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.
Meditative stability, pt. 1 Download
Meditative stability; participants’ experience with meditation on enthusiasm and lack of enthusiasm in everyday life; stability vs. concentration; results of agitated mind; clairvoyance as a mistranslation of what can happen with a stable mind; stable attention gives rise to compassion; natural virtue of resting mind; stopping distraction; primary characteristics, genesis and faults of fragmentation of attention and solitude; evaluating what brings meaning, value and peace to us; clear intention leads to stable attention; meditation assignment for upcoming week on comparing experience in actions with clear and unclear intention. The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 16.
Today is Tuesday, May 27th (I won’t risk the year); this is class 32 in the Then and Now series.
Tonight we will be talking about meditative stability, but first we are going to look at the exercise I gave you, or the exploration I gave you last week, based on our discussion of the perfection of working hard. I’ve really got to come up with another word for that. Strenuousness, diligence, perseverance, effort—none of them is right. Anyway, what I wanted you to do is to compare your experience, when you are working hard at something, but there isn’t enthusiasm, and what’s that like in the body, stories, emotions, etc. And when you work hard at something, and there is enthusiasm. So, who would like to offer their experience here? Elena? Susan?
Susan: When there is enthusiasm, there’s a sense of timelessness and being in the flow, as they call it. And, yeah like that. And then when there’s no enthusiasm, well when there was, one thing in particular I was investigating, when I was experiencing a lot of resistance and distraction, I realized that there was something about myself, a story about myself that I didn’t want to experience. I was trying to get away from it.
Ken: Okay. Does anybody know what that clicking sound is? [Discussion about the clicking sound. Problem resolved.] Anybody else? No? No? Joe?
Joe: I found that when I did things with enthusiasm, they were more pleasurable and successful. But I had this experience, I found that, enthusiasm, when and if it came, always seemed to be more of a result than…
Ken: Something that you could make happen.
Ken: What was it a result of, as far as you can tell.
Joe: Well, it was a result of something far more work-a-day. That I could only describe as doggedness. And enthusiasm, when it came, seemed to have some of the elements of elation. Something over and above, something added to. It was pleasurable. But I couldn’t find it as a motive force. I couldn’t find it as something to move from, but I found it as a result.
Ken: Yes. It isn’t a motivation in that sense. I would suggest that it is the result of alignment with an intention. How would that fit for you?
Joe: Do you mean being in alignment with an intention?
Ken: Yes. For instance, what Susan said. And I think that this is an important point. We can take quite ordinary tasks, or things that we do. And, we can do them with a fullness of heart or enthusiasm, which usually indicates that there’s little resistance to them. Certain joy in doing them, which we capture in enthusiasm, of course.
When we aren’t able to generate that enthusiasm—I won’t say all the time, I’m not sure whether it’s all the time, but I would say frequently, either the task or activity—there’s an association with something we don’t want to experience, or it actually elicits in us something we don’t want to experience. And so we spend our effort trying to do the task, without experiencing whatever that is. And now, that extra effort makes it very difficult just to pour energy into the task. Do you want to expand on that Susan?
Susan: No, I was just agreeing with you. But, let’s see, you mean do you want me to go…
Ken: Do you have anything to add on that?
Susan: Oh, no. You said it well.
Ken: How does that seem to you Joe?
Joe: It feels like something to look at. I am wondering about that moment at which say, I do approach something with doggedness. I don’t want to sit down and meditate, but I do.
Ken: Yeah, and then as you do the meditation, as you practice meditation, what happens?
Joe: With respect to this subject, sometimes enthusiasm arises.
Ken: Exactly, yeah, and it’s not just meditation, there are a lot of things like that. It’s the shifting of gears which we find difficult, and then once we get into the activity, something else starts to takes over.
Joe: That has been my experience.
Ken: Okay. But the general thing is that when we are doing something, when there is enthusiasm, or maybe there is a better term; we should look at this. When there is engagement, then, as Susan was talking about, there’s a certain flow, with the fullness of energy in it. And when there isn’t, when our energy isn’t going into it that way, then there isn’t a full engagement, and what we are experiencing is resistance, which is basically avoidance of something associated with that activity. Would you agree?
Joe: Engagement seems much more to the point than enthusiasm. It seems like, I see locking gears, you know, as if working towards something.
Ken: Okay, yeah. Julia.
Julia: I didn’t do this homework, but it resonates with something that’s happened for me recently, and that is, things that I resisted, when I had to do them within a compressed time frame, become much more pleasurable, or I can get much more engaged with them when I have more time to do them. For instance, going to the supermarket, or doing the washing up, something, when you are working sixty hours a week, is something that gets in the way. It’s something—there’s an imbalance there. You know, you have to do it in three minutes, because then you have to go and do this, and you have to go and do this. And meditation can become like that also; when you’re very busy in life, and when there’s more room to somehow, move into the activity, I think with an attitude that you have time and space to engage with it, something shifts.
Ken: I think I understand what you are referring to; I’m wondering if it’s time that is the critical factor, or if it’s something else.
And I’m going to suggest that it has more to do with where your attention is. As you say, when you are working sixty hours a week, your attention is in your work. And so washing dishes is peripheral to where your attention is. And now it feels like it’s something you can’t really get into. But when you are not working sixty hours a week, then there’s no barrier to just placing your attention in the activity of washing dishes, or going to the supermarket, as you said. So I am wondering if that might be a different way of looking at it.
Julia: It might be, but I think there is also just the question of, I would say balance, that is, just to have some time, that isn’t obligated time, in a sense.
Ken: Yeah, okay.
Julia: And when you have a lot of obligated time as it is, doing other things that also represent obligations of time—do you see what I am saying?
Ken: Yes, I do.
Julia: So I think that’s there too, in a sense of just having some breathing room.
Ken: Which speaks powerfully to the need to have balance in one’s life.
Ken: Yeah. Susan?
Susan: I don’t know if I am on the wrong track here. But, just to play devil’s advocate, where would equanimity come into what she was talking about? Because it seems like there’s preference and prejudice for different types of activity. One’s more pleasurable than another; one’s more productive of one’s time?
Ken: Well, I think that’s where Julia’s sense of obligation comes in. Ideally, you regard every action in the same way. Which I think is what you’re referring to. It’s another of those instances where practice is different from theory.
In theory, you know, you can work very hard, then meditate; and work very hard and then meditate. But we all know that doesn’t work. Because working, particularly with intellectual activity, and then switching straight into meditation, it doesn’t operate that way. You can’t just make those transitions like that. And again, in theory you should just say, “I’m doing this activity,” then just let it go. But, mind isn’t a machine that switches on and off like that. And if you want to engage meditation practice—and we will be talking about that tonight fully—then time for that transition needs to take place. And if all your time is obligated, then another way of looking at this is that you don’t have any time to make any transitions. So I don’t think it’s simply a matter of preference, if you see what I mean.
Okay, do you have anything to add on that, Julia?
Julia: Well, I think what Susan picked up on, was like I would rather be working than washing the dishes, but that wasn’t really my point. My point was, that the job that I used to do, took sixty hours a week, and that was already committed time. And so anything else in the rest of my time, that also represented an obligation, became joyless, because there simply wasn’t enough time in the week for me to both have breathing space and do these other things in an uncompressed way. So, it was simply a matter of arithmetic.
Ken: Yes, but that again brings us back to the point of balance. The job didn’t allow you to live a balanced life, or you didn’t find a way to live with that imbalance.
Julia: Yes, absolutely. Right.
Ken: Okay, Randye, then Lynea.
Randye: I noticed that on tasks that I do daily, there is a noticeable difference from day-to-day. And going into it, whatever my emotional state is seems to have a strong influence. But if at that point I can bring attention, I use the word attention, and that’s what I experience. If I bring attention to what I am doing, it’s almost as if the enthusiasm is the reward, rather than—it’s a reinforcer, because it allows me to drop all the stories and drop the moods and the grouchiness, or whatever it happens to be, and pay attention to what I am doing. And when I do that, it feels good, and the enthusiasm is that feel-good.
Ken: And that’s very true whatever the task or activity, whether it’s meditation or whether we are just working at something. When we just do it in attention, as you say, it usually feels good, and there’s an energy that starts to flow. When we don’t allow ourselves to bring full attention to it, then it becomes onerous and problematic.
Randye: I wondered about a feedback loop, between putting attention in and getting enthusiasm out, which then allows one to put more attention in.
Ken: I think you touched on the crucial point, is, that you drop stories about it. Your drop all the associations, and now it just becomes the activity, and not about dealing with all the history, or whatever, and projections, and so forth. Lynea, you had a comment?
Lynea: I think that, or my sense is that there is a difference between intention and a value. And when you mentioned, having a clarity of intention, that that can certainly help generate enthusiasm, and I found that to be true, but I think I’m finding that recognizing value, which doesn’t sound the same to me as intention, makes those shifts easier. So I might put attention into something and keep doing it, and there still is no enthusiasm, but that’s because my comprehension of the value of it hasn’t clicked yet.
Ken: Yeah. Here we get into some interesting territory, because our assignment of value to an activity depends on a lot of different factors. So something may be extremely valuable to us, but we don’t put value in it because of some internal issues. That entrains a whole other series of considerations.
Okay, let’s turn to meditation. I doubt that we are going to get through this whole chapter this evening. I was reviewing it; there is a fair amount of material in here. In Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation, it’s page 218, and in Guenther’s, page 187. And again, we need to read this carefully; there are the usual translation problems, but there’s some subtler stuff that is good to bring attention to.
The first is, both translators chose to use the word concentration. And that is the word that has been used in Theravada circles to refer to, or to translate the Pali equivalent. Pali is jhana; in Sanskrit it is dhyana. The Tibetan is samten. The word dhyana is the origin of the word Zen. I am not sure what it became in China, but—Ch’an, of course, yes—which was the Chinese character, which was meant to be the pronunciation of dhyana, but everyone ended up calling it Ch’an. So that the Ch’an school or Zen school is based on the idea that you actually generated meditative stability instead of just talking about things, or doing ritual, etc., etc. So it is a practice tradition.
And another important point is that the fundamental texts in Zen are the same as the fundamental texts in the Theravada. That is the Anapanasati Sutra and the Satipatthana Sutra, which are the Full Awareness of Breathing and Four Foundations of Mindfulness sutras. They are the basis of practice in both those traditions. So it’s not too surprising.
I do not like the word concentration; I always associate concentration with oranges—it’s what you do to oranges to make juice! Because you have this idea of squeezing; or concentrating something means to make it smaller or more dense, or whatever. And I suppose people would argue, well, that’s what you are doing with attention, you’re concentrating attention. But there’s an application of force in that word, which I think is quite problematic. Because as you will see later, the essence of meditation is relaxation and rest, not force. So I come from the Tibetan, not being very well versed in Sanskrit, and so forth. Sam (pron. bsam) is the word for thought; ten (pron. gtan) is the word for stable. So one could translate this quite happily as stable mind. So this is the Perfection of the Stability of Mind. And I will often translate it as meditative stability, not meditative concentration. Because I think that the focus here is on stability.
Now, so that’s one point that I want you to note. Then, I am going to work from Guenther, mainly, because I am just more familiar with it. In the first paragraph in both translations, there’s a very clear—this comes from Gampopa—a very clear association, or connection made, between a scattered or agitated mind and the arising of emotional reactions, and your susceptibility to them. When the mind is agitated—in other words, you can say it is fragmented—it has no power. So it is susceptible, or emotional reactions can arise easily in that, because there isn’t any attention operating. Attention is scattered and fragmented. So that’s why, if you don’t have a certain stability, then you are susceptible to that.
A man whose mind is upset
Lives in [between] the jaws of conflicting emotions. [Guenther, page 187]
Just where you want to be.
Then the next term that I want to direct your attention to is supersensible cognition [Guenther, page 187], and clairvoyance [Gyaltsen, page 219]. We associate these terms with extrasensory perception on which there have been quite a few experiments done. Not terribly convincing results, from a scientific point of view. The Tibetan is munshe. She is the word for to know. Mun, in this context, could be translated as real or higher. So higher knowing.
Now, one might want to translate this then, as possibly intuition. But I don’t think one—I think all of you have done enough practice to know, that when your mind is quiet, it’s possible to know things that you are not able to know when your mind is agitated. When your mind gets very quiet, knowing arises, and it doesn’t depend on conceptual or intellectual processes. That’s what’s being referred to here. And there are often magical projections onto this. But when your mind is quiet, then you—and you are in presence of someone else—you know what’s going on in them more clearly, even though you aren’t depending on intellectual, conceptual, or rational processes. And the quieter your mind, the more clarity, and the more clarity and quiet there is, the deeper the perceptiveness. So I think, what I see actually as quite a natural form of knowing arising is regarded as a supernatural or extrasensory, or something like that. Joe, you seem to be wincing.
Joe: Yes, I read it; this stopped me cold—these words, clairvoyance and…
Ken: Sure, because it makes it all put in the realm of magic.
Joe: So as somebody I have read has suggested it means that we know what other people are thinking. The suggestion there is erroneous—that we know conceptually what other people, their mindstream, in terms of their conceptual thoughts.
Ken: See, I think this is, I think this is a misreading. Now, there are lots of stories of Buddha, apparently being able to read other people’s minds. Kalu Rinpoche’s retreat teacher, his root guru Lama Norbu, would tell everybody what they were dreaming. You know, in the morning: “That was an interesting dream you were having last night, Joe!”
Now, from my point of view, there is nothing unnatural about that ability. If you look at it in terms of being very…coming from a very, very clear and quiet mind. Because, then you know your own experience intimately, and the more intimately you know your own experience, the more clearly you perceive other people’s impact on you. Do you follow?
And knowing that impact tells you where they are coming from. Do you follow?
Ken: So I don’t think it necessarily involves knowing what’s happening in another person in the way that you are describing, conceptually, or whatever. It’s that clarity of knowing one’s own experience that deeply and that intimately. Now that may be erroneous, but that’s how I look at it. And I like to look at it that way, because it fits completely with what you are doing when you are cultivating meditative stability. That will be the natural result. And all of you know people who when practicing meditative stability, are able to read people, and know what’s going on in people very, very well. And I think it’s primarily because they have a clear, quiet mind. Julia.
Julia: Does this resonate with you—the other aspect is, that when your mind is quiet, other people move into their own experience more clearly when they are in your presence.
Ken: That’s true, and thus their impact on you is going to be stronger…
Ken: …and more discernible, and so, yeah, that’s another way of looking at it. Randye, did you have…? (Right here, by Chuck.) Of course, the neurologist will want to jump in and say this all has to do with mirror neurons, and so forth.
Randye: I won’t say that.
Ken: I was just anticipating you.
Randye: But two comments. One is about Paul Ekman, and your saying about the still mind. I’m thinking that in a still mind, one is more sensitive to what’s going on around you. He reads minds. But he’s doing it by reading faces. He’s very attuned to micro-emotions, and if the mind quiets down, that may allow that quote intuitive knowing to come up.
Ken: Good point.
Randye: And the other is that the concept—and this what I think I misinterpreted—reading supersensible cognition [as] metacognitive awareness, where one is more aware of being aware. One is aware of the thoughts as just thoughts. But that doesn’t seem to be what you’re describing.
Ken: No, that has more to do with insight and perfection of wisdom. That’ll be the next chapter.
Randye: Okay, I read this too literally then.
Ken: Yeah. At least that’s how I would understand that. Okay.
Now, why is it important to have that kind of higher knowing? Because then you can actually help people. Otherwise all you are dealing with is your own projections and ideas about them, but when you actually know, or are able to perceive, through being intimately aware about your own experience, what’s going on with them, then one’s responses are that much deeper and more precise, and so, more helpful to them. So that’s why it’s very important in terms of truly helping beings. And in a sense, one can say it very simply: as your mind grows quieter and clearer, you are able to read more and more between the lines. You all have some ability to read between the lines and that can be cultivated. You follow? Okay.
Enlightenment is not attained unless you practice. It’s because of discriminating awareness born from wisdom. [Guenther, page 187] Yay, such a lovely phrase!
It’s not that that kind of awareness doesn’t arise—because it’s always there—it’s too fragmented or too momentary to be of any use, or to rely on it. So meditative stability, or stability of mind, which is what we’re talking about here, or stability of attention, allows one to rest in. And so that pristine awareness, or whatever you want to call it, can actually function in one’s life, because one isn’t immediately distracted in the next moment. That’s another reason why it’s important.
Okay, so, I think that takes care [of that section]. Compassion is also completely—this is on page 188 in Guenther—compassion is also a completely natural consequence of meditative stability, because we, by having a quiet mind, we actually experience the process of suffering in ourselves, and the more deeply we experience that in ourselves, the more we recognize and see it in others. And because we know the process of suffering, that naturally elicits compassion in us.
So, moving into section two:
The essence of meditative stability (I refuse to use the word concentration) is tranquility by which mind abides within itself by the oneness of the good and wholesome. [Guenther, page 188]
Such turgid translations. Konchog Gyaltsen offers:
…the nature of calm abiding, the mind abides inside one-pointedly on virtue. [Gyaltsen, page 220]
Well, let’s translate this into just straight experience. They are trying to make it very precise, but in making it very precise, they make it very obscure.
What happens when you become quiet inside? What happens to you? When you’re awake and you’re quiet. Anybody?
Student: You are not subject to afflictive emotions.
Ken: That’s true.
Student: So you don’t act them out on the rest of the world.
Ken: And that’s a very important point. Afflictive emotions, or emotional reactions, (a) don’t arise, and even if they do arise, if you are actually quiet, they just come and they go, and nothing happens with them.
So that’s the essential point here. There is a resting quality, and it is a naturally virtuous state, because there’s nothing for reactive processes to take hold of. That’s why it says, the mind abides one-pointedly on virtue. It isn’t that it is thinking of virtue, it would be better to say the mind abides one-pointedly in virtue.
Now, let’s talk about this one-pointedly. I don’t know what the Sanskrit term is, the Tibetan is tse chi(k) (pron. rste gcig), and it literally means one point. But we associate that with like, the point of a needle or the point of a pin. Very, very sharp, very small. I think it would be better to approach this as single-minded. That’s just—that’s all that’s happening. It’s not that the mind has come down to a point; it’s just doing one thing. And you all know the power of the mind when it’s just doing one thing. It becomes very, very powerful, because all the resources, all the attention is there. So, I prefer to think of one-pointedness, not as a sharp thing, it’s just—that’s all you’re doing. And so, what I think this phrase, the mind abides one-pointedly on virtue really means is that the mind is resting. Just in resting, it is naturally virtuous, in the way I explained it a few moments ago. And it’s not doing anything else.
Now, here we’re talking about the mind as if it’s something apart from us, which is always a bit strange. It’s something we do in Buddhism a lot, but most people in this culture don’t regard their mind as something apart from them. So, to translate this even further, I would say the essence of meditative stability is that you are doing one thing with a quiet mind. You follow? Okay. Joe?
Joe: The thought arises that, is the natural mind, or is the mind in its natural state, virtuous at all? I mean in the sense that, well, why do we come out of that, and give it a name like virtue? Which again, divides the world into virtuous and non-virtuous.
Ken: Okay. Buddhism, if we go back to our discussions of buddha nature at the beginning of this whole series of classes, very unambiguously sees the nature of being human—you’re basically good. That is, when what we are ultimately—which is this clear, open knowing—can manifest freely, it doesn’t cause harm to others. It doesn’t cause harm to ourselves. And so, it is basic goodness. And, you know, there are other traditions, spiritual traditions, and many philosophical traditions that don’t see humanity as basically good. But Buddhism is pretty unambiguous about that. And there is pretty good evidence for it.
While I was on my little trip around Northern California, one person mentioned some studies that had been done in which one group was given an hour’s meditation instruction a day, and the control group wasn’t, or I think they had to practice meditation for a day, or something like that. And the incidence of negative thinking was markedly less in the group that practiced that, than the control group. You get similar results just from sitting staring at the sky. One’s openness to being helpful and responsive to the needs of others is measurably increased just by staring at the sky for half an hour a day.
So, from a Buddhist point of view, these are completely reasonable results from these experiments, because as, when you sit and stare at the sky, or you do some meditation, the mind grows quieter; it’s closer to how it is naturally, this natural awareness. And so it can manifest a bit more than it would in ordinary things. What happens is that for whatever reason—and we talked about this in the section on karma, and so forth—there are certain things that have arisen in our lives that we weren’t able to experience when they arise; we don’t want to experience them. And when anything happens which resonates with those, then a whole bunch of defensive strategies go into operation. And in particular, those defensive strategies create a sense of I and other, and then we become very defensive and organized around the sense of I. This is essentially an imbalanced way of experiencing the world, and the notion of evil and virtue comes from the context in which an I is already established, not from the context of the natural nature of mind. Does that help?
Joe: Yes. Whenever I come across that word virtue or good, I always forget to translate, and go back in that—I forget that what we actually mean is not causing harm or suffering, rather than some external and rigid and objective…
Ken: Oh, yes, that’s quite right. Keep translating. [Laughter] I have to do it all the time, so.
Okay. Now, the next thing is, how do you cultivate meditative stability. And this is the next several pages, going through distraction and agitation and solitude. There are three, as far as I can tell, three sections to this. One is Avoiding Distraction [Gyaltsen, page 222]; the second is Isolating the Mind from Discursive Thoughts. [Gyaltsen, page 223] I love this! This is technically correct, but so misleading. Then, Through the Isolation of Mind and Body, Distraction Will Not Arise. [Gyaltsen, page 224] And then addressing the various reactive processes. And I think a good deal of translation needs to be done here. So let’s start.
This word avoid, I think, is problematic. It isn’t really avoid; it is stop. And there is a difference between avoiding and stopping. Avoiding has the idea that, here’s the distraction and you can go around it. But the distraction is still there; you just don’t have to deal with it. This is a completely bad way of looking at this. Distraction is a process that takes place in us. And by bringing attention to the process we can become aware of—and this takes us back to stuff we were talking about with karma—the genesis of distraction, and the conditions of distraction, or which foster distraction. So when we move down now to the next six topics—the primary characteristics of agitation, the cause of agitation, the faults of agitation, and the primary characteristics of solitude, the cause of solitude, and the good qualities of solitude—the primary characteristic is what is it. The cause I would prefer to translate as the genesis of it. And then the faults, why is it problematic? So, we have got to translate this into just natural language. Okay.
On page 221, in Konchog Gyaltsen:
The Primary Characteristic of Agitation is to be scattered because of being in the midst of your children, spouse, retinue, and wealth.
Now, this is being phrased this way, because there’s a heavy bias here towards living in isolation and solitude. But let’s translate this into how it operates in our life.
How many of you get agitated around your family? Okay. They push your buttons all over the place, right? That’s why your mind is scattered there. Look at how people are with money. They just go berserk. So all of these things are things in our lives that generate reactive processes in us and fragment attention. Okay. Now, the problem isn’t a wife, or husband, or money, or our career; the problem is the fragmentation of attention. And because we aren’t leading monastic lives, we’re not going to go off and live quiet lives in the backwoods of America or in monasteries, and so forth, and just get away from all of that stuff, in the hope that getting away from it allows everything to quiet down—which is essentially the approach for many, many monks and hermits, and so forth. Get away from the circumstances, everything quiets down, you got a chance to actually practice. Our focus has to be on: how do we relate to our lives in a way that doesn’t fragment attention? Different emphasis, and I am really interpreting this stuff in a different way for our lives here.
And then the next paragraph is The Cause of Agitation. I want you to replace cause with genesis. The genesis of agitation, or this fragmentation, is because we have these connections—emotional connections. But it’s the nature of those connections that is the problem. They’re based on reactive processes, not on necessarily the higher emotions or other things. That is, we are attached—when it says attachment to such things as children, spouse, retinue, and so forth—we’re trying to complete ourselves through these connections. That’s what leads to the agitation. Because any time any of those, like—take our spouse for instance. For many people that connection, while it involves love, there’s also an emotional need, or living through the other person in a certain way. Or they carry things for them. And so whenever they don’t fulfill that, then all of the old pains are disturbed and become very agitated. Attention is fragmented all over the place.
The same thing with money. I think it’s actually easier to talk about it here. Because what do we put onto money. There are two basic things that we put onto money: it’s either our identity or our survival. And so when we see, in like we did several years ago, following 9/11 and the dot-com bubble bursting, our investments just nosediving, we feel our survival and our future is at stake, and kaboom! Lot’s of reactivity, attention is fragmented. If we are working, and we take a big hit in business, we get fired from our job, again we think that our survival is at stake, and very often our identity. And it is those associations, which cause attention to be fragmented. And we become very reactive, and the mind is agitated. So, and the same if you need recognition, and you don’t get recognition, then you get all churned up about that.
Now, very broadly speaking, the monastic approach to this is to live in an environment where those factors, those conditions, are reduced to the minimum, in an effort to create an environment in which one’s attention isn’t being fragmented by that. And so you gain a little quiet, and hopefully you can build something. In our case, we have to work in a somewhat different way. And that is, because we’re right in the middle of it, and we’re not withdrawing from it, we have to be clearer in our relationship with all of these things. That’s how we reduce the tendency for attention to be fragmented. So, with our spouse, it’s not a case of trying to fulfill our emotional needs through that relationship, because that’s what produces the fragmentation of attention. But really just wanting to be with that person. Which is qualitatively different. And a much clearer understanding of our relationship with money.
Jacob Needleman, oh it must have been more than ten years ago, wrote a book called Money and the Meaning of Life. And it’s a good book. He’s had a little too much wine to drink in the middle of it, but the beginning third and the last third are very, very good. And his basic thesis is that most people don’t take their relationship with money, they don’t take money seriously enough. And by that, he means, that we naively think that if we have enough money, then everything else in our life is going to be fine. So we put all our eggs in the money basket. And, of course, that makes us very vulnerable to fluctuations in our financial well-being, but also, it ignores the fact that many of the things that make life satisfying and bring peace, stability, and meaning to our lives actually don’t depend on money, and there are other ways. And that if we took money more seriously, we would look very, very carefully at [the question]: does this actually produce the result that I want? And the answer to that, frequently, is no. And yet people don’t really engage that examination, and so they think that if they have enough money, then everything would be fine. And so then they just put all their eggs in the money basket, and make themselves very vulnerable to things that are totally outside their control. And a little surprised that they are a little upset sometimes.
Making yourself dependent on things that are outside your control, which is really what the Faults of Agitation section here is about [Gyaltsen, page 221], you’re never going to create the conditions within yourself for stability of attention to arise.
And then on page 222, he talks about the solitude. Now the term here in Tibetan is énpa (pron. dben pa). And it certainly has the meaning of solitude, has the meaning of isolation. Or solitude that comes from being isolated, separate. And as you see the genesis of solitude, and again replace…well let’s go back to section four here, on page 222:
The Primary Characteristic of Solitude (as Gampopa is presenting it here) is to be free from these agitations.
Now, I’ve already described how we need to approach these things in our lives so that we’re free from agitation. Here, literally, they said, you know, What is a “monastery?” or what is a place of solitude? It’s a couple of bowshots away from the marketplace. Well, here we are in L.A. Good luck!
So, well they call it an earshot [in the text], and there’s somewhere else where it’s a bowshot. And I think if you took your arrow and however far it would fall, and two of those was basically out of [bowshot], so here it is earshot. So you want to be away from the madding crowd, basically.
In the conditions in which we live, this is completely impractical. We live in the city; there isn’t any place that is out of earshot. So, the genesis for this kind of freedom from agitation, freedom from fragmentation, is a different relationship with what is arising in our experience. And what I’ve suggested is that we aren’t looking for our emotional needs to be met in our relationships with others, in our intimate relationships. We’re not looking at money and career as—I mean, we need money in order to survive—but we aren’t looking at it in terms of our identity and that placing, as I said before, everything in that money basket, that’s going to take care of everything that we need. Being much clearer about what is important, truly important in our lives. What brings meaning, value, and peace to us. And that is rarely, maybe for some people, but for the most part, that actually isn’t money or expensive things or what have you. It’s the quality of relationships. And when we have relationships that are very good quality, they don’t cause agitation, they don’t cause fragmenting of attention. It’s the relationships which are more problematic that cause that. So we have to become clearer and clearer. That to me is how we have to approach the material that’s being described here.
And then the next section: an excellent offering to [all] the Buddhas, one will renounce samsara, will be free from the eight worldly concerns, meditative stability will arise. [Gyaltsen, page 222] I think that all follows very naturally from what I’ve been saying. When we talk about it is an excellent offering to the Buddhas, this isn’t something we are doing for the buddhas for the past, present, and future. That’s a projection of buddha as something outside us. Buddha is the awake quality of our own mind. So when we make an effort to clarify our relationships, with everything that we experience, to create the conditions to develop meditative stability, we are creating the conditions for that awake quality of our experience to actually manifest. So in that sense, it’s an offering to the buddhas. It’s an offering to the Buddha that we are. And actually nurturing and nourishing that, we become free from the eight worldly concerns. This is formal language for what I was just talking about. We’ve touched on this before. The eight worldly concerns are happiness and unhappiness, gain and loss, fame and obscurity, respect and disdain. When those become the aims of our lives and things we try to avoid, we have handed over our life to things that are outside our control. And from a Buddhist point of view, that’s not a real good thing to do.
Okay. Then, B. Isolating the Mind from Discursive Thoughts. [Gyaltsen, page 223] Well, I think the first suggestion here is really important. [While staying in the monastery, contemplate why you went there.]
What is your intention? Why are you doing this? The more clearly we understand our intention, the less fragmented our attention will be.
So, again, this idea of isolating the mind from discursive thoughts has this picture of the discursive thoughts are over there and we are going to isolate the mind from them. And I just think that the image is wrong. Contrast that with: when you are really clear about your intention, how distracted are you? You’re not distracted. And it’s in that sense that you are isolating mind from discursive thoughts. You are creating the conditions actually in which they don’t arise. Which is very different from walling them off. Lynea. (You have a mike for her? You should get that fourth mike out just for yourself._
Lynea: [Laughs] When you say that when we are clear about our intention, we’re free from distractions—we’re not distracted. Can you clarify if you mean that distraction—how do I put this. It’s one thing to not be distracted and have clarity, but that doesn’t necessarily mean comfort. Does it?
Ken: You’d better give me an example.
Lynea: If I’m clear that I have to act in a particular situation, and I know what the action is, I know that I am clear about it, and I know what my intention is, and I know that I am going to go do this or engage in this situation. And there is a lot of emotion or difficulty in that. And in that process I’m going to have to experience that. That doesn’t necessarily mean that, if I am clear about my intention, or not distracted, I am not quite sure what that means, that I am pain-free. Or suffering-free.
Ken: I would suggest that it means that you will be suffering-free; you may not be pain-free. Because pain and suffering are not the same thing. Suffering is the reaction to sensations.
So, let’s take a situation. You are a manager in a business (this is something I was being consulted about recently, that’s why it comes to mind); a person that you hired is clearly not working out. And not only are they not working out, it’s become clear, for whatever reason, they don’t have the capability to work out. So you have got to terminate them. And so that’s a painful situation. As long as you are trying to avoid that situation, your attention is going to be fragmented.
When you see the situation for what it is—it’s not good for him, it’s not good for the company, it’s not good for you, the whole thing—and then you realize, okay, this has to be done. When you see the situation as it actually is, my experience is that mind and body both relax. And now attention is no longer fragmented. Will there be pain in this situation? Absolutely, very definitely. That’s not going to be a fun conversation. You are going to experience the pain of disappointing this person, as they express that, whatever their response to it is. There will be pain in that; you know that you are creating difficulties for somebody in their life, maybe. You’re presenting them with a situation where they thought they were doing fine, but that’s not the case, and so forth, there’s a lot of pain in that. That’s unavoidable. What creates the suffering is if you try to avoid all of that pain. But when you really see the situation as it is, mind and body relax. You do what is necessary, with unfragmented attention, and experience what is there, because you are clear about your intention. There isn’t an intention to do harm or hurt the person. It’s addressing the situation, and doing what you can for everybody that’s involved. Because to do anything else is probably going to be even more problematic further down the line.
Now that’s just one example, but one can think of similar situations in family life, where a child—you need to talk to a child and disillusion the child that life is going to be a certain way. That is painful for parents, but the unwillingness of some parents to experience that pain creates the conditions in which the child actually never learns what they need to learn, and creates far more problems for both the child and the parent further and further down the line.
And then there are other situations where you can be with a friend, and our friend does something which really offends us. Maybe it isn’t to us personally, maybe it’s something that they say. And we realize that if we want to continue this friendship, we actually have to take this up, with a friend. That can be painful. But when we are very clear about the situation and clear about our intention, that we aren’t doing this to hurt our friend, we are actually doing it to salvage the relationship. So it’s coming out of our affection and our appreciation of our friend, not out of our anger at them. Then we can engage these situations without the reactive emotions because we are clear about our intention. So does that clarify things?
Lynea: Yes, it does; thank you.
Randye: Another situation, in which there can be a clarity of attention and no distraction and an absence of discursive thinking is something that I see around every day and disturbs me a lot because I think it’s quite unhealthy. What if the intention is unwholesome, and I am thinking actually of things like television and video games—an intention to escape from one’s self. You watch somebody watching television and they are very focused. There’s no distraction there.
Ken: I would differ. I would say, it is distraction.
Randye: But it’s a single-mindedness, I guess, maybe that’s…
Ken: Yes, it is a single-mindedness, and it’s a single-mindedness of not engaging other things.
Randye: Right. That’s what I mean about unwholesome intention. Of an avoidance or an escape intention, as opposed to an intention to engage.
Ken: Yes, and it is very much about avoidance, in terms of reactive emotions. It is ignoring. It’s the animal realm. And it creates suffering. Definitely. Lynea, Chuck?
Lynea: I just wonder about that. Because I feel that, for instance, a form of entertainment—I hear this, and it goes to a place of music and dancing are distractions and forms of escape.
Ken: No, I don’t think that Randye was going there. It’s one thing to sit down and watch a television show that you enjoy, or go to the theatre or something like that. It’s another thing, though, to sit down in front of the television and watch whatever’s on, because you don’t want to face your life.
Student: Zoning out.
Ken: Two very different situations, I would say.
All right. It’s about 9:30 already and we’re about halfway through the chapter; as you can see this is a fairly meaty chapter, and requires some translation and interpretation. What I’d like you to do over the next week is just what we’ve talked about this evening. I’m not sure how to put this in the form of a succinct exercise. Well, let’s do it this way. I want you to compare your experience when you are clear about your intention versus when you aren’t clear about your intention.
It doesn’t have to be just meditation; it can be anything. When you know why you are doing something, what is your experience at doing that thing, versus, when you aren’t sure why you are doing something, what is your experience of doing that activity. Okay? And it’s pretty obvious in one way, but I want you to bring attention to it, because in the lives that we lead here in Los Angeles, in an urban environment, getting away from distractions is just not practical. You know, physically removing ourselves. Or setting up our life so it doesn’t happen. We have to work more internally, and the way that I’ve come to see that is fruitful in this environment is to be really clear about intention. So I want you to explore that experience and let me know how it is. Okay?