Thoughts come and thoughts go

This clip is from the retreat, Releasing Emotional Reactions, session 6.

If you have more time listen to the lead up to this section here.

Thoughts come and go (from RER06 00:07:09.50 - 00:09:29.30)

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Thoughts come and thoughts go....
In that simple sentence, there is the key to freedom. A thought comes: “I’m angry.” And when that thought arises, frequently we don’t recognize it as a thought. It becomes a fact. So now we’re angry. And all kinds of things follow from that, usually not very helpful things. But all of you have enough experience in your meditation to know that if you sit, and the thought “I’m angry” arises, and you do absolutely nothing, it wanders around and then it goes. So thoughts come, and thoughts go. That’s one of the doors to freedom—if you live it. It’s not enough to understand it intellectually. One has to live it. So this method of practice is very much about living the direct experience of mind just as it is.


The form your practice takes is unique to you

A short clip from the retreat, A Trackless Path II, on the individuality of practice.

Uniqueness (from ATPII03: A Trackless Path II (retreat) 00:30:18.00 - 00:31:01.09)

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I think it is very important that as you engage in spiritual practice, you honor the fact that the factors in your life that made you who you are, are unique to you. And the form your practice takes is also going to be unique to you, and the understanding, insights and the way that you come to terms with these deep questions in life is also going to be unique to you. I find that there’s value in this. And the most significant value is that it stops this dreaded comparison game.


Changing the metaphor for spiritual practice

A changing metaphor (from ATPII03: A Trackless Path II (retreat) 00:02:04.00 - 00:03:58.06)

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Since last year I’ve made a point of having conversations with a number of people on different aspects of Buddhist practice, and actually more generally on religion, and even more generally how people think of their experience of life. And another avenue of exploration of that has been a certain amount of reading. And one of the things that I’ve become aware of through this is that there is a very significant shift taking place globally in all of the major religions, and probably all of the religions, but it’s evident in the major ones because of the level of resistance to it.
And the shift is in a fundamentally different conception of what religious practice or spiritual practice is--and I’m not going to get into the making the distinction between religion and spiritual practice for our purposes--between transcending the human condition, which has been the defining metaphor for spiritual practice for two or three thousand years at least, to embracing the human condition.


Rhythms of practice

From the second of Ken's talks on the Eightfold Path...

Rhythms (from 8FP02 01:07:35.01 - 01:11:30.01)

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Very much connected with effort is our capacity. And we build capacity by exerting ourselves and stretching ourselves in our exertion, and then resting. If we just push all the time we wear things out, we wear out, and we break down. And that doesn't matter whether it's physical, emotional, or mental, or spiritual.

I was listening to a report, on I think it was NPR. It was actually BBC World News, about the Colonel who heads the bomb disposal unit in the British Army who's retiring or quitting his job. And he said that in earlier times people could do this because they weren't meeting that many bombs to dispose of. But now they would be disarming or disposing of fifteen to thirty devices a day! And every one of these is a life-threatening situation.

He says when people do this, they can only do this for a certain period of time, and then they need a break. [Laughter] And apparently it takes six to eight years to train somebody with a sufficient level of experience that they can do this work. Can you imagine having to bring that quality of attention to something of that frequency when your life is on the line over and over again? So where it's really costly, they recognize the importance of taking a break.

And I found this in my own practice certainly. You can push, but at a certain point something sets in, and if you push now you break something in you, and that is not helpful at all. It's never helpful. That's when you step back and you learn to work with the rhythms of practice.

And the last point I will make on effort, in terms of capacity--I came across this in a book I was reading--there are four dimensions to capacity. One is strength: how much effort you can actually make. Second is endurance: how long can you make the effort. Then there's flexibility: how many different ways can you make the effort; how many different situations. Because some people can be very very good here and just hopeless over there. And the fourth is resilience: how quickly do you recover.

And all of these are best trained by stretching yourself and then resting. Stretching yourself, and sometimes the periods of stretching may be several days or something like that or several hours. Depending--that you'll work out. But it's that rhythm of pushing and then stepping back, pushing and then stepping back that builds your capacity and builds your ability to make greater and greater efforts.

So again, you can feel in all of that, or see in all of that how much to bring attention into the experience of making an effort. And see, you know, is energy flowing into this naturally and joyfully? Then it's good.



In Making Things Happen Ken talks about four foundations of success. And he begins by talking about what success means from a spiritual point of view...

Success (from MTH02 00:03:33.00 - 00:06:33.00)

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Success--well, I've just used the phrase, worldly success--is defined by the eight worldly concerns. Some of you are familiar with these: happiness, unhappiness; gain, loss; fame, obscurity; respect and distain. So that a person who is happy, wealthy, famous, and respected, we usually say this is a success. A person who is unhappy, poor, obscure and disdained, we usually say is a failure. These are the criteria for success and failure that are defined by society. It's why we have the wonderful phrase in Buddhism, the winds of the eight worldly concerns.

There's a lovely story from China about that, about the chan master who went to see a professor who loudly proclaimed wherever he went that he was free from the winds of the eight worldly concerns. So he went to his residence, knocked on the door. He wasn't home. He went in, took out a piece of paper and wrote an exquisite calligraphy (we'll call the professor, Professor Lee), "Professor Lee is a fart," and left it on Professor Lee's desk. Went back to his place, which was on the other side of the Yangtze River.

Well, Professor Lee arrived home, saw this, and could tell immediately who wrote it by the calligraphy. Stormed out of his house. Went down to the Yangtze River, and rented a ferry, got across. Stormed into the chan master's house and said, waving the piece of paper, "How dare you write this? Don't you know who I am?" And the chan master said, "Yes, certainly I've heard of Professor Lee, the great Professor Lee who is free from the winds of the eight worldly concerns. But it seems he's been blown across the Yangtze River by a little puff of air."

Success, in the way that we're talking about here, is simply the ability to implement your intention. In other words, to bring what you want to see happen into being. Now this is very important from a spiritual point of view.


The nesting bird

Ken uses many teaching stories. This is one of my favourites...

Bird teacher (from AFB09a 00:20:24.03 - 00:22:35.05)

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I encourage you not to analyze. The understanding that we develop or uncover with this practice is a direct knowing. It is not a deductive knowing, which is always a product of the intellect. You can't trust it.

Uchiyama Roshi talks about a bird sitting on her nest. And the bird sits on the eggs, and every now and then she gets up, turns all the eggs over with her beak. [Unclear] Amazing. It's created a question in science. How does she know when to turn the eggs over? What kind of biological clock mechanism is there? Well, after a few investigations they discovered there was no biological clock. She just gets too hot. So she turns the eggs over. Now she's cool. The result is that the eggs are evenly warmed and they hatch properly.

That's the kind of sensitivity that we develop here. You're so in touch with your own experience, so totally in touch with your own experience, that by responding to that, you actually respond with what is appropriate in the world.


Two qualities to develop: resting and looking

Two qualities to develop; resting and looking (from Heart Sutra 04) 00:00:00.00 - 00:13:35.50)

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This morning I talked about two qualities in meditation, resting and looking. They’re intimately related, and they’re both very important. Resting doesn’t mean sitting still. It doesn’t mean holding a posture. It means resting. It’s fine to work hard at your practice and to push yourself very, very hard. But only if there’s an element of softness in your practice. Once you become hard there is no quality of resting. And the consequence of that will be that something breaks. It’s not terribly good for things to break in practice. They’re quite hard, often impossible to repair. I know because I’ve seen enough of it.Kalu Rinpoche used to talk about how they stored liquids in Tibet. Store them in leather bags. Fill a bag with water and over time it would become hard. And when it started to become hard it was in danger of cracking, thus leaking. So when the leather became stiff and hard, before it cracked, it was reworked and became soft. Then you could carry water in it again without fear. Other leather bags were used for carrying butter. The oil and the grease from the butter gradually impregnated the leather, and the leather became very hard and very stiff. But no amount of kneading made it soft. When the bags came to that point they had to be thrown away. And he said, “Never let your mind become like that.” It’s very, very important. 
So as long as there’s an element of softness, of resilience, not just hardness, then it’s fine to push in your practice. But when things become hard inside and outside then it’s a time to stop. Take a break. Rest. Yes? 
Student: How do people see that themselves? 
Ken: It’s a very important—how do people see that themselves—it’s a very important skill to learn. It’s very important to tell when you’re pushing too hard and to learn how to back off. And if you have ambition and little things like that in you, those parts of you can continue to run even when you’ve backed off, so it can get a little tricky. That’s why I’m mentioning it. Because I’ve seen enough of the harm which comes from this and it’s pretty serious. Resting also doesn’t mean just going [Ken gestures/acts]. There’s an awake quality in resting, and that form of resting is a more complete rest than being asleep. Quite literally, it’s more restful. So cultivating this relationship with resting is very important. But by itself it’s not enough. 
We also have to learn to look. Because there’s an element of seeing, and you simply can’t see if you don’t look. Unfortunately, the way most people look falls into two categories so they’re somewhat related. One is to step back and look. Become the observer. This is not conducive at all. In mahamudra tradition in which I was trained, we make no use of the observer at all. We regard it as a distraction. I know in other traditions such as the Gelugpa and the Theravadan it’s regarded as very important. We regard it as a distraction. You have to learn how to look while you are in the experience. You aren’t looking at the experience; you are looking in the experience. That’s a little different. 
The other problem that many people fall into with looking, we can call the attorney problem. No offence to any attorneys who may be here. I have several in retreat. They regularly take offence [unclear]…it works out…and among my students. Inexperienced and unskilled attorneys do not know when to stop asking questions. They ask too many questions. And that’s what often happens with people who look. Because we develop the quality of looking by asking questions. I asked a few questions today; they caused you to look in certain ways. But once you’re looking, the question doesn’t help you do any more. You rest in the looking. That’s very important. 
So, I asked this morning, “What experiences all of this?” And you look. And it’s just like asking, “What’s that up there?” And people don’t go, “I wonder what that is up there? Hmmm?” You don’t think about it, you look. And that’s the quality that you want in the practice. You look; and then you rest in the looking. Putting those two things together is very, very important. When you can rest in the looking and look in the resting, then you’re practicing the perfection of wisdom. Because what do you see when you look? Anybody. What do you…what do you say there? Kent. 
Kent: Yeah, not much. 
Ken: Well, I think you have to go a little further than that. What do you see when you look? Not much. 
Kent: I mean there’s nothing you can really identify. So just to look in itself… 
Ken: What do you see when you look? I don’t think it is “not much.” What do you see? 
Kent: I see you. [Laughter] 
Ken: Look at your mind. What do you see? Anybody? 
Students: Nothing. 
Ken: Nothing. You see nothing whatsoever. How long can you look at nothing whatsoever?