From: Awakening From Belief 1
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.
From: Awakening from Belief 1
Full transcript (Available soon)
Full transcript (Available soon)
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.
From: Learning from the Lives of the Lineage Holders 2
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.
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.
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.
From: What to Do about Christmas?
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?
From: A Trackless Path 12
Full transcript: (available soon)
Full transcript: (available soon)
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.
From: The Warrior's Solution 8
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.
Deborah: A sense of resting.
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.
From: A Trackless Path 13
Full transcript (coming soon)
Full transcript (coming soon)
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.
From: Awakening From Belief 6a
Full transcript (Available soon)
Full transcript (Available soon)
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.