Pride and other reactive emotions

Reactive emotion (from GDP05 00:00:00.00 - 00:04:43.02)

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Ken: Let's begin with any questions about the practice. No questions?

Student: A case of clear directions.

Ken: Pardon?

Student: A case of clear directions.

Ken: Oh dear, I'll have to muddy it up next time. John?

John: Is pride an attribute?

Ken: Pride isn't. Pride is usually regarded as an emotion. Why?

John: I'm just trying to figure it in a more positive way, it's almost like arrogance.

Ken: Yeah pride, arrogance.

John: But you're not really suffering from it. [Laughter]

Ken: Most of the people I know who are proud aren't suffering from it at all.

John: That's what I'm saying.

Ken: Most of the people I know who get angry don't suffer from it. Everybody else does. That's the characteristic of a reactive emotion. You're discharging the energy so that you don't get to feel it--everybody else does. That's why you're expressing it, so you don't have to feel it. So what's the question behind all this?

John: Well, I got totally thrown off this morning when I came in for an interview and...

Ken: Well who, who did that? [Laughter]

John: That's because you turned it around a bit.

Ken: Yes.

John: Something that was more, that I [unclear]

Ken: No, keep going: this is important.

John: I'm trying to think of what I can...how I started out because I...you ended up saying you wouldn't deem to even consider that those people were effecting you.

Ken: That's right.

John: And deem that your own self-interest that's provoking it or your own "self-betteration".

Ken: Yeah, if you're proud, right, and some little pip-squeak takes issue with something that you've done, does this affect you?

John: Yes.

Ken: I mean if you're really, really proud and even if someone has the temerity to speak to you, which they shouldn't, of course.

John: Yeah, I get that.

Ken: What's the awakened quality here?

Student 1: Vajra pride.

Ken: Yes, but what's the specific quality?

John: Dignity?

Ken: Close.

Student 2: Equanimity.

Ken: Yes. You're not disturbed by anything. Good. Bad. You sail through it all. Everything's the same. So live proud.


The four horses

The four horses (from GDP01b 00:05:03.00 - 00:08:23.00)

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And what I found is something that Suzuki Roshi writes about and I've talked to you about it before. There's a sutra in Theravadan tradition which describes four horses: the horse which gallops at the wish of the rider; the second horse gallops when he catches a glimpse of the whip out of the corner of his eye; the third horse gallops when he feels the pain of the whip on his body; the fourth horse doesn't gallop until he feels the pain of the whip in the marrow of his bones. And as Suzuki Roshi points out, when we hear this we want to be that first horse. Can't do that, then the second one. But then he points out that for the practice of Zen, it doesn't make any difference. And in fact, the fourth horse is actually the best one, because when you really are struggling to use your practice in the depths of your confusion and reactivity, then it's real. And I've observed this. Many, many people I've met, who seem to have a much easier time with practice, and most of them are missing something.

So, don't look for a form of practice which makes things easier. Actually you want to look for a form of practice, not necessarily which makes things harder--that's not so productive--but brings you in touch with where you are most confused. It's not the same thing. This is a form of practice that is suitable for you.


Mind and body relax

Mind and body relax (from TAN33: Then and Now (class) 00:59:34.00 - 01:04:05.00)

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Now we come to the three kinds of meditation: abiding in bliss, accumulating good qualities, and benefiting sentient beings. And again, I want you to think of this as stable attention, not as meditative concentration.

Now, the phrase that I'm grateful for here comes from Gunaratana--who's a Theravadin teacher; I think he's in Virginia. He's written a couple of books. The one I know better is Mindfulness in Plain English. And he's a wonderful meditation teacher. And he summed up this aspect of meditation practice with these words:

When the mind joins with the object of attention, mind and body relax.

It's said so simply and so clearly, I could even understand it, which is very nice. This is why I emphasize resting in the experience of breathing, because what I'm trying to do is through the instruction create the conditions so that mind joins with the experience of breathing. When that happens mind and body relax. What you're experiencing, Helena, is you relax and things open, and you just aren't quite used to that yet. But there's nothing really wrong in that, it's just different from what you're used to experiencing.

And that relaxation, when we allow it, can be quite profound. It can be so profound that any sense of self drops away which gets a little strange. In that resting, then--and this varies a great deal from person to person--you'll start to experience pleasant sensations, which can be quite explicit or quite subtle, usually first in the body and then in the mind. And people who are really able to rest experience a very, very high degree of pleasure (hence bliss) in body and mind together.

As Dezhung Rinpoche described it when he was teaching this stuff many years ago, he said, "You feel like your spine is made of gold coins stacked one on the other." You know, expressions, descriptions like that, so it can be quite dramatic. This isn't something that I have an intimate connection with, because I have certain physical problems which have made meditation difficult. This kind of stability and just deep, deep resting actually, is the major aspect of meditation that I've worked in. I've learned a lot from having to work with it.

But the feeling, that quality of pleasure or bliss just permeating mind and body, something that many, many people have described to me. And all that is, is an indication of a quiet mind. It means that your attention is stable. And that's good because it's creating the conditions, the internal conditions, for you to be able to practice. It's not an end in itself. That's very important. Some people will think, "Oh, this is great." And there's many, many stories of people confusing the quiet, blissful mind for enlightenment or being awake. And they aren?t the same at all.


Making the big decisions of life

From: Eightfold Path 1
Full Transcript

Ken: Other questions? Joe.

Joe: So in these terms, what would be a suitable basis for making life decisions? [Laughter]

Ken: Oh dear!

Joe: You’re going to take advantage of me now I think. I can see it coming. [Laughter]

Ken: Well, I’m tempted to answer this easily for me but I am not sure that it's helpful for you. And the easy answer for me, which is no help to you, is there is no basis for making life decisions, but that’s not terribly helpful to you. So that’s why I was pausing because I didn't think that would be helpful.

Knowing your experience as completely as you are capable of in each moment.

Does this guarantee that everything is going to work out? No. But, particularly if there's any important decision, you really make the effort to experience everything connected with it and every possible ramification as deeply as you are capable of, then whatever you decide...let me construct this better. Whatever the result is of your action you’ll know you've given it your best shot. And that’s about all you can really do, because we can’t know what the results or the consequences of any action are going to be.

There's a story--which is usually told to illustrate the working of impermanence--about this farmer who has one horse. And one day the horse escapes from his corral. And all the neighbors say, "Oh, that's a tragedy." And the farmer says, "Well, we'll see." And a couple of weeks later the horse comes back with another horse. It's found a mate in the wild and it's come back. So now the farmer has two horses and the neighbors say, "Well, that's wonderful." And the farmer says, "Well, we'll see." A week later the farmer's son is breaking in the new horse and he's thrown and his hip is broken, and the neighbor's all say, "Ah, that's too bad, that's really bad for your son." And the farmer says, "We'll see." And a month later an army moves through conscripting all able young men. Well the farmer's young son can't because his hip's broken. So we just don't know. Circumstances change. So all we can do is bring our attention to what our experience is right now as completely and as deeply as we're capable of. And then we decide.

Now one of the ways that I do that sometimes when people come to me with a difficult decision. I will ask them to describe what the worst case scenario is for each of the avenues. What's the worse thing that can happen if you take path A, what's the worse thing that could happen if you take path B? They usually look at me and ask, "Why are you asking me this?" I say, "Just bear with me." So they'll describe what the worst case is. "Okay, which of those two worse cases can you live with?" Oh! That can be a basis for making a decision. But that's only one way. Does this help?


A way to know peace

Peace (from HSW03 01:14:36.00 - 01:32:13.05)

Therefore, Shariputra, because, for bodhisattvas, there is no attainment, they rest, trusting the perfection of wisdom. With nothing clouding their minds, they have no fear. They leave delusion behind and come to the end of nirvana. [An Arrow to the Heart, p. 3]

This is the last step. And its very interesting, in tradition after tradition of Buddhism you find these same four steps are repeated in different ways. In the mahamudra tradition you have experience is empty, no, experience is mind, mind is empty, emptiness is freedom, freedom is natural presence. That's the basic paradigm of the Kagyu tradition of mahamudra.

In the teachings of Maitreya you have the wise come to know that there is nothing other than mind. And then they come to know that mind itself is not a thing, letting go of even these two knowings. And then they come to know that these two knowings are not things, and letting go of even of this knowing they rest in totality. So another four steps. You find the same thing in dzogchen tradition, over and over again you find this.

Here in the Heart Sutra: Because there is no attainment, they rest trusting the perfection of wisdom. You have to read the Heart Sutra or any of these texts very carefully.

Therefore Shariputra, because for bodhisattvas there is no attainment, they rest, trusting in the perfection of wisdom.

This is one of the meditations we did this morning. When you rest that way, bit by bit your mind becomes clear. With nothing clouding their minds. You leave delusion behind, you even leave the idea of nirvana behind. What is the point of practicing Buddhism? Buddha was asked this during his life. He always replied, "I teach two things. Suffering and the end of suffering." This practice despite some of the vocabulary, is not about truth. We use terms like awakening, freedom but those obscure what it's really about. It's about peace. The end of suffering is peace.

People think and many people practice because they think they're going to get something. I can assure you if you practice properly you're going to get nothing what so ever. But you may conceivably find some peace. Thich Nhat Hahn says this quite well, "If you want to be peaceful, you have to enjoy peace."

There are many parts to this that don't enjoy peace. These are the night visitors, the monsters under the bed, the creatures in the basement. You can't kill them, you can't make them go away, you can't transform them. If you could do any of that stuff you would have taken care if it already. But you can learn how to be with them. In a way that you are at peace. There are very significant things that flow from this. In the words of the Heart Sutra:

All the buddhas of the three times, by trusting this perfection of wisdom, fully awaken in unsurpassable, true, complete awakening.[An Arrow to the Heart, p. 3]

The young boy looked at the emperorAnd cried out, "Is he insane?"
It's one thing to see things as they are
It's another to start a campaign.

[An Arrow to the Heart, p. 104]

With all these fancy, high-sounding words you'd think something special had happened. Or is this a case of my buddhahood is better than your buddhahood?

Does awakening stop you from dying? You can still be shot, poisoned, and if not, you then have to face the inevitable outcome of old age. Does it make you more intelligent? You don't suddenly understand molecular biology, micro-economics, or systems theory. Does it stop you from being harmed? You aren't immune to cancer, strokes, or flu bugs. Does it help you save the world? Good question. The world may pay attention to you or what you have to say- or not. It's unsurpassable because there is nowhere to go. It's true because there is nowhere to hide mistake or error. It's complete because it includes everything you experience. So this complete awakening is simply a way of being fully and completely in our experience. In order to do that, we have to be completely at rest. Which is why you rest trusting the perfection of wisdom. There is only one way to be completely at rest and that is to trust nothing whatsoever. You just rest. And if you rest this deeply, you will perhaps find a way to know peace.


The function of a thought

In the talk, What to do about Christmas, Ken gives us a little nugget. Often we hear about thoughts but not what thoughts /stories work to destroy-our attention. Once we're off and running it's hard to stop them. BUT, for me the construct that thoughts take me away for a reason has been helpful in dissolving those stories/thoughts. After hearing this talk I now ask myself, what experience am I avoiding by this story?

The function of a thought (from What to Do about Christmas? 00:09:37.5 - 00:12:20.0)

So what I would like you to do now is to take any one of the things that you thought of you regret and move right into the experience of regret. Not with a sense of chastising or beating yourself up because that is really not fruitful. It happened for whatever reason, and when you move into this there is going to be a natural tendency to start thinking about “Why did I do this” or “How could I have done something so stupid," or silly or selfish or mean or cruel or whatever. All those things are going to come up. But do remember that the function of thought is to take you out of what you are experiencing. It’s to dissipate attention. These stories are going to arise, but don’t get lost in them. And the way to avoid getting lost in them, the way to prevent that, is to be right in your body, to be in the experience of the body.

This is where we have the first foundation of mindfulness: the mindfulness of the body. Very, very useful. Now, that’s going to be in some cases a little uncomfortable. When you actually feel the regret right at the physical level. So if you feel a little nauseous or sick or really itchy or antsy, that’s the experience. Again, touch into it to the extent that you can.

As you do that you are going to become aware of emotions connected with this. Could be the emotions of regret and possibly shame and guilt and all of these different things. Just keep sitting in all of those and just let them be there along with all the physical feelings, physical sensations. And see what happens.

So you are going to have all those three components. You’re going to have the physical feeling, the sensations, the emotional feelings, and you are going to have all of those stories flying around. That’s what constitutes the experience. Just be in it. In attention. Totally awake to the extent you can. And let’s see what happens.


Emptiness is not other than form, Form is not other than emptiness.

Although this a long clip, stay with it.  Here Ken elicits experiences from his students as he unravels the last two lines of the classic four sentences of the Heart Sutra: Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.Emptiness is not other than form. Form is not other than emptiness.  It is not only Ken's teachings but the students' hesitant and sometimes halting descriptions of their experiences of these last two lines that I appreciated.

Emptiness is not other than form. Form is not other than emptiness. (from HSW03 00:49:17.0 - 01:02:55.)

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Emptiness is form. So whether it's full or empty, it's still an experience. So now this is good, we're all clear here. We have form and we have emptiness.

On this Hakuin says:

Rubbish! A useless collection of junk. Don't be trying to teach apes to climb trees. These goods have been gathering dust on the shelves for two- thousand years.

He goes on:

A bush warbler pipes tentatively in the spring breeze, by the peach tree a thin mist hovers in the warm sun. A group of young girls, cicada heads and mock eyebrows with blossom sprays one over each brocade shoulder.

So we have form which is experience and emptiness which is the space in which experience arises. We can't say what it is, but there's this space in which experience arises.

And when we hear form is emptiness we say, "Okay, form doesn't mean these solid things, it means that what arises in experience arises in this space. And it's there but it's not there at the same time."

And when we hear emptiness is form, we go, "That's fine, there is this space that allows everything to be. Makes it possible."

Emptiness is not other than form. Well we started off with things are not what they seem, which is form is emptiness. Now we come to emptiness is not form, which means emptiness is not what it seems.That is it is actually a fullness rather than an emptiness. But now we get emptiness is not other than form. Well if you've looked at what happened, we started off with thinking that experience was very solid. And then we heard, form is emptiness, so now we think that we've come to see that experience isn't a solid as we thought it was. So we're inclined to think probably that, you know, experience just doesn't really exist. Then we get the next line, emptiness is form, which actually says, "No you really do experience things." And you do experience lots of things. So we're cool, there's emptiness and there's experience. That's nice. We have these two, we're clear about that.

And now we've got this third line, emptiness is not other than form. Well, this is very troubling because now it says that these two things, experience and emptiness, they're really not different. How do you feel about that? Anybody? I mean having experience and emptiness, that's okay, we can sort of play with that. But experience and emptiness, they're really not different, how does that feel? Anybody? Yes?

Student: Well, it seems sort of expansive if you're going from the sense of emptiness is all this fullness.

Ken: Could you hand the microphone, please. Please say that again.

Student: It seems kind of expansive in the...if you're going from the sense that emptiness is a really all this fullness and...well, all right I don't know, now I forgot what I was going. Is it on ?

Ken: Yes.

Student: That then you have this sense that experience is related whatever you said to emptiness. Then it's huge and also chaotic and full and it's really pretty exciting.

Ken: Okay, so it opens up possibilities. Yeah, okay. Right, anybody else? All the way up here.

Student: It feels like another nail in the coffin. [Laughter]

Ken: Yours or mine?

Student: Mine.

Ken: That's fine, I don't worry about that. Say more.

Student: Well, you know the emptiness is form--hello--form is emptiness pulls the rug out for me, the solidity that I assign to my experience of things.

Ken: Okay. Student: Then emptiness is form; what does that do for me? It allows me to relax, it allows me to relax in what it is I am experiencing. And then when it says, form is not other than emptiness, it--

Ken: Actually it's emptiness is not other than form, some dif...

Student: Okay, all right. If ever I thought there was an alternative that I was going to escape from, this whole conversation. It's [quietly] no. [Ken laughs]Student: There's no escape, it's sort of taking my head. I feel a hand taking my head and going, "There."And then I get that, "No, no, no" there.

Ken: So it's pointing you very, very precisely. Okay, so big fullness, many possibilities, pointing right at it. Anybody else?

Student: So it took me a long time to sort get to the point where I could actually say it was a bit of a relief, you know thinking about it at all. Because in the beginning, very honestly it was absolutely terrifying. When I first encountered this emptiness is form, form is emptiness, I just thought "What?" [Ken laughs softly] It undid me completely, it was just like, you know, the Zen koan that stops you dead in your tracks and you don't even know how to think at all. And then it was really rather terrifying. Actually. I mean I worked with it for a very long time and I went--because I have a tendencies of fear and anxiety about my world in general--I went into this completely nihilistic place where my world became undone for me completely, whenever I tried to think about emptiness.

Ken: Okay.

Student: I really went down to a terrifying space where the world dissolved and I couldn't have a sense of matter, at all. Myself or the validity of anything else. And it became a very painful space. It's taken a very long time where I have now gotten to the place where the two...the possibility of, that word emptiness really bothers me. I don't know there has to be a different word, translation for the word, shunyata than emptiness because the word implying less than something took, was where I went. And as I said I have this tendency to fall into nihilism and it was very frightening and I got very depressed and really freaked out. And it took a bit a very long time to come up to a warmer space where I just threw the word emptiness out all together. To the point of the possibilities of it being something else other than what I thought it was.

Ken: Okay.

Student: And that was very meaningful for me and I didn't even want to share that because I know that , he didn't even come today there was a friend of mine who was gonna come today who went down into that fairly recently and I told him it was long process but it was worth working with, because its one of those practitioner's down falls that happens to some people, depending on the type of your mind. And that you know you can get to this possibility where the fullness that it has these incredible possibilities that it wasn't meaning what my interpretation of the word emptiness meant at all. And then I felt like I was that ll these possibilities came up and it was really very, you know very. I feel like I can work with something and I got more stable. [Laughs]

Ken: Okay. So emptiness is form or emptiness is not other than form. We have these two opposites, seeming opposites, emptiness and experience. A lot of people take issue with the word emptiness. It's actually the right translation, in both Sanskrit and Tibetan. Tibetan is stong-pa-nyid. If you have an empty box you say gong-stong-pa-nyid. Same in Sanskrit, I don't know Sanskrit but it's wonderful whoever came up with the word was also a genius. I like him, or her or whoever it was.

And it teaches in a strange way the value of nothing. Nothing is what makes everything possible. You can't fill a glass that is already full. So if it's already full you can't use it.

So we have this emptiness and this experience and it seems that we have these two poles but now we have this emptiness is not other than form, that says these two poles are not two poles they're one and the same. In other words this opposition we thought was there isn't what it seems. And as someone said earlier, when you allow the experience and the no thingness of experience just to be there, then all kinds of possibilities open up. Don't have to make things one way or the other. Okay, that seems like a very good place to stop at this point. But Avalokiteshvara doesn't shut up at this point. He says, "Form is not other than emptiness." Now what happens? What's your experience when you hear those lines? My sense is that something in you goes, tilt!

It's just like what? Or huh? Anybody have that experience? Yeah. And this is exactly what those lines are designed to do. They lead you through this process. Things are not what they seem, okay we can live with that? Emptiness is not what it seems. Well that's good because I didn't really like that anyway. Opposition is not what it seems, hmm okay, that's all right. Nothing is not what it seems and now there is nothing left to stand on. Nothing to hold on to. That's why I think these lines are so brilliant because they leave you with absolutely nothing to hold on to. How is that for you? Yes?

Student: It feels like I have no feet.

Ken: Exactly, no feet, no ground, nothing. Yes?

Student: It's like walking through a doorway that's dark on the other side.

Ken: Doorway that's dark on the other side. Hmm for you it's walking

Student: I mean I don't even know if there is a floor.

Ken: You don't even know if there is a floor. Yes, I've been in rooms like that. Anybody else? It kind of stops everything doesn't it? And that's really the point of these lines. It doesn't matter if hear them for the first time or the thousandth time. They always stop the mind. And open the possibility of just experiencing what's there, which is the point of practice? Hakuin has this to say about it. (page 59)

A nice hot kettle of stew.
He ruins it by dropping a couple of rat turds in.
(The rat turds are form and emptiness.)
It's no good pushing delicacies at a man with a full belly.
Striking aside waves to look for water when the waves are water.
Forms don't hinder emptiness, emptiness is the tissue of form.
Emptiness isn't the destruction of form.
Form is the flesh of emptiness.
Inside the Dharma gates where form and emptiness are not two.
A lone turtle with painted eyebrows stands in the evening breeze.

Yeah it's typical Zen.