster the aspiration to do so. And, in doing that, you’re creating fertile ground for the…for awakening mind to grow or evolve in you.

And the second one is to do it now. The prayer there, Until I have attained enlightenment, I take refuge… This is Guenther’s translation of the prayer that we do at the beginning of the practice period. Until I awaken, I take refuge in the Buddha, dharma, and the… Ach…I can’t remember…

Cara: The supreme assembly.

Ken: the supreme assembly, which is Atisha’s word or phrase for the sangha. Through generosity and other virtues, I… Can you read it there? Use the microphone. I should know it by heart, but I know it in Tibetan.


Until I awaken, I take refuge in Buddha, dharma and the supreme assembly. Through the goodness of generosity and other virtues, may I awaken fully in order to help all beings.

Ken: Exactly. Thank you, Cara.

Now, this was written by Atisha in the eleventh century. Memorize it. It’s one of the formulas for refuge and awakening mind that is used in all the traditions of bodhichitta…in all traditions of the Tibetan tradition. And it’s just something to have, to say. If you listen carefully to the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, you’ll find that the language that the Ewoks are speaking is Tibetan.

Student: Really?

Ken: Yes. I mean, it’s recorded and then played back at very high speed and distorted. Someone pointed this out to me and so I went to the movie and I listened and went, “Right.” There is one phrase in it which is [Ken speaks quickly in Tibetan] which is exactly the Tibetan for this verse. And I went, “Oh, it’s right there!” [Laughter] You also…there’s also an “om mani padme hum” in there.

Student: How appropriate!

Ken: So—

Student: [Unintelligible]

Ken: Yeah, there’s like this stuff in…you know…the Christian fundamentalists are right; we’re taking over the world. Subliminal projection! [Laughing] Okay.

Then the third way that we spread and deepen it is acting correctly through awakening.

And so we seek to act appropriately in situations. This benefits ourselves and it benefits others. The main way it benefits ourselves is that, when you act appropriately, how much do you have to think about? Yeah. It clears the mind. That’s the primary reason for acting appropriately. It leaves you at peace. And a very, very good way to approach difficult decisions is—and morally difficult situations or ones which you want something but don’t know to do what’s right—is, “What will leave me at peace here?” That’s actually a pretty good criteria for making important decisions. “What will leave me at peace?” or “What will allow me to be at peace?”

You know when you look at the savings and loans thing that we had in the eighties and now all of this stuff we have going on now—the predatory loans and…and some of the things you hear are absolutely horrific. Where people show up and say, “We’ll help you pay, we’ll help you not move out of your house, just sign over the house to us.” And then they actually kick them out of the house. These are just basically various forms of theft. I don’t know how these people sleep at night, but apparently they do.

Then number five is not to forget. And it’s actually putting it into action, so it really becomes part of your life. And that is training in these four…what are called avoiding the four black dharmas and practicing the four white ones. Now for some reason, I have a real block against these, because I’ve tried to memorize these—I won’t tell you how many times over the last thirty years—and I can just never remember them. It’s a…it’s a strange list, but it’s actually a very powerful one.

First one is, Don’t deceive your spiritual teachers. Guenther says cheating, but it’s really, it’s more about deceiving. Why is this so important? Well I’m going to give an experience-only interpretation.

When we discussed this, when we were discussing the teacher back in chapter two or three or whatever it was. The teacher is how awakening mind is appearing in your experience. It’s how your mind is trying to tell you how to wake up. Okay? So if you deceive your spiritual teacher, you’re actually closing the door on your own spiritual development. So it’s completely pointless to lie or do anything surreptitiously or anything to your spiritual teacher, because all you’re doing is closing something in yourself. And that’s…that’s why it’s regarded as a really bad thing to do. It’s not because you’re doing…you’re going to affect the teacher. It has a horrible, a really, really deeply horrible effect in you.

The second one, Causing remorse in others when remorse is not appropriate. I’m in Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation on page 176, right now.

Somebody does something good. Maybe it was stupid, maybe it was foolish, but they did it…they did something good, and they did something good because they wanted to do something good. Don’t make them regret it, even if they’re going to regret it. Maybe they gave all their money away and they’re going to starve to death, or something like that. But that goodness that they’ve done acts as a seed in them. If you then cause them to regret it, what you’ve done is to cause them to disown their connection with something that’s a positive growth process in them. You know how do we do this in our culture very, very consistently? Shame.

Student: [Inaudible]

Ken: Pardon?

Cara: Yeah, like, I was going to say that you hear it all the time with people with their parents or with their spouse, like just constant—

Ken: Yeah. You know, we don’t necessarily tell them it was a bad thing, but we cause…we cause them to feel shame. And because they feel shame, they regret having done it. So that’s…and it happens…it can happen very, very easily. So when somebody does something good, does something virtuous, does something which actually is uplifting and opening, really be alert as to how you interact with that so that you don’t even inadvertently cause them to feel remorse. That’s one of the reasons why you are encouraged to take joy in the good works of others. Because then you celebrate it.

Yes, Randye.

Randye: What would be a good cause to feel, to make someone feel ashamed? In both translations, it says with without cause.

Ken: Oh! Yes. It says…well, it says causing remorse in others when remorse is not appropriate. That doesn’t say anything about “without cause.”

Randye: Guenther says, to make others feel ashamed without cause.

Ken: Yeah. And that’s more when it’s not appropriate to do so. It’s a misleading translation there. I mean, shame is powerful, and it is also useful. It’s what actually allows society to function. You don’t want to do certain things. You will act in conformity with the rules of society; and when you don’t, then you feel shame about that. That’s very different from that point of view, a sense of shame is a self-correcting mechanism in us.

Student: It’s called regret.

Ken: Well, yes, it comes out as regret. But regret…there’s a shame component. Shame is regarded in Buddhism—not the toxic shame where it’s an identity and things like that—as an emotion which moves you in a virtuous direction.

But what I’m talking about is when somebody does something which is unusual, good, and people think, “Oh, well, that was a stupid thing to do.” And then they will feel shame about that and they will regret their virtue. That, participating in that process or in that, would be a violation of this precept. Yeah.

Randye: Shaming is also a very good—not good-positive, good-effective—way to control other people.

Ken: Oh, yes. There’s a lot of that. Yes. Cara?

Cara: I was actually flying, you know, over the weekend. And on one of the flights that I took, we were about to land. And the flight attendant got on the intercom. And I guess we were on the honor system for seatbacks and tray tables. And she actually said over the intercom, If someone around you isn’t doing it, and you ask them to, you can call us, and we’ll come over and humiliate them into compliance. And I wanted to put my tray table down, and my seat back and ding the button for myself, and dare this woman to try to humiliate me. I’m not a trouble maker! [Laughter]

Ken: So we noticed. Okay.

Cara: But I think that the audacity of that is terrible. That our society is moving in that direction, where it’s just so out in the open. Sorry. That was my funny story.

Ken: Okay.

Julia: Quick question.

Ken: Please. Joe… [hands her the microphone].

Julia: Would an example of shaming be when somebody says, “Oh somebody asked me for some money, and I gave it to them,” and you say, “Oh, you twit, they’re taking you for a ride.” That kind of thing?

Ken: Absolutely.

Julia: That’s it? Okay.

Ken: Yeah. That’s a perfect example.

Cara: On a more like reality-based level, I think that shame is a means of control in something like in a fiercely co-dependent relationship. That shame is always a big—

Ken: Well, the whole co-dependent thing is based on shame.

Cara: Absolutely.

Ken: And addiction is based on…some theories of addiction is that it’s based on shame.

Cara: Totally.

Ken: Yeah. Okay.

Number three: this one is denigrating a bodhisattva. Now what this means is that someone who’s given rise to this attitude, or formed this intention. By denigrating them, you’re denigrating the whole notion of what you, yourself are trying to cultivate. So again, this is undermining oneself.

You notice that all of these are problematic, not for the effect that they have on others, but primarily for the effect that they have on you. And this is very, very important in Buddhist morality.

Because working with the idea of karma as an evolutionary process, you’re setting in motion processes of evolution in you. You’ve really got to look at what are the effects of acting in this way. What am I setting into motion in me? And one can say, “Oh, this is a very self-serving way.” It’s also a very accurate way. And you’re really paying attention to the only world that you actually can know, which is the world of your own experience.

Sometimes, by some fluke, something that we do—you know, inappropriately—for somebody else, may have a very good effect—on them. But it still has a very bad effect on us. Because it’s a reactive process that we’re nurturing. We are nurturing a reactive process in us, not an awakening process.

And then the last one is: behaving deceitfully toward sentient beings. And again, we deceive others usually—I think probably always, but I’ll say “usually” just to be safe—because we don’t want to deal with what’s actually going on. We’re trying to take a short cut. And so, it’s a shutting down of awareness, right there. We know what’s really going on; we just don’t want to relate to it. So there’s an ignoring. One of my friends, his definition of evil is deliberate ignoring. And it’s a very effective definition. Whenever you deliberately ignore something, you’re engaging evil.

So,the opposites of these, of course, are the white dharmas.

Saying what is true, particularly with our spiritual teachers. Encouraging and establishing people in virtuous activity. Praising or extolling the good qualities of people who have developed or formed this attitude. And that, in a certain sense, that’s another version of rejoicing, you know, celebrating. And taking as one’s basic approach to life the intention to be helpful to others.

Now, the last thing I want to touch on this evening is, if you look at these five things. If you go back to the paragraph at the beginning of the chapter in Konchog Gyaltsen’s, page 173. I said this is a method of training. Look at the training principles that are described. This is the paragraph that begins, The first one is the method for not losing bodhichitta. The second one is the method by which bodhichitta does not weaken. So let’s just drop bodhichitta. One is, “What are the principles in training?” One, how do you stay on the training, and don’t fall off it? Second, how do you not undermine the training? Third is, how do you strengthen the training? Fourth is, how do you deepen the training? Fifth is, how do you have it stay with you all the time?

Now, those are very good training principles. It doesn’t matter whether you’re training bodhichitta or, you know, training basketball. If you really want to develop a capacity in you, those five principles will be very good. And you can apply them to any discipline. This is what I mean about really taking in Buddhist thinking. Because the way that a lot of this stuff has been formulated and thought through over the years embodies ways of approaching aspects of our life—even if they aren’t explicitly spiritual—but ways which have sound and proven reliability of being effective. So, maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but I’ve just found those kinds of things very effective.

Okay. So that concludes that chapter. Wheee. We did a whole chapter, rather than spending like—

Student: It’s the shortest chapter in the book.

Ken: It is the shortest chapter in the book, yes.

Your meditation practice: I’m going to stick you with the four black dharmas. Okay. What I want you to do is, this is an exercise we’ve done with respect to other things. But I want you to go through the four—this is page 177 in Konchog Gyaltsen’s—these four explanations. The first: unwholesome deep deceiving spiritual master, abbot or one worthy of offerings. So deceiving a spiritual teacher. Okay. I want you to imagine doing that. What happens in you? What happens in your body? What are the emotions? What process does it initiate in you? That’s what I want you to reflect on.

Student: [Inaudible]

Ken: Imagine deceiving your spiritual teacher. Telling them about some great experience which you didn’t actually have. That’s what a lot of people do—or try to get away with it sometimes. Seriously. Or being dishonest with them in some other way. Okay. And just feel what happens in you, there, in your body. What emotions come up? What process does it start happening in you?

Student: Like being hooked up to a lie detector.

Ken: Okay. Like being hooked up to a lie-detector.

Second one: what happens in you when you cause someone to regret something good that they did? How do you feel? Now in some of the situations that you’ve been describing, righteousness will be something you feel. I want you to explore the feeling of righteousness. It’s quite interesting, but I won’t say anything more about it. We’ll take that up next time.

Third one: when you criticize or denigrate someone who’s making an effort to wake up, or making an effort to cultivate awakening mind, what effect does that have in you? Molly?

Molly: We’re talking about people who are making efforts to wake up through this practice, not through other practices?

Ken: No, through any practice.

Molly: Through any practice.

Ken: They are intending to wake up. And you criticize or denigrate them. What effect does that have in you? What does it set in motion?

Molly: Okay.

Ken: Okay. Maybe I’m too eclectic here but, you know, whether Zen or Theravadan or Christianity or Islam…I mean, I’ve had very good fortune even though I haven’t really sought it. I’ve run into contemplatives in various traditions. And they may have a very different framework. But the real contemplatives in any tradition are struggling in their own way with exactly the same things that we are. Which is, how actually to be present.

I was listening to a panel on religion in the modern world a couple of weeks ago. And one of the panelists had been responsible for convening a group of people from different faiths to decide on certain ethical principles. I think it was in medicine; I can’t remember. And he found that as long as they were discussing ethical principles, it was just a mess. Because the Jewish people would be arguing this, and the Christians would be arguing this, and the Muslims would be arguing this, and the Buddhists would be arguing that, and the Hindus would be arguing—and it just went nowhere.

So they just scratched all of that, and they said, in this situation—and they would give a scenario—what would you do? What would you advise? What outcome would you look for? And they found that these people actually agreed very much on what the outcome should be, but they all had a very, very different way of getting to it, in terms of their faith, and their belief, and their ethical codes, and things like that.

So some would say, ’Well, because of X, Y and Z, this is what we do.“ And another person would say, ’Well, we do the same thing, but it would be because of A, B and C.” And this is what I’m pointing at here. Look at the substance of what’s going on, not at the form. Joe.

Joe: Whenever I get a little bit closed off and sectarian, I came up with a question to ask myself that releases that. And the question is, “Need a Buddha know anything about Buddhism?”

Ken: [Laughing] Yeah, you remind me, there’s a Buddhist teacher that I know here in L.A. And she and I went for a walk. She was describing how she was trying to decide which of two guys to date. And one was a dharma practitioner, but she didn’t get along with him so well. The other was not a dharma practitioner. And I said, “Well, that’s a no-brainer.” But she got along with him quite well. She said, “Well, shouldn’t I be dating a Buddhist?” I said, “Only if you feel that Buddhism has a monopoly on truth.” She went, “Huh?”

Okay, fourth one: What happens in you when you cheat or deceive anybody? And you can put in “exploit” in there…“take advantage of.” The reason this is regarded as one of the ways of separating yourself from awakening mind is that, whenever we exploit, take advantage, deceive, etc., we are negating our intention to help others. Regardless of the effect on them, we’re negating our intention. So that’s what I want you to work with, is what actually happens in you when you do any of these.

Now, do bear in mind…this is the last point for this evening. I said earlier that one way we approach morality in Buddhism, is we do these things. We take up these ethical codes because, when we act this way, there is less turbulence, less disturbance in our mind. And because there is less disturbance in our mind, then our mind is quieter. Because it is quieter, it’s clearer. Because it is clearer, we see things more clearly, and we can act appropriately. So it’s actually a virtuous cycle.

The other aspect is, these are descriptions of awakened behavior. And in general, Buddhist morality is far more descriptive than prescriptive. That’s why I don’t like the word precept to translate these things because that’s something you’re meant to do. It should be a descript instead of a precept.

A person who is awake, doesn’t cheat other people, period. That’s just how it is. So acting this way is a way of fostering that process…or fostering that way of approaching the world in us. So it’s another benefit from it.

Okay. Is this clear to everybody? Okay. So this is how we nurture our intention to wake up in order to helps others.

Now starting in Chapter 11, we’ll go straight into generosity there. What we now get into are the six perfections. This is how do we actually do it. And this is how do we live our life and how do we [live] as an expression of this awakening mind. And we go through the six perfections of generosity, morality, patience, effort, meditative stability, and pristine awareness.

So that’s what we’ll be doing over the next…we’ll probably spend about a week on each one. I don’t think that we’ll need to spend much more. And we’re actually going to wrap this whole thing up in—

Student: [Inaudible]

Ken: Yeah. There’s certainly…the bodhicitta chapter is a very major one. There’s some very thorny material, technical material, in the five paths and the ten stages, and then buddhahood. So…yeah so probably two, two and a half months. So, very good shape.