2013-12-05

Three things to cultivate

From: Unfettered Questions (UQ04)

Speaker: This question is from Rich in Buffalo, New York.

I started a daily meditation practice of twenty to thirty minutes (now thirty to forty minutes) last May. These meditations have been focused on the cultivating attention material from Wake Up To Your Life. I was about to start the impermanence and death meditations in Wake Up To Your Life, when I listened to the first podcast on the four immeasurables. After listening to the podcast, I was inspired to start meditating with the equanimity material, the four lines from the podcast. My question is, whether it is okay to stay with the four immeasurables meditations, or should I start on the death and impermanence meditations?

Ken: Well, there're many facets to this question. The first is, there are many, many different meditations in Buddhism and it can be difficult to know "Which meditation I should do now?" or "What should my practice be?" and so forth. And this is one of the reasons why it's very helpful to have someone with whom you can talk about your practice on a regular basis, a teacher who has the experience, knows what is helpful, and can guide you. 

That's not always possible. And so many people are left to their own devices, so to speak. One of the things that I've found helpful was written by a twelfth or thirteenth century teacher in the Shangpa Kagyu tradition, a person called Kyergongpa, who said that there are really only three things you need to cultivate in practice of Buddhism. Understanding of impermanence, compassion, and devotion as a way into insight. We can call these the three great doors. And we find this going right back to the very roots of Buddhism in the Theravada tradition. We have the three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering, and non-self. And these three doors correspond exactly to that. Impermanence, of course, is impermanence. There's an intimate relationship with cultivating compassion and opening to the suffering of the world, and understanding that life--ordinary existence--is suffering. It's a constant reaction to experience. And devotion, insight, non-self are all connected. It is by developing a high level of emotional energy through such practices--devotion--that we come to be able to see that there is no thing which we are. There are other approaches, of course, but that's one of them. So in this sense, those are the three important elements.

What I've also found is that, you practice any one of these deeply enough, and you find yourself cultivating the other two. So that, for instance, with impermanence, as we cultivate a deeper and deeper appreciation that there is nothing which doesn't change--that we ourselves are going to die, and we don't know when that's going to happen--we come to understand that we're not the only ones in that situation. Everybody else is in exactly the same situation. And we begin to see how much energy we and other people pour into what are really not very important things in the light of death--in the end of our lives. And as we go even deeper into that, we cultivate a natural relationship with compassion by contemplating impermanence. And if we go deeper into that, we begin to enter into the mystery of being itself. There isn't anything which is constant, and yet all of this experience keeps arising. And yet there seems to be nothing to it. So we begin to open to insight. And an appreciation, which often takes the form of devotion, begins to arise for the teachings, which lead us into this wonderful experience of the mystery of being.

Or we can start with compassion. And as we relate more and more deeply with compassion--which is what the practices of the four immeasurables naturally leads to--as we relate more deeply with compassion, we begin to see that everybody is caught up in suffering. And people are caught up in suffering because they try to hold onto what is by nature impermanent. So we see our meditation on compassion, our cultivation of compassion leads us into an understanding of impermanence. And it also leads us into an understanding of non-self. Because we come to see that the only thing to be, the only thing that we are, in the end, is an ongoing response, rather than a reaction, to the suffering that arises in the world.

And we can start with non-self or devotion. Because as we come to see that there is no thing that we are, we naturally see that everything is impermanent, everything is constantly changing. And we naturally see that people are caught up into holding onto things that they don't need to hold onto.

So these are the three great doors in Buddhism, and if you go deeply enough, any one of them will take you through all of them. So, as we've discussed a couple of times in these questions, Buddha said, we have to work out our own freedom. So we find the practices which really speak to us, which really help us to become more present, to bring more balance into our experience. And those we work very, very deeply. And that, I find, is the best way to approach things.

2013-12-04

Staying in the paradox

From: Unfettered Questions (UQ02)
Student: Ken, regardless of how stable my experiences and mahamudra practice, somewhere there's always a trace of an experience of self. What do I make of it and how do I work with it? It's really how do I work with it? 

Ken: What experiences the sense of self?

Student: [Sighs]

Ken: No, what happens when you--

Student: I don't know, I go empty.

Ken: Right. That's how you work with it.

Student: And…but…And yet, it's still there.

Ken: Well, my sense, when we’re just sitting here, is when I asked you that question and you looked, it wasn't, and then it came back. Is that right?

Student: Yes.

Ken: Okay. And that's what happens. When our attention is at a certain level, often, in that first instance of looking, we see. And we see nothing. But the attention doesn't stay at that level for very long because we lead very busy lives, we're easily distracted. It decays a little bit. And then that habituation of a sense of self reasserts. And we look again. And we look again.

In any given meditation period you're probably only going to be able to look a number of times before you run out of juice. And then we just rest and come back. In this way we gradually increase the capacity of our attention so you can stay present in the looking, and the attention doesn't decay. But what you see in that first instance is what is there--nothing.

Student: In the course of practice and doing mahamudra, dzogchen practice, I have a capacity to sit and not do anything. And stuff happens, and stuff opens, and it's in there that the trace is. And I can have really remarkable and wonderful experiences, but at what point do I then say, "Who's experiencing?" Do you see what I mean? I mean there can be a real stability on some level and a real openness. And yet behind that, there's that trace. So at what juncture do I do that?

It's this niggling thing that just won't go away. And I actually kind of had a small insight into what part of it is.

Ken: Oh?

Student: [Sighs] I just want to be someplace else. I mean it's like…[Sighs] I…I think I don't want to be human.

Ken: You want to be someplace else?

Student: This identity…that the effort is to lose identity, and there's something really off there in the way I'm approaching it.

Ken: Yes.

Student: It's really getting corrupted.

Ken: You may recall the mahamudra instructions. No distraction, no control, no working at anything. It sounds like you're doing fine with no distraction, but you're trying to control your experience and you're working at something.

Student: [Inhales] Mmm…it's the working at something. 
 It's not the control. It's the working, and it's very subtle, and it's right here in the back.

Ken: Yeah. So what if you just stop working?

Student: I don't know how. I mean, this is…it's this…it's like sitting…what are we saying?

Ken: What if you just stopped working?

Student: I don't know… 

Ken: What happens when I ask that question?

Student: Well, it empties, it goes blank.

Ken: I also sense there is panic.

Student: I'm not experiencing it as panic. It's a little bit…it’s maybe more confusion.

Ken: Yeah. Usually that confusion is what follows the panic. Because for most of us, constantly doing something, constantly working something, we don't know what it is not to be doing something, however subtle. And the thought of not doing anything, of just being, is for many of us profoundly threatening. It's like we cease to exist.

Student: And there lies the contradiction, because my whole intention is just that.

Ken: Yeah. And this is the paradox at the heart of this practice. We have to make an effort in the practice, and we can't work at anything. Now, there's only one way out of this. 

Student: I could die. [Laughter]

Ken: Well, in a sense, yes. It is by staying in that paradox, staying in that tension, that's the practice. And when we can stay there, something lets go. We can't make it happen. In this sense, that's what you're trying to do.

Student: I just want it to happen.

Ken: Yeah. It sounds like you are looking for an ideal state. Remember, the aim of practice, in Buddhist practice, is not to achieve any ideal state. It's simply to experience whatever is happening. Right now. Completely. So there you are with this niggling sense of self in the background. Experience all of that, completely.

2013-11-23

How to get precisely what you're trying to avoid

From: Awakening From Belief 1
Full transcript
Audioclip

When you begin to look at karma as a process of evolution, then what evolutionary processes are you starting when you get angry with your spouse? Is that a process you want taking place in your world of experience? Well, some of you may say yes. But I will tell you one thing and I’ve had so many illustrations of this. When a process is initiated by a reaction—that is by confusion or ignorance—it’s always an effort to avoid experiencing something. Well, the nature of the beast is that whatever process is initiated by that effort to avoid experiencing, let’s say x, guess what that reactive process delivers? It delivers precisely x every time.

2013-11-22

Recognizing Reactive Patterns

From: Awakening From Belief 7
Full transcript
Audio

Ken: Several people have asked how you recognize a reactive pattern. Well, one of the features of a reactive pattern is, as I mentioned, that they're mechanical in nature. What's one of the characteristics of a mechanical system?

Student: No variation.

Ken: No variation. It just runs one way. So, a way to identify a reactive pattern--and it's very useful to do this--is, "Must be this way, can't be that. Have to have this, can't have that. Must have this, can't have that." Any time you have that going in you, chances are you're running a reactive pattern. We run into this all the time. The retreat that I did recently in Santa Fe, there was a little confusion the first day, and there was no coffee at breakfast. [Laughter]

Student: Not a good move.

Student: Ah, love it.

Ken: See, there we are, right there. "Must be this way, can't have that."

Student: I have it on good authority that they have coffee in the bardo.

Ken: Yeah, so a nobleman once asked a dervish, "I've been a student of the path for many years but I feel I have gained no understanding at all." And the dervish replied, "That is because you are too arrogant." And the nobleman said, "If you weren't a holy man I would take offense at that remark; however, I am willing to listen. I will do whatever you say." And the dervish replied, "The situation is beyond hope. You will not do what I say, and so you cannot learn anything on this path." And the nobleman said, "I don't accept that. Give me your instruction." And the dervish said, "I want you to take off your fine clothes, put on some rags, wear a horse's feedbag full of oats in front of you and a sign saying 'Kick me' on the back." "I can't do that." "Exactly," said the dervish, "so you cannot learn."

We run into this all the time--when you hear yourself say, and we have many ways of saying it, "Has to be this way." Some of the examples that were given in earlier conversations: "Have to be peaceful, can't have conflict." Reactive pattern. You know, "It's against the rules." Other people, their conversations can't be peaceful, have to be conflict. Same thing. It's just the reactive pattern running in a different direction. So anytime you run into that kind of inflexibility--black and white, this way or that--you're dealing with a reactive pattern. 

2013-11-05

Like an acorn

From: Awakening from Belief 1
Full transcript (Available soon)
Audioclip
When I studied with Kalu Rinpoche in India in the early seventies, Rinpoche taught us about karma, which as you well know is usually translated as the law of cause and effect. He would always draw a diagram of a tree. We have a seed which grows into a shoot, and grows into a tree, and it has branches, and then it has leaves, and then it has fruit, and then the whole thing starts up again.

The translation as cause and effect is, I think, quite wrong, quite misleading. And I've had the discussion with a number of translators, and the first thing they do is they laugh me out of the room. I had one person said, "Well, if this word in Tibetan isn't cause, then this isn't a book!" And he held up a book. He just thought it was the most ridiculous thing.

But I want to pose a question to you: does an acorn cause an oak tree? Is the acorn a cause of an oak tree? Well, in a certain philosophical sense yes, but it's not how we normally use the word cause. Karma is much more a process of evolution. That's what happens with an acorn. You put it into the ground, and water soaks into it, and things start happening inside it. And after it goes through all of these changes, and roots starts to go down, stuff starts to come up, and then breaks above the ground, and then it starts getting stuff from the sun. And it evolves stage by stage into an oak tree, which then evolves into leaves, and flowers, and things happen to them and they eventually become other acorns. But in the process, the original acorn is long since gone.

So, the idea that actions that we do now cause things to happen in the future--which is often how people think about karma--that's not how I've come to understand it. It's that the actions that we do now are like the acorn. That's something we've done and in doing that action we've started a process and that process evolves in a number of different ways--and if we have time over the next few days, I'll try and sketch that out--but it evolves into an experienced result. It doesn't cause an experienced result. The action itself evolves into an experienced result, because it creates conditions so that other things happen--and just goes on, and on, and on.

2013-11-03

Niguma's warning

From: Learning from the Lives of the Lineage Holders 2
Full transcript
Audioclip
I just want to turn to the other section of Niguma’s where Khyungpo Naljor has this encounter with her. Just to review very quickly: there’s Khyungpo Naljor’s seeking with very deep devotion, very deep longing to meet her. Eventually finds her—she appears. Offers his gold, she just throws it away, scatters it in the jungle. Says, “I don’t need it,” and confers empowerments, and then this wonderful song that samsara is propelled by the forces of attraction and aversion, and when you know their nature then everything is like gold. And that we live in illusion, experience a suffering that’s like an illusion. When we practice it’s like…illusion’s not really quite the right word, it’s like magic. And so the suffering arises like magic, we do a practice which is like magic, we experience an enlightenment or awakening which is like magic, all through the power of faith.
And when I first heard those lines, many, many years ago now, they just struck me so very, very deeply. One of the ways that we’ve been talking about this is by going into the experience of things and experiencing them completely. When you experience something completely you know what it is. You know what it is, you know its nature. What is the nature of thought?
Student: It comes and it goes.
Ken: Yeah, and it’s empty. What is the nature of emotion? Okay, what is the nature of all experience? We just did the Heart Sutra on this, you guys should know this—it’s empty. When you know your experience completely you know that’s its nature. Now, that knowing is not an intellectual knowing—one can read about this and yeah it’s all there but the actual knowing when it arises isn’t an intellectual knowing. It's a knowing which comes from being one with the experience. And that’s how you know its nature, because you’re one with it and there’s no separation. And at that point there’s no confusion so it doesn’t matter what arises, it’s just an experience. Like a dream, like a mirage, vivid—very clear—but no confusion. And this is what Niguma is pointing to here. Okay? Joe.
Joe: She also threatens him or perhaps more correctly warns him against…that she will eat him.
Student: Right.
Ken: Yes.
Joe: Because he will be annihilated which is perhaps one of the reasons why we don’t go here…why it’s hard to go here.
Ken: Yes, that’s the act of manifestation of awakening. You’re not going to survive this process ideally. Not and have the same habituated way of relating to things—that has to die, quite right.

2013-11-01

Mindfulness is not some mystical magical quality

Full transcript
Audioclip

Now as I said a few moments ago one is never actually in balance. Instead what happens is you become more and more adept at detecting imbalances, and are able to address them earlier and earlier. So there’s more continuity and less huge fluctuation. And it feels like you’re doing very little, but a great deal is being accomplished. 
So we rely on awareness for the detection of imbalance. In particular, meditation, we have two components of attention. The first, and here I’m using the Mahayana definitions which are different from the Theravadan definitions. Two components of attention are mindfulness and awareness. Not the big awareness, the direct awareness, just awareness. 
Mindfulness here is defined as being present with the object of attention. So if that’s your breath you’re present with your breath. If it’s a book your attention is resting on the book. If it’s nature of mind you’re experiencing nature of mind. 
Mindfulness is the quality that you always start with. And basically you establish a connection with mindfulness when you are able to rest on the breath for three or more breaths in a row. You have then experienced mindfulness. So it’s not some mystical magical quality. Very ordinary quality, just a certain steadiness in attention.

2013-10-28

Practice intensively with little fanfare

From: A Trackless Path II 5
Full transcript (not yet available)
Audioclip

Student: I've always found it helpful to look at my practice using the three strands of willingness, knowledge, capacity, and the one that I've had the hardest time with by far has always been willingness. 

Ken: Oh!

Student: Because I find this question of how do you introduce the concepts to people who haven't had our experience, is a very germane one for me because I went back into a household that had no direct experience and was very threatened by it. It caused a lot of fear to arise. And so to me, I think as we go down into this practice, there's a lot of personal sacrifices. In some ways it brings up...it's a very difficult practice for other people who are close to me to adopt. And so I wanted to ask the question about your experience with that and how somebody deals with people that get hurt by it. 

Ken: Well, several things come to mind with that question, Rob. In no particular order the first thing was, a woman at a workshop which I did in the late 80s in Portland. And there were 20 people, a relatively small number, so I was able to ask everybody at the beginning why they were here. And everybody went around--this was second or third to the last person--to respond to this. And she said, "My husband has practiced Zen for the last 25 years. He's never talked to me about his practice. He's never suggested that I should do any kind of practice myself. He just gets up in the morning and meditates. But when I left to come here, there was a little smile on his face."  And I just found it so touching because there was such maturity in this relationship. 
And so the second thing that came to mind was one of the mind training teachings. Practice intensely with little fanfare. We do this practice, and as Kongtrul points out again and again in The Seven Points of Mind Training, The Great Path of Awakening, we're doing it for ourselves. We make use of bodhicitta and compassion, but we're the ones who benefit from it. And he goes on to say, "Don't expect thanks for doing this." Don't expect a pat on the back. You're the one who benefits from this. But I've always enjoyed, I really like that line, Practice intensely with little fanfare. In other words, don't make your practice public. Don't impose it on other people. There is no need to. 
And yes, you're quite right. One of the things I've worked with many people on is that in a couple relationship, any couple relationship, when one person gets involved in a practice and the other person doesn't, for the person who doesn't it feels like the other person is having an affair. And there's therefore a responsibility on the part of the person who is practicing to honor the relationship and not be the source of anxiety and fear. Now I had a wonderful time with a person who's now a very good friend, and he's been extraordinarily helpful to me in my own life, but he started off as a student. And he was a Fox News republican when he started with me. Very, very aggressive, hard driving business guy. But there was one great thing about him.  If I said, "Do this," he just did it. And the twelve, fourteen years I worked with him I don't think he missed more than two days of meditation. "You said to do that, okay, I meditate a half hour every day. That's it." Travel, doesn't make any difference, he just did it. So there's certain good qualities there. But when he got involved with me, his wife just went straight through the roof. And like many people, and this is what we tend to do. When we get involved in something such as practice, it's tremendously important to us and we want to share that with people who are close to us. One word of advice: don't. Because they don't understand for the same reasons that they don't have the experience, it's not there. Anyway, he wanted to talk to his wife about it and she from her point of view, he had just gotten involved in a cult and it was six of one whether their marriage was going to last or not. That was her experience. 

Student: Sometimes when we practice we're not that wise.

Ken: I agree. 

Student: My experience was taking my time away from the family. 

Ken: Ato Rinpoche who's a wonderful teacher in England, he married in England and had a daughter and he was very clear. Family always came first. If he was meditating and his daughter came up [snaps fingers], and this is what it means, Practice intensely with little fanfare.  You find a way of practicing so it isn't an imposition on your family. 
And in this case that I'm describing a few years later, I received an invitation to this person's, at that point 60th birthday party. And I was very surprised because the invitation came from his wife. So I went and hung around, chatted with people, and then as I was leaving I said goodbye to him and then went to say goodbye to her. And she just pulled me aside and said, "Ken, you know I'm never going to meditate, but I have benefitted from it." [Laughter] And this is what is the result of practicing intensely with little fanfare. There's another--I remember it was in the Shambhala Sun years and years ago--that kids were interviewed about their parents practicing. And one young girl said it all, "My daddy is a better daddy when he practices. 

Student: There's a story about a young lady who goes into Buddhism and her family is perplexed by this and she just decides to give up the practice and go home and she writes back to her instructor and says "They sure hate me when I'm a Buddhist and they sure like me when I act like a Buddhist." [Ken laughs]

Ken: Yeah, that's not my story, so thank you. So yes, I was young and stupid. Most of us were young and stupid, and so, people did get hurt by it, you're quite right. But my advice is, yes, take your practice seriously, but practice it in a way in which it is not an imposition on other people and that will require some dedication and some effort. 

Now the other side of your question is also very relevant. I think this is somewhat true of the nature of the pluralistic society as opposed to societies where everybody is a Buddhist or everybody is this or everybody is that. As one develops a relationship with attention and awareness and compassion, or any of a number of themes in Buddhism, it's human nature that you want to talk about it with somebody. That would be really nice. And it can be difficult to find people with whom to have those conversations. And so yes, there is a loneliness that can arise. That's part of the practice. If you live in a place like the Bay area, it's not like that because there are Buddhist coming out of the woodwork, Buddhist teachers coming out of the woodwork. But when I first came to Los Angeles there was relatively little Buddhists active. There's far, far more now, and it's been that way in town after town in America that people have found themselves the only practicing Buddhist in 500 miles or something. And that has changed very signficantly. It is good to find people with whom you can have those kinds of conversations. The internet makes it much easier than it used to be to do that. But it is an aspect of practice that most of us have to deal with. 

Student: Thank you.

Note: Another take on this here in Pointing Out Instructions

2013-10-24

Leave no ashes

FromWhat to Do about Christmas?
Full transcript
Audioclip

When something is experienced completely, good or bad, it’s done, that’s it. Yes?  
All of this is connected with impermanence because we know the passage of time by recalling what we’ve done and that engenders all of these feelings. But as we’ve seen, if you experience things completely in the moment, they tend to leave fewer traces and fewer reverberations or resonances around. So that’s one of the things to take out of this. 
In the Zen tradition, Suzuki Roshi says, “Whatever you do, do so completely that there aren’t even any ashes left.” Which is an extraordinary intense way of living. But you see this reflected in the attitude of a lot of athletes, of basketball players or somethings that don’t leave anything on the court. Which is: do it totally. 
So I just want you to think for a few moments about what it would be like that everything you do, you do with your total attention. Complete, there’s nothing left. What would life be like that way?

2013-10-22

People work in different ways

From: A Trackless Path 12
Full transcript (available soon)
Audioclip

People work in different ways.  
Our retreat director--when I was in the three-year retreat--Lama Tenpa, mahamudra was his practice. He didn't do anything else. And he'd come over to the retreat sometimes, he'd say, "You know I really should offer a few tormas to Mahakala. Oh, I'm too lazy." And by lazy he meant that he sat about 20 hours a day and he slept for about four hours sitting up. So a very lazy person. And in the second retreat he didn't teach the four immeasurables at all. AndmI worked with him. When he got to taking and sending he didn't even teach taking and sending--just a very little bit--he had them doing something else.

I had a real knock-down, drag-em-out argument with him about that because it had been a really important part of my training in the first retreat. And finally after listening to me basically yelling at him for half an hour, he just looked at me and said, "Ken that worked for you. It doesn't work for me." Mahamudra really, really worked for him.

And four immeasurables was a very important part of my own practice, which is one of the reasons I teach it, because I think it's very, very important. For other people it's  Avalokiteshvara. Other people, it's resting with the breath. There are many, many practices and the important thing is to find a way of practice that speaks to you. 
That's really what I hope, you can move in that direction. And then it doesn't matter what anybody else is doing because you have something that speaks to you, and brings about change in you when you do it. And that's what's really, really important.

Once you get into a center...institutional thing and people are doing this practice and that practice you get into this comparison game: who's getting ahead of whom, etc., etc.

One of my students at a retreat many years ago...it was an insight retreat and I  gave them a couple of options. One was to do the traditional insight practices and the other one was to work with Nasrudin stories. So, she was a pretty good practitioner and was working on her third Nasrudin story in this particular retreat, and at the end of the retreat she said, "How many other people got to three?" And I said, "You're never going to know." [Laughs] It was the comparison game again. And this stuff comes up all the time and it's worse than useless. It's counterproductive. It works in the wrong direction, and so to the extent that it's possible I'm trying to create a way of practice where none of you are in competition with anybody else.

2013-10-21

Poetic and Mythic Expression

From: A Trackless Path 12
Full transcript: (available soon)
Audioclip

Now the buddha, dharma and sangha, the three jewels, can be interpreted on many, many levels. Robert can I borrow your copy of Wake Up To Your Life please. I keep telling you everything's in here. I've become more and more convinced that whoever wrote this should be shot. In Wake Up To Your Life,  you'll find a discussion of the three jewels and refuge.

Top of page 46:
To take refuge in the buddha is to rest in the emptiness of original mind, free from any reference or defining characteristic. To take refuge in the dharma is to experience the clarity of original mind, the natural awareness that knows what experience is and how experience arises. To take refuge in the sangha is to be one with the unrestricted arising and subsiding of experience, free from the three poisons of attraction, aversion and indifference.
Thanks. And that's what really what refuge is about. And as I said it's about setting a direction. And so the way one prepared for a period of formal practice is you set a direction. Or you set "this" direction.

In the Tibetan tradition and probably in the middle and later Indian traditions there's some formulas for refuge which included the teacher, the guru. One is Tilopa's famous statement to his main student Naropa, "Without a guru the thousand buddhas of the kalpa don't appear."

And one can view this in a number of ways. Either as a degeneration, or as I prefer, to the beginning of a movement into a less mythical approach to practice; in most of us our practice becomes substantial and takes on substance only when we find a person who can actually guide us. And not always, but in many cases one forms a quite intimate emotional connection with that person. They become a very important part of one's life. And when you have the phrase, I take refuge in my teacher treasured buddha, it's not because this person is a buddha, it's because this person holds the possibility of awakening, or that door for you.

And a slight digression here. We've lost to a very great extent the ability to express and understand things in poetic and mythic terms. I was having a discussion on this topic with a psychologist probably seven or eight years ago. And he said, "What are you talking about Ken?" I said, "Well in Tibetan Buddhism you regard your teacher as a buddha." And he immediately said, "Oh, so he's infallible?" I said, "Well that's exactly the point."

That's exactly what we do as Westerners. That's an instance of how we've lost the ability to express and understand things in mythic terms. Because when we say, "My teacher is buddha," we're not saying he's an infallible human being, or he's perfect, or she's this or whatever. We're really describing our relationship with that person. And that's a very different thing. And we use this kind of symbolic language to express that very special quality. Not a friend in the ordinary sense. If they're opposite sexes, not a lover even though the connection can be very close emotionally and of extraordinary intimacy. But it's where we experience what being awake means. 
So that's a natural way we can help set, or something in our lives helps set direction. So that's why, I take refuge in my teacher, treasured buddha. For some reason this person is able to meet and respond to my deepest spiritual questions. 

2013-10-16

The Warrior's Solution

From: The Warrior's Solution 8
Audioclip

Ken: Now to complete the warriors solution. We've talked about intend, sacrifice and die. One way to look at this is, this is the effort one makes, or the steps one takes in addressing imbalance.  
Through the perception of imbalance an intention forms, and emotional material arises. Contrary to that intention you sacrifice, and when you move  right into that it feels like you are going to die. You just die and you're able to do. And some of you experienced this yesterday in the exercises. The other side of the coin can be described as resting in the experience of life. So it's what follows; you die. Now the question that I gave you for your awareness practice is, "Who dies?"  What do you experience when you ask that question. Linda?

Linda: [Unclear]

Ken: So what do you experience when you ask that?

Linda: Relief.

Ken: Okay you experience, relief. Deborah?
Deborah: A sense of resting.  
Ken: Uh-huh, so one way of describing this, and all of these are your descriptions, is that there's a sense of rest. One can just rest. Okay, now, just rest right now and go through intend, sacrifice, die. Who dies? You rest. Now what happens in that rest? Art?

Art: [Unclear]

Ken: But as you just rest there what happens?

Art: Things start to come up.

Ken: Mmm-hmm, yeah, things start to arise, right? Maybe we just rest here a little longer and see.   
[Silence]   
What are you experiencing right now?  Linda?

Linda[Unclear]

Ken: Okay, anybody else?

Student[Unclear]

Ken: Any emotion connected with that? When we rest emotion begins to rise. It can be all kinds of things, what you are talking about is a sweetness, a joy, a sense of happiness, but it's not always that. Sometimes it's other emotions. If we sat here a bit longer it might be anxiety, uncertainty. If we sat here a bit longer it might be anger. 
Ken: A lot of the replies that people were giving me were ways of not feeling that discomfort, and so that happens, I mean, maybe a couple of people here, not me certainly, haven't cut through all of that reactivity. It arises. There it is. Now whatever arises, move into the experience completely. If it's a sense of sweetness move into that. Anxiety: move into that. Irritation: move into that. Happiness: move into that. And experience all of the reactive tendencies associated with it. So you're in your experience as raw as you can be. 
Now associated with any reactive tendency is a projected world. With irritation the projected world is having to oppose something. With anxiety the projected world is having to run away. With sweetness the projected world might be, "have to hold on to this, have to maintain." So note the projected world that arises, and interrupt the projection by experiencing completely the reactive tendencies that give rise to it. 
Now you come into presence. And in presence you have a sense of balance, and in that you can perceive imbalance. And when you perceive imbalance then you intend, sacrifice, die. Look at who dies, rest, emotional projection, move into presence, balance. 
Now initially these are two different processes, but as you gain facility it will become one continuous effort. That's the warrior's solution. 

2013-10-14

The reliable witness

From: A Trackless Path 13
Full transcript (coming soon)
Audioclip

Ken: Let's start with a simple question. How many of you have expectations about your practice? What it should be like and how you should be in the world as a result of this practice? Well, one of the more relieving and one of the more troubling instructions in The Great Path of Awakening is, Rely on the principal witness.  
And the commentary says, as you practice mind training, people may come to you and say, "Oh, you're a much nicer person than you used to be. You're much easier to get along with. You must be making great progress in your practice." And so you think, "Oh, I'm getting somewhere." But that's regarded in mind training as an unreliable witness because people don't know what's actually going on inside you. All they're doing is basing it on behavior. 
And this certainly has happened to me. In the first three-year retreat I got a note from my wife, who was in the women's retreat saying, "From what the other guys are saying you're making great progress in your practice because you're much easier to live with now." And this was further confirmed many years later when I was in Vancouver helping to establish a center there. I was visiting with some old friends, and we were chatting in the kitchen. She came up, put her arm around me and said, "I think I can say this now, Ken, you really were an asshole." [Laughter]  
So, what do you do with that? So that's the unreliable witness.  
And Kontrul goes on in his commentary to say...I'm going to experiment with getting rid of the word mind for awhile and see what that's like.
When you are clear inside and not experiencing regrets or shame about your actions, that's the reliable witness 
Student: Could you repeat that?

Ken: When you are clear inside and have no regrets or shame about your actions, that's the reliable witness. What he's saying is the reliable witness is mind itself.

2013-10-02

Compassion and Insight

From: Awakening From Belief 6a
Full transcript (Available soon)
Audioclip
Student: This stems from yesterday from a question about the practice of shamatha leading to insight as different from that leading to compassion To my experience, the two seem so intertwined. I was unable to catch where it separated and how they are not almost one and the same. 
Ken: Compassion and insight? Well, they're quite different. 
Student: But don't they arise almost co-emergently? 
Ken: [Laughter] That's a big word. Where'd you get that one? [Laughter] Where's my dictionary? Ah, the lhan cig skyes pa'i ye shes  (pron. lhenchik kyé pe yé shé), co-emergent or co-natural awareness,  I guess. Okay, how much do you want on this? 
Student: I'm asking the question because it's-- 
Ken: I can give you a three- or four-sentence answer or I can give you two hours. 
Student: Make it two hours. [Laughter] 
Student: Middle way. 
Ken: Ah, there we go. What's behind your question?: What's the practice experience? 
Student: Again from my own experience, it's that compassion has continued to grow as I've been involved more and more in practice, and that the insight that develops from the practice reveals the relationship to all sentient beings. Maybe I am using or hearing the word insight incorrectly.
Ken: Compassion is the ability to be present with suffering. It's necessary if you're actually going to help somebody. If you can't be present with the suffering, then you will try to change the situation so that you don't feel the suffering. That's not helping the person. So, the number one requisite in compassion is to be able to be present with the pain in the situation. To do that you have to let go of control, which for some people is a bit challenging. 
 Now, when we use the term insight in Buddhism we are pointing to something that's quite different from the way the word is used in ordinary English. And even within Buddhism there are significant distinctions in how the word is used.
In the Theravadan tradition, the word mindfulness refers to what in the Mahayana tradition we refer to as the union of shamatha and vipashyana. It's quite different usage. Even within the Mahayana, in the Gelugpa tradition, insight is used to refer to working with such questions as what is the nature of mind, what is the color of your mind, where is your mind, all that kind of stuff--you know what I'm talking about. 
In the Kagyu tradition, those questions are viewed as the preparation for insight, and insight actually refers to seeing into mind nature. That's insight.
Now, it's quite possible to be able to stand and be present in the presence of pain and suffering and have no insight. And it's quite possible to see into the nature of mind and have difficulty being present with suffering. It's possible and, unfortunately, that happens.
In the Mahayana tradition, emptiness--which is the result of seeing and compassion--are regarded as...well, the phrase that my teacher, Kalu Rinpoche, always used was stong nyid snying rje snying po can (pron. tongnyi nyingjé nyingpo chen). stong nyid  is the Tibetan word for emptiness, and sngying rje is the word for compassion, snying po  is the word for heart and can is the word to have. To have the heart or the essence which is the union of compassion and emptiness. And this is, I think, one of the aspects of the genius of the Mahayana, is the recognition that you need both. 
In terms of practice, as you cultivate compassion--that is, as you become more and more able to be in the presence of suffering--then you can open to more and more experience. You can open to the experience of everyone you encounter. You can open to the totality of your experience because you can be present with the pain in others and you can be present with the pain in you. So, you open to the totality of your experience, and this provides you with a stability of attention, which is awfully useful when it comes to developing insight.
At the same time, when you really see into how things work--and we're talking about mind, but it's the same in other areas of knowledge--compassion arises quite naturally, unless there's an emotional block against it. So, for instance, if you have mastered a body of knowledge--you know, carpentry, psychotherapy, linguistics, it doesn't matter--but you really know it, you understand it very deeply, what do you experience when you see someone fumbling around and making mistakes in the area of knowledge that you know so well?
Student: You help them.
Ken: Yeah, you feel compassionate. So that's why I say compassion arises naturally from deep knowing, unless there is an emotional block. And there are all kinds of people who have very deep knowledge of a particular area and aren't particularly noted for their compassion.
So, yes the two work with each other and can and do enhance each other, but it's not a given. It's not a given, and that's why one is encouraged to cultivate both.