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.
Perfection of Wisdom Download
Perfection of wisdom; participants’ experience with meditation on the difference between doing routine, simple activities as usual and doing them when one has dropped into the clear resting mind; importance of means and wisdom; perfection of wisdom is knowing precisely what you are experiencing or know directly that all experience arises from no thing; translation points, change “realize” to “know directly” and “phenomena” to “experience”; entering into the mystery of “what am I? what is this experience I call life? what is time?”; approaching experience as just experience; practice instructions; meditation assignment: ewhen and how do I experience time in daily activities and meditation? The Jewel Ornament of Liberation by Gampopa, commentary on Chapter 17.
Lesson 34, I’ve been numbering them wrong recently. This is the thirty-fourth class in the Then and Now series, and tonight we are doing the Perfection of Wisdom. [Chapter 17, Gyaltsen and Guenther] Your homework, I recall, was dropping into a clear state when you did something. Right? How was this for you? So what was your experience? Cara, why don’t you start.
Cara: I find that this practice goes really well with the baking. So there is definitely a difference in the product that I come up with when I am baking with a very scattered mind with the focus on the end result than when I’m baking with a much clearer mind and just going from one moment, one task to the next.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Okay, what’s the difference in your experience?
Cara: It is significantly less stressful. I just find it to be much more enriching, and then ultimately the product does end up being better.
Ken: Okay, anybody else?
Student: I noticed it most in like yoga when you are doing a balancing position; if you start looking at what other people are doing or mind wandering, pretty soon you are starting to tip over one way or another. So that was the main thing.
Ken: And when you…?
Student: When I’m focused then I can stay there without tilting or whatever.
Ken: Yeah, I’m not talking about just being focused. I’m talking about dropping into that natural clarity—that resting mind.
Student: Well yeah, resting, resting in the position.
Ken: Yeah. Okay. Randye?
Randye: When I do something from that place, my mind shuts up.
Randye: And there’s a being with; I am thinking of gardening particularly, which is something I really enjoy doing. I can do it and be thinking about all kinds of other things, or I can do it just kind of enjoying being with my flowers and tending them, and it’s a much quieter place inside.
Ken: Okay. This is very good. Susan, do you want to say anything?
Susan: Okay. Well, when I first tried it, I did it when I was washing dishes and only afterwards did I realize that in some ways I was doing it wrong, because I was using it as a way to meditate. And I was…it’s like with shamatha you rest with the experience of the breath. It’s like I was resting with the experience of washing the dishes. And so it actually helped quite a bit. It was very calming and restful and sort of brought me back into presence and attention. So it was good.
But I was working at the perfume company all week and was given a number of extremely long-lasting repetitive tasks, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to practice this. So this time I took a few minutes to actually meditate and drop open, and then did it, and it was an entirely different experience. It was kind of incredible actually.
Ken: What was the difference?
Susan: I was just there, I was just doing it. Thoughts came and went. It was clear, open. They used the word uncontrived; it really fit, it was very simple.
Ken: What was the difference in your body?
Susan: It was at ease.
Ken: Okay, thank you. So all of you have mentioned this in connection with simple tasks, or relatively simple tasks, though I am not quite sure how simple all the baking is. But it was things you were actually doing. This is a very, very good place to start. It’s something that you can do all the time. You may find it a bit more challenging, but it is very important to learn to do it also in interaction with people. Now that’s more difficult, because more conditioned stuff gets pulled up there. There’s very different kinds of habituation at work. But you’ll find that if you do exactly the same, where you just drop—into that open clarity—and function from there, you are not going to be able to have the same conversation; it will be a different conversation. Yes?
Susan: I actually did try it with a friend.
Susan: Who was deeply upset, he was just like full-on raging anger, like not at me, he was just angry. And it was pushing all my buttons until I decided to try that, and you’re right, it changed everything.
Ken: Mmm-hmm. Say more.
Susan: I was more present with…I was more fully there with what was going on with him without anything being in the way of it, and I saw that he was just expressing his pain.
Ken: I’d like to ask you: was that because you were more fully in your own experience?
Susan: I guess that’s a way of putting it.
Ken: Yeah, because we say, I was more in touch with him where he was, but that’s because we are completely in our experience; we are feeling it much, much clearly and much more viscerally because we aren’t reacting to what’s arising in us.
Ken: Yeah, and that’s a really, really important piece. So thank you, Susan.
Okay, so you get the picture. Much more difficult because there’s a very different level of conditioning that comes up. But you practice this and it doesn’t have to be when somebody is really upset; it is very interesting to do this just with casual conversation. You find that it completely derails a whole bunch of social conditioning and everything. Leave you a bit of a loss sometimes, but that will be good for you.
Okay. Perfection of Wisdom. It’s going to be extremely challenging to do this in one class. We’ll see what we can do. In looking this over, it’s a very long chapter and there are a lot of logical arguments in it. And buried in all of this are some very important principles. So I’m going to do what I can to bring out those important principles this evening. And we’ll just see how we do. Do you have a question? Oh, okay.
The Perfection of Wisdom is discussed under the same seven headings that Gampopa has used for all of the other Perfections. In the discussion of the faults and virtues or the pros and cons of the Perfection of Wisdom he goes into some length about the importance of means and wisdom. Now this is an old traditional classification—the wisdom aspect being knowing things, and the means or method aspect being how we interact with things. And the idea is that wisdom or knowing just by itself, this deep kind of insight, allows you to see into the nature of things, but doesn’t just by itself give you the skill of interacting with things. And on the other hand, developing the skill of interaction doesn’t in and of itself lead you to freedom. That knowing that everything that arises has no inherent existence, just the essential quality of wisdom, does.
Now, on a somewhat different level, to give you the idea of this, some people understand very, very well how things work, and they can see into the nature of things. Like you can think of a psychologist who really understands how people work inside. But that psychologist, particularly if they are a research psychologist, may be hopeless at actually interacting with people. Randye is rolling her eyes.
Randye: That is actually pretty true.
Ken: Now on the other hand, you can have people who are extraordinarily skilled in interacting with people but who get totally caught up in the interaction all the time. And in the same way you can have people who really see into how an economic system or an irrigation system or the biology of a plant [works]—just to use three different examples—but the person who really understands how the economy works may be hopeless at handling his or her own money. The person who understands how irrigation systems work may or may not be able to actually build one, let alone grow plants. And the person who understands the inner workings of the biology of plant cells may be a hopeless gardener—does not know how to actually interact with things. And you have the other side, you have sometimes very skilled gardeners who don’t understand the science or the inner workings of it, etc., etc.
So there are these two aspects to knowledge and so that in a very rough sense is what means and wisdom are referring to. And in the Mahayana, means is the domain of compassion; wisdom is the domain of pristine awareness, or wisdom or what have you. And these two are regarded as the two wings of a bird, and it is only when you have both wings in working order that the bird can actually fly, and that is how you become free, not only from the vicissitudes of samsara, because you see into the working of things, but also from the isolation and detachment actually, that that wisdom can produce. Yes?
Randye: Just a quick clarification, what Guenther is translating as beneficial expediency? [Guenther, page 203]
Ken: That’s means.
Randye: Okay, thank you.
Ken: And thank you for pointing that out. That’s why I am working from Konchog Gyaltsen’s because Guenther gets a little bit carried away on some of these things.
Okay, now in what we call the Perfection of Wisdom, this word wisdom is actually much more a form of intelligence than some transcendent quality. And in Buddhism we have a very—I find it very interesting—and also I think a very useful and simple definition of intelligence. Intelligence is the ability to make distinctions.
Now, take carpets, for example. I know very little about carpets, especially Middle Eastern carpets. So I have no idea—I mean I have some idea, a few things I know about whether it’s a good carpet or not. But someone who’s grown up with that and is able to see very definite distinctions in the quality of the dyes, the quality of the weaving, the quality of the pattern is really going to be much more intelligent in that area than I am. Because he’s able or she’s able to make distinctions or see differences that I can’t. And it’s the same in every area. So you have this definition of wisdom is the perfect and full discrimination of all phenomena.
Now again I have a big problem with the use of the word phenomena; I’d like to replace it by experience. So what is being said here is that the Perfection of Wisdom is knowing precisely what you are actually experiencing. And you’re not confused by the arising of experience at all, because you know precisely what it is. And knowing precisely means that you’ll know its empty nature as well as its arising nature. Because that’s part of it, and that’s a distinction that most people trapped in the ordinary experience of things can’t make. They can’t see or know the empty nature when the experience is arising. You see what I mean? Cara?
Cara: Can you just give an example of that?
Ken: I can give you more of an analogy, but I think it’s in the right direction. You’re at your baking school, you have interaction with these people, and somebody makes a big deal about something that you know isn’t a big deal, okay? Your knowing it isn’t a big deal is analogous to knowing its empty nature. So it’s still arising but you know it isn’t a big deal, so you can let it go easily. Do you follow? So when you know all experience is empty, you don’t get bent out of shape by any of it. You stop reacting to it completely because you know that nothing is the end of the world. When we take what arises in experience as fact, then we get bent out of shape very quickly. So when a person—you know this isn’t a big deal—but when they make it a big deal, they are taking it as a fact, and they get totally bent out of shape. And now it becomes a big mess because they react to it rather than just experience it. Did that help? Okay.
Classification—ordinary wisdom, which is just what we would regard as knowledge in training; you can see a study of linguistics, healing, and reasoning. [Gyaltsen, page 235] It’s what we get through our education system, and through experience in the world, and so forth, and so forth. The lesser—I love these—the lesser supramundane. Wonderful English. It’s a partial understanding of the nature of experience. And he spends most of the time in section C on wisdom of the greater supramundane, which he defines as
hearing, reflection, and meditation of the followers of the Mahayana. [Gyaltsen, page 236]
And quoting from the Perfection of Wisdom,
The realization that all phenomena are unborn—that is the perfection of wisdom awareness. [Gyaltsen, page 236]
Again, huge problems with the translation here. Let’s change, The realization that all phenomena are unborn to something like to know directly that all experience arises from no thing.
Now many of you have done this whole thing with, you know, where is the seeing? You remember that? It’s going to be a little difficult for people on the podcast to appreciate that, but when we look at something, we have the experience of looking at a flower or looking at a rose or seeing a rose, seeing a car or whatever, we very rarely stop to inquire: where does the seeing actually occur?
And this is a very interesting question to ask, because we can’t say that it occurs inside us, and we can’t say it occurs outside us, and we end up not being able to say that that seeing is anywhere. That is what unborn refers to. You follow? It’s that quality of this ineffability, the undefinability of experience. And this is why, when we look at it this way, what arises in experience is just an experience; it’s not a fact, in the sense that it exists absolutely.
And this is not to negate its power and importance, the fact that it affects other things, and so forth, and so forth. But we find that reactions arise when we forget that things are experienced like thoughts and feelings and sensations, and we take what is constructed out of that experience, such as careers and jobs and relationships, etc., and regard those as facts rather than as very rich experiences. That’s when our reactivity engages and we suffer; we experience heartbreak, and triumph and all of these things, which just completely mess us up. Okay.
I don’t like to use the word realization at all. It’s usually something that’s applied to realization of profit from a sale. I’m not quite sure how it has crept into Buddhist usage, but it has. And phenomena, I find, is a very misleading translation of the word chos [pronounced chö] or dharma, which is why I like to translate it as experience.
Now we skip down to section V, which is on page 236 in Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation. You see that you have these six heads:
refutation of grasping things as being existent,
refutation of grasping things as being nonexistent,
the fallacy of grasping nonexistence,
the fallacy of both graspings,
the path that leads to liberation, and
nirvana, the nature of liberation.
Well, the first four of these are all logical processes. They’re exercises in reasoning of various forms. And they’re designed to release our holding onto what arises in experience as being things. And so you’ll see on 237,
If this is explained according to the Lam Rim, (or the progressive stages) existence and grasping of existence can all be categorized under two “selves” and these two selves are, by nature, empty.
The two selves are the self of persons and the self of phenomena. [Gyaltsen, page 237]
Well, you will recall that much, much earlier in this class I liked to pose the question, “What is the question that these two things, these things are answers to?” You remember that? And that’s what I think will be very helpful here. Because otherwise, all this just becomes rather dry logic, and in my own experience, very, very few people actually wake up through working through this on a philosophical basis because one, it’s way too conceptual; two, it doesn’t really give you an indication of how to work with the emotional material that arises; and three, this kind of approach is actually only suitable for anger types.
Student: For what?
Ken: Anger types. Because it is intellectual, etc., etc. It doesn’t do anything for desire types or stupidity types. You know, stupidity types do much better with devotion.
So what is the question or the questions which the self of the individual and the self of phenomena or self of experience, I would say, are answers to? Now I don’t expect you to get there quickly; that’s somewhat rhetorical on my part. What I want to throw out here is the consideration that these are answers to the questions: “What am I?”, and “What is life?”
Well, when you say, “What am I?”, we have this feeling that we are some thing, and this refutation of a sense of self is a way of saying, “No, you are not a thing.” And you go through all this logical analysis as they do. But what we are really dealing with is this question of What am I? And learning how—or what the important piece here is—how to enter into that mystery, which involves letting go of the notion that I am a fixed thing; I am something that actually exists.
But I find it far more fruitful rather than try to apply this logic—which I’ve learned and I’m quite happy to do, and I have gone through many times I just haven’t found it that useful—is in meditation practice is to say, “Okay, what am I?” Am I my body? Well, no, that doesn’t feel quite right. Am I my feelings? Mmm, nope, there seems to be something more there than that. And you just keep exploring.
And you just keep exploring and you find that this sense of that I am something keeps running out through our…like sand running through our fingers. And by just engaging this as an inquiry, and not worrying terribly about the proof that I am not a thing so much as just an inquiry into what is this experience of I, then begin to move from the notion that I is a thing that I am, to the understanding that I is simply an experience. You follow?
Whenever we’re referring to that we are actually referring to a very specific experience. And that’s kind of strange. That I is an experience. And that shifts our relationship with it. Do you follow? Because we can have an experience of other and then an experience of I, and then an experience of other and then an experience of I, and that’s basically what’s going on all the time. And we just, we just take those two things as things that exist absolutely, but that isn’t how they are, so…
Student: Would you say you get to a similar place when you look at things as being a dream?
Ken: Very much so, yeah; that’s the other side of the coin. Here we start working with the I. If you go to 238, I think at the end of when we met two weeks ago, here you have the central arguments:
Further[more], if the self or mind does exist, then investigate whether it arises from itself, from other, from both, or from the three times.
It does not arise from itself because either the self already exists, or it does not already exist. If it does not already exist, then it cannot become a cause to produce itself. If it does already exist, then it cannot produce its own result. [Gyaltsen, page 238]
Now, I suggested then that you replace the word cause by genesis, because it’s very misleading with the word cause in there. So, if it does not already exist then it cannot be a genesis for itself. In the same way, if you look at an oak tree, okay, you have an acorn and an oak tree. The oak tree produces acorns, which produce other oak trees, but the oak tree doesn’t produce itself. So a genesis can’t produce itself, [is] what it’s saying here.
Now, this is typical Buddhist logic. Some people love studying this stuff. As I’ve said, I don’t find it particularly helpful as a way of really coming to know it. I think it is much better just to take it as kind of inquiry into self—“What am I?”—and really explore that experience. And there are different ways of doing that, we will get to that in a minute.
Then it runs through all kinds of arguments, the body—the next part:
The self also does not arise from the three times. [Gyaltsen, page 238]
Actually time is a function of the sense of self. The more aware you are of or the more that you’re focused on the sense of self the more conscious you are of time. How conscious are you of time when you have a headache? Time passes pretty slowly, doesn’t it? How conscious of time are you when you’re fully engaged in an activity? Time flies by because there’s no sense of self there. You’re fully engaged. So time is actually a product, or not so much a product, but a manifestation of the sense of self. Do you follow? Or the subjective experience of time.
Then it goes into, is the self the body? Is it mind? Within a name? And these are all different ways of exploring the question of what am I? Then it goes into the self of phenomena, which is “What is life?” Or a little more accurately, “What is this experience we call life?” Or even more accurately, “What are all of these experiences to which we give the name life?” Yes?
Student: Why do they call it the self of phenomena?
Ken: In this sense the self refers to something that exists in its own right. And so, what is the nature of experience that exists in its own right? Okay? Because that’s how we experience things now, like I experience you existing in your own right, and the chair existing in its own right, etc. But this is not how things actually are. And when you shift from the notion…from the category from phenomena to experience, it becomes much clearer. Experience only takes place when there’s awareness and you can’t separate the two. When we talk about things, it sounds like there’s something out there. But that’s a projection onto our experience. You follow?
So, all through this discussion one of the things that I think makes it problematic is the use of this word phenomena. I don’t want to go through all of these arguments because I don’t find it that helpful, because basically they’re taking a certain Buddhist system that developed many centuries ago, saying that experience arises from the combination of other units of experience, the so-called 75 dharmas. So the experience of seeing a blue circle arises when there’s the dharma of blue, the dharma of round, the dharma of seeing, and the dharma of consciousness all come together. That gives rise to a blue circle…the experience of seeing a blue circle.
And so you have this long argument of how do these things actually come together. Well, the argument falls apart because if these are irreducible elements then they can’t come and join, because if they join, then there’s a left side and a right side, and now you’ve reduced it to something that’s of a smaller unit. It’s a reductio ad absurdum argument, and this kind of philosophy I just find isn’t helpful.
What I think is far more helpful is, okay—just what I was saying a few moments ago—I see something. Okay, where is that seeing? And I experience it very vividly, but where is it? It’s a very interesting thing when you listen to music. And we have, you know, very good sound systems and we can…it’s like we’re at an orchestra or a concert. And we can hear it and we can hear it coming from different directions, okay? But none of that’s there, okay? Where is the actual music? Where is the hearing of it?
And this moves us into the mystery, that it’s an experience. It’s not inside us; it’s not outside us. And little by little, as we accustom ourselves to thinking and experiencing this way, we begin to realize that thoughts, feelings, and sensations—all of it—none of it’s inside us; none of it’s outside us. There’s just—we’re always in this field of experience, and that’s what moves you into regarding everything as a dream. Which is why that’s such a powerful instruction, you follow?
Okay, and that’s what he moves into, simile, on page 240: similes they [appearances] are like dreams, illusions, and so forth.
Then the next point is that mind has not been seen by anybody. [Gyaltsen, page 241] Which is true. So that’s all about the refutation of things existing as things.
Now you can take this, these four steps—refutation of things existing, refutation of things not existing, fallacy of grasping nonexistence, and fallacy of grasping period—as a kind of progression. And the first thing we do is like, well, there’s this world I experience. Okay. But if you start opening to the experience of the world, you begin to find it’s not as solid or as straightforward as it seems, in just the way we’ve been talking about it. So it’s very natural then to move to the notion that, well, nothing exists. This is all illusion; none of this stuff is really there. Well, that’s not true either. Because, well, drop a brick on your toe…that’s a very vivid experience.
So to say that things don’t exist is also not true. Okay, so now one is confused. One has all of this stuff arising and can’t say that it exists; can’t say that it doesn’t exist. How do you live in that paradox? And what you begin to see then is that the problem is actually this whole notion of trying to define things. So as I say, if you can’t hold everything appears…everything exists the way it appears, can’t hold the idea that things don’t…there isn’t anything there, that isn’t true either.
And (Thank you. [Takes sip] Mmm. That works better than cold water), so this is what both section B and C are really about, is nothing exists. My favorite quote from Saraha: People who believe that things exist are stupid like cattle; people who believe that things don’t exist are even stupider.
You begin to see that the problem is this tendency we have to try to see things as this or that rather than just experience them. Which is what part D is about, which is explanation of the fourth, the fallacy of both graspings…both grasping. And so now you really begin to enter the mystery. Like, okay, what I need to do is to learn how to approach the world and approach experience as just experience. And that’s what part E is about—the Path That Leads to Liberation. [Gyaltsen, page 244] And you get say, two or three quotes down:
For that reason, the wise one does not abide
in either existence or nonexistence.
This is, of course, the Middle Way.
And then part F is an explanation of—or not an explanation—but some kind of description of what it is to be free. Then we move into part VI, What is to be Practiced. And here we have five or six pages of really wonderful instructions. If you go down to the bottom of page 247, you see this from Naropa—not Naropa, sorry—Tilopa. Which if you go to my website, and I’m sorry, you’ll find two different translations of this. These are known as Tilopa’s Six Words, ‘cause in the Tibetan it’s mi mno mi bsam mi sems. Actually that’s wrong, it’s mi mno mi bsam mi sems mi dpyod mi bsgom rang sar bzhag [pronunciation: mi no mi sam mi sem mi chö mi gom rang sar zha(k)]. It’s very, very short, and it’s more accurately translated, I can’t remember exactly how I translated it on the website, but it’s Don’t recall, don’t anticipate, don’t think, don’t work at anything, don’t examine anything, rest. Now those are very famous as Tilopa’s Mahamudra instructions.
Student: So you wouldn’t say do not meditate as he does?
Ken: Well it’s the word that’s usually translated as meditate, but it’s really the idea of working at something. Because meditation in a sense is to become familiar with and to practice becoming familiar with. And if you’re doing, practicing the Perfection of Wisdom, you aren’t doing anything, which is why it’s “don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t…don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, rest.” Six things.
So, yeah, and one of the reasons I dug up the Tibetan is that I find that these translations are really unfortunate, and if I have the time I’d like to go through and re-translate all of these and put them up on the website. There’s so much wonderful instruction in this section.
Next one, a little difficult to translate it just off the top of my head, but it’s the idea of, “Listen son. You’re full of thoughts or you’re full of thinking, here…don’t”—this is a very loose translation—“forget about being bound or being free; just don’t wander, don’t work at anything, and rest. Rest and relax.”
Then you have this from Nagarjuna, where it says, So by ceasing all coming or going, one is naturally relaxed. Which is more accurately said, Cut movement and rest naturally. When you know this, what other instruction do you need? [Gyaltsen, page 248] So you get the drift, I’m not going to go through all of these because I couldn’t possibly get through them all of them in the time that we have available. What have we got? We’re 9:06; ah, we’re doing very, very well.
You can see from all of these if you go down to the middle of 248, from Shavari:
Do not see any faults anywhere,
Practice nothing whatsoever,
Do not desire heat, signs, and so forth—
Although non-meditation has indeed been taught,
Do not fall under the power of laziness and indifference.
Continually practice mindfulness. [Gyaltsen, page 248]
The idea here is that you simply rest and let things be. Now, there are certain obstacles which arise to this. The first one is distraction, and thus in order to do this kind of practice, you actually have to have a level of attention where the ordinary arising and coming and going of discursive thought doesn’t disrupt at that level of attention. That’s why one trains in things like shamatha or resting meditation and so forth.
But simply training in that is not enough, because as we’ve discussed in connection with the perfection of meditation or meditative stability, that just gives rise to the quiet mind. One also needs to develop the clarity aspect—the knowing quality of mind—so that while one is resting, experiencing resting, one’s also experiencing seeing.
Now these two actually are not different; they’re two sides to the same coin. But very often one side is emphasized as the resting quality and there isn’t the seeing. And you develop the seeing by developing the clarity aspect, and you develop the clarity aspect—or one way to develop the clarity aspect, is by posing questions which cannot be answered conceptually. Which is why we have all the Zen koans—what is the sound of one hand clapping—and so forth. It can also be developed by transforming emotional material into attention, which is how devotion and loving-kindness work. And when you have that clarity of seeing and the stillness of resting then you are developing a level of attention which can know things as they are. And now it becomes possible to actually rest and do no-thing. Which is exactly the practice that’s being described here.
Now how this happens in practice—it takes time. One has to work at it over and over again, usually best done for relatively short periods. So you really practice that clarity aspect, and that’s why I had you over the last couple of weeks just dropping into that clarity because we live in the world the way we do. We’re not monastics; we don’t live in monasteries; we don’t live in secluded environments. The way we approach practice of this type isn’t developing states of attention and trying to hold onto them or stabilize them in that way, but developing the facility of returning, returning, returning, returning and resting. And you know that that’s the way I’ve taught you in meditation: rest in the experience of breathing whenever you find yourself distracted. Return to the experience and just rest there. So it’s resting in the experience of everything.
And it’s the same with this clear mind. You, when you can know that clarity, then you just drop into it and rest there. Whether you’re washing dishes, gardening, or talking with someone, or actually practicing meditation, you just drop into it and rest. And when it dissipates, it dissipates—you let it go. And then you drop into it again. So there isn’t any sense of trying to hold onto something or work at something. You just drop into it and rest. And that’s where you get: don’t be distracted…don’t fall into distraction, or have…like I said, no wandering, no control, no work. And you do that.
And if you have the opportunity to do retreats, then you can do this for like ten days at a time or three weeks at a time. We did a dzogchen retreat, which is what people do. You just keep doing this all the time and you build up a momentum. It becomes cumulative, and you begin to let go of things more and more deeply and things can really open up.
But it all depends on three qualities, which you’ve heard me talk about before. One is you have to be willing to drop into that clarity and it’s not the mind from which we ordinarily function, and being willing to drop into that clarity involves letting go all kinds of conditioning and habituated ways of doing things and ways that we’re very, very comfortable with.
The second quality that you need is you have to know how to do this. There’s a skill involved so you aren’t falling into this kind of self-delusion. A lot of people think that they’re doing something when they’re really just thinking. So that’s something that I’ve been trying to teach you through this whole course and through the retreats.
And then the third thing is developing…what you need is capacity—and that is what I was referring to a few moments ago—where you actually build up the level of attention that enables you to do this, first in relatively simple situations like meditation or doing routine manual tasks, and then gradually in more involved situations where there are strong reactive emotions operating, or you’re having conversations or interactions with people, and you still have that same ability to drop into that clarity, rest and actually function from there. And that takes years and years of training to do that. But that’s basically what we’re involved in. Okay, how is this for you? Is this making sense? Somewhat helpful? Randye?
Randye: It’s bringing up abject terror.
Ken: Oh that’s very good. That’s where we want to be.
Randye: What are the purpose and meaning? Most of us…
Ken: What are the purpose, and I’m sorry…
Randye: What happens to it? We spend most of our lives prescribing towards something—finding—trying to find some meaning beyond ourselves.
Ken: Well, from this perspective, purpose and meaning are simply subtle manifestations of a sense of self.
Randye: So why doesn’t understanding of that lead to nihilism and despair and hopelessness?
Ken: [Laughs] Because it doesn’t. And, I mean, why doesn’t it? You’re asking for an explanation there.
Randye: I’m still stuck on one and two, the existence or nonexistence and trying to come out of that dichotomy trying to avoid what’s in the middle there.
Ken: Yeah, no, no, that’s not the place to go, though. The place to go for you is the terror.
Randye: Sorry, what?
Ken: Is the terror. What’s frightened? Okay. You have this experience of fear, okay? So rest in that experience. Usually when we’re frightened we’re not very clear at all; there’s a mass of thoughts and confusion and bodily reactions and all kinds of emotions. What happens if you simply rest in your experience of terror? Try it right now.
Randye: It’s getting bigger.
Ken: Yeah, keep going. Okay, is what experiences the terror afraid?
Randye: I think so, but it’s what’s watching the terror isn’t.
Ken: We’re saying the same thing in different words, and I want to move you away from the notion of something watching the terror. Something knows the terror, or there’s a knowing of the terror. Is the knowing of the terror subject to terror?
Ken: Okay, so rest right there. What happens? There you go. So terror is simply an experience. It becomes a thing when we move out of that knowing. You follow? And that’s exactly what this whole chapter is talking about. Very good; so whenever the terror comes up, rest in knowing the terror. You ever get angry? Rest in knowing the anger. It’s not the same as the watcher, because that’s removing it. This is resting in the experience and the knowing simultaneously. You follow?
Randye: Yeah and it feels very different from watching it.
Ken: It’s very, very different from watching it. You’re quite right. Very important distinction. [In the] Mahamudra tradition we don’t deal with the watcher at all. The watcher is regarded as reinforcement of subject-object experience, which is what you’re alluding to. You rest in the experience and the knowing of the experience at the same time, because those cannot be separated. We do that; that’s what creates I and other. But that’s not how things actually are.
Okay, any other questions? Susan. Oh, you have something to say though, I can [see]. Okay. Cara?
Ken: Just checking. Okay, so we did it; we got through this. Rather quickly, I agree, but so…
So you have pages, basically from page 247 to 255. So there are probably 20, 30 different instructions there. Wherever you see all phenomena change that to all experience. That will help significantly. And there are certain things that are important. If you go to 250 you’ll find,
Although one may have awareness of mindfulness about nonconceptual thoughts, accumulation of merit should not be discontinued.
That is accumulation of merit we’ve discussed before; that is like doing good, we discussed it extensively in connection with the bodhisattva vow. Doing good, generating goodness in our lives, helps to create a power or an energy, which creates the conditions so that this kind of knowing arises and we can rest in it with increasing stability so it adds momentum. And if you ask why about that, I will also say, “Well, it just does.” I mean, I can give you technical reasons, but it is far, far better for you to actually try it and experience it, because the explanation isn’t the experience, and when you have the experience, then you know it yourself. Okay, anything else that you would like me to touch on in this chapter? Yes?
Randye: Just a definition. Guenther uses the word ens, and as best as I’m grasping it, it seems to be similar to mind? [Guenther, page 205]
Ken: Yes, I looked that up, too, because I saw that.
Randye: Is there some inconsistency with translating it as mind?
Ken: Yeah, I think he actually uses it as the term for self doesn’t he? I can’t remember. But it is basically the same as mind. I mean, vocabulary here gets very slippery because we’re dealing here with stuff that has evolved over a couple thousand years, and words have changed their meaning.
You’ll see at one point that when Gampopa is talking about the self he says, What is the self? What is this mind? And that’s what it says in the Tibetan. You have this bdag [pronounced da(k)] and sems [pronounced sem]. Well, the term self and mind aren’t always equated. They were actually usually not equated with each other. But when we say, you know, my mind, we’re actually using that in the same sense as we use my self. So Gampopa’s quite right to point as the same thing. So when—oh, he’s talking about a subjective ens and an objective ens, that’s the self that he’s using there. That’s what I’ve been using as self because that’s the word that is used normally.
But what I’d like you to do is, rather than look at it as these are logical arguments, is to entertain this as a series of questions: What am I? What is this experience I call life? What is time? And, in entertaining these questions, the point isn’t to come up with a conceptual answer—that’s not going to be helpful at all. It is to use these questions to explore one’s experience.
So you’re sitting in meditation, you’re doing your meditation in the morning, in fact, this could be your homework assignment. And you say, “Okay, what is time?” So I have this sense of time passing. Okay, what is that experience? What’s necessary for me to have the experience of time passing? Well, you can only have the experience of time passing if there’s something that is being held, in a certain sense, outside time. You follow?
Ken: Suppose I throw you into a river, okay? And you go with the current. Do you have any experience of current?
Student: Sure. When I went to the shore.
Ken: No, you’re in the river.
Ken: Do you have any experience of current?
Ken: No. When do you experience current?
Student: When I fight against it; when I swim upstream.
Ken: Right, so you got to remove yourself from being in the river. So you start to struggle to get out of it or something, right, okay? So to have any sense of time, you have to remove yourself from the flow of experience. That’s why I say the sense of time, subjective sense of time, is directly related to the subjective sense of self.
Okay, so that’s very interesting. You see how different that is from analyzing it? You just say, “Okay, if I just sit here and experience things, I have no sense of time.” It’s only when I remove myself from the experience that I have a sense of time passing. So try that as the meditation exercise, as just one aspect. But this is how I want you to approach this chapter rather than as a series of logical analyses. Susan?
Susan: Can you delineate that exercise again? It’s a meditation exercise and you go through a series of questions to ourselves?
Ken: Sure. Not really. Just my suggestion here is—you sit. [Pause] When and how do I experience time? [Pause]
There’s another way you can do this. Since you asked the question I will volunteer you. Stand up. Okay. Now, you have the prayer pamphlet there. I want you to pick it up in extreme, and I mean extreme, slow motion. Slower, much slower. Slower still. Now what are you experiencing? Did you feel the energy shift?
Susan: When you said slower and slower I felt like I got permission to just be in the experience and not fulfill other people’s…
Ken: There you go, that’s the whole thing, exactly, okay.
Susan: And not fulfill other people’s expectations, or I just sort of had some ideas going that like everybody would get impatient with me or whatever.
Ken: That’s right, and as soon as you moved right into the experience the shift, the energy in the room just shifted. I mean you felt it, you felt it over here. Okay, that’s what I’m talking about. And that’s an exercise you can do, and it’s not mindfulness practice; it’s something different. But it’s a way of learning how to come right into the experience. (Oh, you need a microphone? I’ll wait.)
Student: Was she…were you experiencing time? Was she supposed to have been experiencing time in that exercise?
Ken: When you finally moved right into it, what was your experience of time?
Susan: When I moved into it, time dropped away.
Susan: It felt excruciating when I was trying to make the adjustment to just being in it and not worrying about everything else.
Student: But you didn’t…you didn’t pick up the thing. [Laughter]
Susan: I might have eventually, but that sort of wasn’t the point.
Ken: Yeah, that wasn’t the point. I was using that as a way of moving her right into the experience. And so when you’re right in the experience, then there’s no sense of time. And you’re going to say, “Well how do you get anything done?!” Well, I wasn’t concerned with her picking up the prayer pamphlet at this point. I was concerned with something else. But you train in this way enough, and eventually you’re able to do things without ever removing yourself from the experience. And you know this when you’re singing. When you’re right in the singing, how conscious of you are of time?
Ken: There, see? Does the song get sung?
Ken: How’s that possible? You don’t have to answer, you see what I’m pointing to, okay. Cara, you have a question?
Cara: It wasn’t really a question. I was just thinking, I remembered that last week when I was in my final I had a gajillion things that I had to get done in four hours, and I had an assistant, but I had to do all of the mixing myself, and one of the things that I have always done in support of my friends is go to their soccer games. And if you see soccer games then you know they’re constantly yelling, “Time!” at each other. As, at least—
Cara: Time. A lot of my friends, maybe it was like people that I watch, but they yell time! at each other. To let them know that they have it.
Ken: Oh, I see.
Cara: To let them know that it’s not—
Student: There’s time with the ball.
Cara: There’s time with the ball; like they don’t have to hurry themselves. And I kept hearing that in my head like I would start to like flip out, like, “Oh my god, how am I going to get this done?!” And then I would just say like, “Time!” And it totally allowed me some space to just focus on the task at hand. Because you know with pastry if you screw up your batter, you’re done. I mean it’s, that’s…
Ken: That’s it. It’s a one-shot deal.
Cara: That’s it, like with your pâte à choux, if it’s, you know, too wet, then it’s over.
Cara: And so you have to take a breath and allow yourself the space to assess what’s happening.
Ken: Yeah, so everybody clear about what I want you to work at? And just explore it in your meditation and in your daily lives. Being right in and just explore: when do I experience time? What are the conditions that have to be happening internally, externally, wherever, so that I actually experience time. That will be kind of neat. Okay?
We may only have three more classes. We have, sorry, four, four more classes. We have the Five Paths, that’s next, and then the Ten Stages of the Bodhisattva, which you could spend a lot of time on, but I think we can, but there’s a great deal of repetition in there. And then we have Buddhahood and then we have Buddha Activity. So we’ll be doing those four classes and then our little adventure will come to a close.
Randye: Can I suggest that after all of this that a wrap-up session might be helpful as well?
Ken: Yes you can suggest that.
Randye: So I shall.
Ken: Okay. So maybe we’ll have five. What do you want in the wrap-up session?
Randye: Overviews, synthesis, directions for the future.
Ken: I will give it some thought, thank you.
Randye: An integration of what we’ve kind of worked through very methodically.
Student: Cookies and milk.
Randye: A graduation, a graduation ceremony.
Ken: You can only do four more classes?
Cara: I have to go to product selection and purchasing class. America doesn’t need to know this, I have to go to product…
Ken: America needs to know everything about you, this is, this is the Internet age.
Cara: No they don’t. I’ve been instructed that I’m not allowed to talk about certain people in my life because they don’t want to be on the podcast. Certain people—
Student: Who told you this?
Cara: I know, right, “You talk about me?”
Ken: In Germany?
Cara: Oh no, my mom? No, no, my boyfriend. [Laughter] It’s horrifying. “You called me your partner? What is this, square dancing? Don’t say that.” There you go.
Ken: Okay, so you’re out of here in four weeks.
Cara: So on the fourth week we can have mondo refreshments, but…
Ken: Okay, all right, I just wanted to give you a sense of what’s ahead, so we have these four chapters. Anyway, I think this has been great, and I will see you next week if I’m still alive, and my apologies to everybody on the podcast for the coughing, ’cause you’re probably getting your ears rattled regularly in all of this, but I didn’t want to postpone it another week. So, we’ll conclude with the prayers, thank you.
This virtue and all virtue gathered in the three times
I dedicate as all Buddhas do
To supreme non-residing Awakening.
May I attain the state of union in this life.
Awakening mind is precious.
May it arise where it has not arisen.
May it not fade where it has arisen.
May it ever grow and flourish.
Through the power of truth of aspirations made with a totally pure mind,
Through the inevitability of dependence and conditions totally formed,
And through the force of what is, profound and totally true,
May the brilliance of good fortune blaze forever.