Controlling Your Emotions

FromWhat to Do about Christmas?
Full Transcript
Ken: Now I want to move onto the second of the three marks which is suffering or a different way of looking at, slightly different way of looking at it, is trying to get our emotional needs met.

Now, we’ve just done this exercise with regret and accomplishment or feeling good about ourselves and these feelings operate in absolutely everybody and they may be slightly different in terms of flavor and emphasis and so forth but they aren’t different. Everybody has the same kinds of feelings. Can you control this? Can you control what feelings arise inside in you?

Student: No.

Ken: No, you can’t control it. How much effort do you put in to trying to control it? A lot. I don’t want to feel this way. Well that’s a sure indication that you are feeling this way. 
There are many, many techniques in Buddhist practice for working with emotions, but what’s very, very important to understand is that none of them are really about trying to control what you feel. Many of them are presented that way, mistakenly in my opinion. Many people interpret them that the idea is, what you should be trying to do is control what you feel.

For instance when we get into the four immeasurables, people think, “I meant to be feeling this, I meant to be feeling that.” But that’s not how it works. By experiencing your own emotions completely then they cease to weigh you down. Actually, it’s a way of getting rid of the baggage, if you wish.
Note:  Ken also talks about the three marks of existence in many other podcasts including:


The Buddha is always present

A  meaningful moment during a retreat with Ken McLeod:
I just returned from the Ken McLeod weekend retreat on the Heart Sutra. We were studying the “longer” version where the Buddha is present. Ken asked, “What is the Buddha doing there?” The Buddha doesn’t do anything in the sutra other than sit there and listen to the conversation between Avalokiteśvara and Shariputra. So he invited two people up to the front to re-enact the scene. My friend Laurie volunteered to play the part of Avalokiteśvara, and a woman volunteered to play the part of Shariputra. “Ok,” said Ken, “Shariputra, ask a practice question to Avalokiteśvara.”

“Do I have sit formally every day or can I just be mindful in everyday life?” asked Shariputra.

Avalokiteśvara answered somewhat flippantly, “If you can remain mindful throughout your life, then you don't need to sit. But I haven’t been able to do that.”

Next Ken invited someone up to play the part of the Buddha to sit there serenely between them, slightly off to the side.

“Now go through it again, ask the same question and give your answer.” said Ken.

The Shariputra character asked the same question again, but it was phrased more deeply this time.

Avalokiteśvara bowed to Shariputra and started to answer, “Thank you for your question. If you can remain mindful throughout your life…” and stopped.

Ken turned to him and asked, “You don’t want to give the same answer anymore, do you?”

“No.” answered Avalokiteśvara.

“Give the answer that you want to give.”

“If you can remain mindful throughout your life, you may not need to sit, but if you do not sit, you may not be able to remain mindful throughout your life.”

There was a audible murmur in the room and a palpable relaxing.

“Shariputra, how did you experience that?”

“With the first answer, I felt like even though it was what I wanted to hear, I didn’t feel good about it. The second answer I felt a relaxing that it was the truth, even though it’s not what I wanted to hear.”

It was clear that the presence of the “Buddha,” even though simply represented by a practitioner sitting there serenely, changed the interaction to be more honest and real. 
Everyone went to sit down again, and Ken drove home the point:

“And by the way, Buddha is always present.”
Source: No One Can Give You Wisdom
Note:  Here's a similar interaction from a workshop on the Heart Sutra given by Ken McLeod in Los Angeles in 2008.
An interview on the Heart Sutra (Santa Fe Radio Cafe)


Forming a relationship with walled-off material

From: A Trackless Path 2
Gary: Just curious Ken, about how chö could be possibly--I mean, I know this is all individual, but in terms of dealing with the walled-off material and looking at the primary practice and the steps you've talked especially about--you know, opening your heart--I'm wondering if there's any way someone can incorporate that practice.
Ken: In chö
Gary: Well, chö and in a certain step in the primary practice if that's possible.
Ken: Well, take a step back. One way to view taking and sending, or tonglen is, it's a way of forming a relationship with elements of our experience from which we are alienated. 
Student: Can you say that again? 
Ken: It's a way of forming a relationship with elements of our experience from which we're alienated. So, for instance, we don't really like our anger so with taking and sending we take in the anger of all sentient beings and give joy to them. It's a way of forming a relationship with anger. You follow? 
Chö is a dramatic enactment of taking and sending. So those parts of our experience from which we're extremely alienated, usually described as the "karmic debt collectors," we invite and we give them what we're most attached to--our own body. So it's a way of forming a relationship with those aspects of our experience from which we're most alienated. Follow? 
Now if one looks at the cultivation of attention as the sort of central trunk of practice we may find, and often do, that we run into things in us--and sometimes very large portions--which we don't have any way of accessing or working with directly. And then we use special techniques such as taking and sending or chö or yidam practice or four immeasurables or whatever to work on things quite explicitly so that certain qualities and certain abilities develop so that we can open to those experiences. 
And for some people, those practices just speak to them more powerfully so they go with it. They work with those. 
Gary: So the idea is to be able to stay relaxed and rest while your doing those practices? 
Ken: Very definitely. Very definitely. The power of resting is extraordinary. Tense your hand and touch the table. And if you then relax your hand and touch the table you'll have two different experiences. And which of those do you have the more complete experience of the table? It's the same principle applies. And so whenever you find yourself hardening that actually is something to pay attention to. Okay? Because you're hardening against something. One always hardens in order to avoid experiencing something. 
Gary: Even while doing taking and sending and power chö. Right? 
Ken: Definitely. Yeah. I mean, if you're hardening doing taking and sending there's something over there you don't want to experience. Yep.


Shattering the illusion

From: Guru, Deity, Protector 8
Full Transcript
Ken: One of the impressions that you get from most Buddhist traditions--but particularly the Tibetan, I think more so than the others--is that you get to a point where things just take care of themselves. I've not seen any evidence for that.
Jamgön Kongtrül, author of this long prayer, quite an extraordinary person, and his autobiography has been translated into English, you can get it. And it's a typical Tibetan autobiography, with long lists of empowerments and teachers, and ceremonies that he did, and things like that.
But, interspersed in all of this stuff, you get a feeling for the person. I think that he lived to 89 or so. He was born in the beginning of the nineteenth century, I think it might be 1812. Died at the end of it. And very shortly before his death, he says, "I'm quite concerned about dying now."

And don't forget, this is one of the great lamas of the nineteenth century. [Ken paraphrases] My mind is very clouded and confused. A couple of years ago, my mind was really clear, and if I had died then, I think I would have been okay. But I am really not sure what's going to happen now.

I read this in retreat, and went like [Ken makes a facial expression of shock].

Student: Was it discouraging?

Ken: Well, yes and no. It shattered the illusion for me. And for this I'm quite grateful. And you can say this was discouraging if you wish. That you get to a point where everything is hunky-dory. And on the other hand, I was left with the appreciation--it doesn't matter how far you get, or what you get to--you still have to meet the next experience. And Uchiyama, in Refining your Life, makes the same point in a very, very different way.
He describes this experience he had when a cut on his foot became infected, and he got blood poisoning. And he was in excruciating pain and horrible fever. And unable to go to a doctor, because he was very unusual as a Japanese monk, he actually earned his living from begging, in the 50's, which was like hadn't been done for about a century. He took dharma somewhat seriously.

So he couldn't possibly go to the doctor, because he had no money. And a woman who lived in the neighborhood eventually gave him some licorice bulbs, which he packed around the cut in his foot, and it drew the poison out. And so he got better.

But then he writes, "I would only be fooling myself if I thought that getting through that experience would be any help, if I were to encounter a similar intensity of pain and suffering again."

You can hear things like this, and you can go, "well, What are we doing all this for? It doesn't help!" Well, it does, but not in the ways that we usually hope it will. You know what I mean? I think...well, I'll just speak for me--I don't know about any of you--I have my suspicions, there's always a secret part of us that goes you know, "If I do this, everything is going to turn out okay. Life will go well, I'll be happy. I won't have any more problems." You know, this part of us; I think that all of us is always hoping for that.

And then we find ourselves in some kind of crisis or really unpleasant situation. Maybe our spouse quite unexpectedly breaks up with us, or someone close to us is dying, very painfully. Or we get very ill--I mean these things happen. And everything is up. You know, all our hopes and our disappointments, and our fears, it's all there. But we've trained, and because we've trained, and we've come to some kind of understanding, while it's very, very vivid, something in us knows that the only thing to do here is experience it. And so we do. We don't fight experience. We may not enjoy it, but we don't fight it. It's there.

Whether we're insane, or depressed, or frightened, those are the easier ones to work with. When we're being admired, loved, center of attention, those are the more difficult ones. But it's all just an experience. And we still have to do things: take care of this person who's ill; work through the challenges of the situation in which we're terrified; put our life back together when our spouse leaves us or child dies, or something like that. We still have to do...still. But there's a knowing, I think, in which we know that it's okay, whatever it is, it's okay. It's just there. Okay.


Struggle is part of life

From: Sutra Session 35
Full transcript

There's going to be struggle with life in whatever you do. And if you read the life of Buddha you see that he struggled with life all the way through it. Even after he was enlightened he struggled with kings, he struggled with divisions in his community; he struggled with people trying to assassinate him periodically and so forth. And so what do we do about that? And the really important piece here is the fact that struggle is part of life is the basis of compassion. And all of you know this. How many of you have children here? Okay. Now when you see your child struggling to learn something, or struggling with something, what do you feel? Your heart just goes out to them. And so compassion is a way that brings us into connection with this aspect of life in a way that we aren’t regarding it as an enemy or something to be destroyed or negated or whatever, but as an aspect of life which we have to learn.


Tonight's work

From: A Trackless Path 9

Ken: There's a section in which he's [Uchiyama] commenting on Dögen's instructions: 
"When all of these matters are taken care of then the officers meet and can set the menu for the next day and prepare tomorrow's gruel." 
Uchiyama's commentary goes something like this: 
When you are preparing tomorrow's oatmeal, you're not setting up a goal for tomorrow. Because you have no idea what is going to happen. In the night there could be an earthquake, fire, riots, whatever. So you actually have no idea whether that gruel is actually going to be served or not or anybody is going to eat it.

But you prepare tomorrow's gruel as tonight's work. You do what needs to be done, not with any aim for the future, but because it is tonight's work.

Because the human condition is: there's an order to life, there's structure and so forth, and it is subject to disruption at any time because of impermanence. The order you can view as the karma element, the disruption as the impermanence element.

And we live in this absolute paradox, which in traditional terms is, we're definitely going to die and we have no idea when.

Or in more everyday things, "Yes, I need to plan to do this, and yet I have no idea whether I will experience the results of my efforts."

This is quite different from clinging to an aim and the result and being aimless and having no result. You follow?

So, whether it's in family, or in our work, we think about what is necessary to take care, wife, family and so forth, or our responsibilities at work, but we do so, without any expectation of experiencing those results.

And that becomes quite powerful. Because when we're not attached to the experience of those results, which most people, that's the direction most people go,
then we find we are much freer to see, what really needs to be done. If you see what I mean?!

OK, did this help? OK, Gary, could you have the mic?

Student: Not to be contrary, Ken, but one of your four points last night was about every action has a consequence?

Ken: Yes exactly, and that's why we have to plan and do things. Because if we don't, then, you know, you don't put money in your 401k, then, that has a consequence.

Student: But you are saying at the same time let go of your expectation and any results.

Ken: Yes, you put money in your 401k and you may never got to use it!

Student: So why worry about one's actions?

Ken: Because not doing an action is an action and it has its consequences.

If we don't care of the body, we get sick. If we are mean to people, we end up isolated and alone. If we steal from people, nobody will trust us.

Now, actions have consequences.


Practice deeply

From: Four Immeasurables 6
Full Trancript
Audioclip (This is a long clip. The quote below begins at about min. 13)
There are many, many methods of practice in Buddhism—hundreds, if not thousands. It’s what happens when you hang around for twenty-five hundred years. What’s important is for you to find the methods and practices that really speak to you and then you practice them until they completely permeate or they become the way you relate to the world.

Obviously you can’t do that with every tool—there’s just not enough time. Our retreat teacher, his tool was mahamudra. And that’s just what he did. And after he taught a third three-year retreat he was then given permission to go and I think he’s been in retreat for the last twenty years. Probably just practicing mahamudra. And he was pretty good at it, way back twenty years ago. So I have no idea what he’s like now.

And four immeasurables just didn’t work for him at all. I got into a big argument with him about that. He just looked at me and said finally, ”Ken, they don’t work for me.“ ”Oh, okay.“ And different practices work for different people. That’s why we have many different practices.

Even within the four immeasurables you may find one speaks more to you than the others. I think it is important to develop a gesture with all four. You’ll find in the end that compassion has a special place. Because compassion more than any of the others brings us into presence and as I was saying earlier radiates presence into the world.


Criticism and Intention

From: What to Do about Christmas?
Full Transcript

Student: How about when something really is imposed from the outside, such as judgments and criticisms are going to be coming my way, and I’m not really sure about how to have an intention about that. 
Ken: Ah, when judgments and criticisms come your way. Well I think one can have an intention. It can vary. One very common intention is, I’m going to disregard this.

But another, possibly more fruitful one, is: what can I learn here? In my own experience, whenever somebody fires some criticism or judgment at me, which happens quite frequently, one of the things that I’ve found very useful is: there must be something I have done that has led this criticism to come.

Now it doesn’t mean to say that I’m a hundred percent responsible. I don’t mean that for an instant. In some cases I may well be. But that’s not an a priori assumption. But there’s some reason that this person is focusing their criticism on me. And it may be because at one time I spoke in a certain voice which reminded them of their critical father. Something like that. It maybe a very small bit on my part.

And so what I try to do in situations where I am being criticized is, what can I learn from this? What was my part in it? And I look at it that way. And that way, whenever criticism comes I don’t regard it as a negative. Now I don’t know whether that applies to you or not, but possibly.

Student: It’s from my mother and I don’t understand where it comes from except that maybe I’m an extension of her and her self-criticism.

Ken: Now instead of trying to figure it all out, why don’t you make your intention to be in the experience of being criticized. Just to be right in that experience. Because it sounds like this has happened a few times before. Right? And you are still buying into it. I mean — you know who you are. Are you this terrible person?

Student: [Unclear]


Ken: That’s up to you! You know. So, just work with what we were discussing at the beginning. You know, just be right in the experience.

Student: Okay.

Ken: And see what happens there.

Student: I can make that the intent.

Ken: You can make that the intention, yes.

Student: Okay that will work.

Ken: Okay, very good.


As much room to move as a violin in a violin case

From: A Trackless Path II 5
Audioclip (link to the audio of the full podcast)
Helen: Well I'm interested in the page on karma, page 8, and there's a Sufi saying at the bottom of it that I don't quite understand. 

Ken: Well, I may not be much help because George put this together. Oh, We have as much room to move as a violin in a violin case, but it's enough.

Helen: But that's enough. 

Ken: Yeah. 

Helen: It must be a small space 

Ken: Yeah. Okay. How much are you run by conditioning?

Helen: Oh, quite a bit. 

Ken: Percentagewise, how much free attention do you experience?  Percentagewise. 

Helen: From conditioning?  Free attention separate from conditioning?

Ken: Yeah, well, percentagewise.

Helen: That would be about one percent. Or maybe a half!

Ken: A half! Given the percentage of space in the violin case how much space does a violin have to move? 

Helen: Within that case?

Ken: Percentagewise.

Helen: Not much.  I'd say five percent, eight percent. 

Ken: It's more like half a percent too. That's what it's referring to. 

Helen: Oh. You mean now that we have actual free attention--

Ken: That's the only time we can actually change anything about our lives. 

Helen: Oh I see. Mmmm.

Ken: The rest of it, we're just running. 

Helen: Okay. Our conditioning. 

Ken: Yeah, we're being run by it. 

Helen: Sure. Okay. Thank you. 

Note:   Check out this related clip and quote from Awakening from Belief. 


Want to experience bodhicitta?

Please don't just read the transcript here.  Take a few minutes to listen to the interaction between Janet and Ken in session 5 of the retreat, A Trackless Path II. It's worth it!

Bodhicitta (from ATPII05: A Trackless Path II (retreat) 00:54:40.00 - 01:00:20.4)

(download into iTunes)
Janet: Can I do short follow-up?

Ken: Sure.

Janet: Bodhicitta, one problem that comes up, just one of the many problems, is that it has become so honorific in a way, you know, that a lot of the literature suggests that to experience it is so rare and so exalted--

Ken: Do you want to experience bodhicitta?

Janet: Sure.

Ken: Okay. [Laughter] We'll do this in the western context. Are you familiar with the Hubble Gap?

Janet: The Hubble Gap?

Ken: Yes.

Janet: Ah...not, no.

Ken: Okay. Then I won't worry about that. It would help but it's okay. So how many stars do you see in the nighttime sky?

Janet:  How many do I see? Dozens.

Ken: A few more, there are actually [laughter] for most people [laughter]. Tonight! Outside!

Janet: Okay, thousands.

Ken: Yeah, thousands, it's about four thousand, okay. What percentage of the stars in the Milky Way is that? In the Milky Way galaxy?

Janet: It's probably a millionth.

Ken: Yeah, it's some ridiculously small number, you're quite right. Okay. So imagine that around every one of those stars there is another planet like earth, and it has as many beings as earth has, like six, seven billion. Okay. Now how many galaxies are there in the universe?

Janet: I can't imagine.

Ken: Yeah, that's why I asked you about the Hubble Gap, but it is an unbelievable number. It dwarfs the number of stars in the Milky Way. And every one of those galaxies has as many or more stars as the Milky Way does. So I want you to imagine a planet around every one of those stars, and it's filled with beings like Earth too. Okay. It's a fairly large number we're talking about.

Janet: I'm getting boggled.

Ken: That's good, good we're in the right direction. Now, I want you to form the intention to free every one of those beings from the vicisssitudes of samsara.
         Janet: [Silence]
Ken: It takes a little while, but keep going. I mean...I'm not talking about the freeing them, it just takes a little while to work up to that, but keep workin' at it. Okay, Okay. That's good, that's good, hang on, right there, that's fine. Just right there, it's good. Okay. Now you're going to free every one of those beings. Are you clear about that?

Janet: I just feel completely flabbergasted.

Ken: Yeah, that's fine, but you're forming that intention. Please. You said you wanted to experience bodhicitta, you have to follow the instructions. [Laughter]

Janet: May I ask...I mean, is that part of it?

Ken: Just...just do it, Janet. Just do it. Stop mucking around, just do it.

Janet: Just do it?

Ken: Yeah, Nike. Nike. [Laughter] You're just limited by time and space.

Janet: [Unclear]

Ken: This is your follow up question. [Laughter]

Janet: Sorry about wasting your time folks.

Ken: So you got that? Just bring that really, really clear to mind. Now just take a few minutes. Really let it sink in. Okay. Now. Know that whatever you do, not a single being will ever be liberated. What happens? What did you experience right there?

Janet: Just fell right through...

Ken: That's bodichitta.

Janet: [Softly] Ohhhh...it's just so heartbreaking...

Ken: Yeah, but it was just total open, there's nothing.

Janet: [Whispering] Just complete opening.

Ken: That openness, that's bodhicitta.


Dangers in spiritual practice

From: Guru, Deity, Protector 1b
Full transcript

There’s danger in all forms of spiritual practice. And the dangers come about in two ways. There may be more but for the purposes of our discussion I’m looking at two.
One danger is working at a higher level of attention than you can sustain. This is why many of you recall one of my recommendations is that when you’re working with difficult or painful areas, you let it open to you, you don’t try to open it up. Many of you have heard me say that. The reason for that instruction is so that you aren’t working at a higher level of attention than you can sustain. You are working at the level of attention that you actually have, and things evolve. And they definitely do evolve and they deepen, but in a way in which you stay in balance—you and the whole world stays in balance. It’s very important. If you work at a higher level of attention than you can sustain, you’re living on borrowed energy. There’s an imbalance. And when there’s a consistent imbalance in your efforts, there will inevitably be an imbalance in the results. That is totally contrary to the intention.
Second danger. You’re working at something that simply doesn’t fit with you. And quite a few people who’ve come to see me over the last few years have been practicing one or more Vajrayana techniques, and I listen to them, and in some cases they simply don’t have the level of attention to be able to do it. They’re just swirling around in confusion and it’s not making anything better.
In other cases, it’s quite clear that Vajrayana practice just doesn’t sit with them. And I’ll say, “Just stop it.” They all get bent out of shape and worried about it, because of all of this big heavy propaganda about samaya and commitment and so forth. But it’s absolutely the case. I mean, we get this same thing in other areas of practice. Some people take ordination as a monk or a nun and it really doesn’t fit them. It’s a long, long path of practice.
One woman I know, she was very sensible. She was quite serious about her practice in Buddhism. The bodhisattva vow just didn’t fit with her. Not at the time that I knew her anyway. She wouldn’t take it. She was very helpful and worked with people and helped people in many many ways. But there was something about that that really didn’t suit her.
So, what I’m encouraging you to do here is to weigh everything with your own experience. We are going to be talking about faith. We’re going to be talking about devotion, because these are very significant elements in Vajrayana. You can’t ignore them. You can try to, but it really doesn’t work. Devotion is not something that is appropriate or suitable for everyone.
So through these few days I hope you will get a flavor of what this is actually like. I’m going to do my best to convey that to you, both through our talks together but also through the practice. The form of the practice may be a bit different. It’s experimental, so it may be a total failure. But all through this, I want you to be asking, “Does this work for me or not? Is this a path I want to take or not?” And really weigh that. Because the whole point of our work together—not just this thing, but spiritual practice—is becoming more present, and aware in every aspect of your life. It’s not about getting a credential or being able to say, “I’m practicing the biggest, meanest, sexiest path there is.” That’s not the point.


The big scheme of the practice

Ken: I want you to go through situations where reactions come up and feel where the reaction arises. And you'll notice that by all of the sensations that arise in your body, and emotions and things like that. If you suddenly get lost in thinking it's a very good indication you've hit reactive material because everybody uses the intellect to get away from feeling. If you go to sleep that's also a good indication you're hitting reactive material because that's a great way of checking out: "I don't have to feel anything." 
Student: What if you've forgotten what you were reacting to? 
Ken: Well, you've gotta go back and do it again, and the way practice works here it's exactly the same way that shamatha works. You sit down in shamatha, you breathe, get lost in a thought, after a while you go, "Oh yeah, that's right I got lost in a thought," and you come back and you breathe again, breathe, breathe, breathe, get lost in another thought, "Oh yeah." But as you do this over a period of time, you begin to move back until a time comes when you're sitting there resting with the breath, and a thought comes up and you realize, "Oh there's a thought." But you don't get lost. You're just, "Oh." And it goes up and it goes poof, and you go, "Hmm," and you're just there the whole time. 
And that's actually developing a capacity of attention so you can experience a little reactive process, because a thought is a little reactive process. So we're doing this on a larger scale now. You just keep coming back, keep coming back, keep going through the same situation. You're going to get lost, confused and all kinds of uncomfortable feelings will come up, etc., etc. You keep going through it, and this way gradually you're going to hit whatever that reactive process is based on, which is some kind of uncomfortable feeling.
If you hit that--and you may or may not--just rest in that feeling, because at this point you don't know that it's a feeling. It feels like a fact to you. That's why you run away from it. That's why the reactive patterns kick up, just to get away from it. 
So you need to develop your capacity of attention just to experience it, just to rest in the experience of it. That may take  anywhere from five minutes to ten years, and when know--and I don't mean intellectually, I mean experientially--when you know it to be a feeling, then everything changes. 
So that's the big scheme of the practice.


Burning questions

From: Unfettered Question 24

Jeff: What does evolution or karma hang upon? What wakes up? Who or what makes the effort?  
Ken: There's a rather graphic image which is sometimes invoked when people ask these kinds of questions. When you have an arrow in your eye, you generally don't ask who shot it. The kinds of questions that you pose here come from standing back and looking and trying to understand practice or Buddhism, or karma or evolution. 
You can't really understand this. I mean you can come to a conceptual understanding, but it has the relationship to chocolate ice cream that a description of chocolate ice cream has: you can read about it but you don't actually taste it. 
If these are questions that are really burning in you, then let them burn. Don't try to find the answers. Let the questions burn in you until you are burned up, basically. That is very much how Zen tradition would approach this.  
What wakes up? Well, you can translate that question or put it in different forms--what dies? Or you can make it very simple. When you look at a book or a flower, what experiences looking at a book or looking at a flower? What experiences the flower? 
The answers to these questions is not an explanation or a description. When you look in this way, you'll experience a shift in attention. And, as you are able to rest in that shift,  you'll find a way of knowing that you may not know at this point, a way of knowing opening up in which the kinds of questions that you're asking look very, very different. I don't really want to go any further at this point because to do so runs the risk of stirring the waters in a way which will not be helpful to you. 
Take any of these questions; let it burn deeply inside. Don't look for a cognitive or intellectual or conceptual answer. Rather rest in the shift that any of these questions produces, and see what happens there.


On samadhi

From: Eightfold Path 2
Full transcript

The Sanskrit word, samadhi, is a very difficult word to translate. And it has actually a wide range of meanings, but in this context the meaning is actually fairly precise. With some reservations I use the word absorption. I haven’t found anything better yet. There are lots of problems with that word but samadhi is active attention and it is composed or comprised of the union of stability and clarity. In just the resting mind there are those two aspects of the mindfulness and awareness and they come together to form active attention. But then that evolves into the stability or the resting quality and then the insight quality which is basic clarity quality. So when those two come together then you’re experiencing absorption or samadhi.

And the way that I’ve find very helpful in regarding this from the mahamudra perspective, it’s from a book called, Clarifying the Natural State. As you develop the ability to rest you naturally find that you begin to look at experience. So the way that you deepen the resting is to start looking in the resting. Now as soon as you start looking it brings an active quality into the attention which tends to destabilize the resting.

So by working at this and being sensitive to the balance, you’re not only able to look in the resting but rest in the looking. And that’s the two-liner that I find very helpful. Rest in the looking and look in the resting. Those two lines will take you a very, very long way in your meditation practice. The key thing here is to be sensitive to imbalance. When you are just resting the mind tends to grow a bit dull. When there is too much emphasis on the looking, the resting quality destabilizes.

People talk about balance. I find it’s much more useful to talk about imbalance. Because when things are in balance, we don’t experience anything, we are just there. Chuang-Tzu says, When the shoe fits you forget the feet. When the belt fits you forget the waist.

In terms of developing our skill and abilities in meditation practice, rather than trying to maintain balance become adept at detecting imbalance. And so this involves being in touch with your body, in touch with emotions, in touch with quality of attention and as imbalances arise you can quietly correct them. And there’s constant period of adjustment but the net result is that the quality of attention becomes progressively deeper and more stable. That’s the way I found most useful and most effective for working with this last one. So you are bringing attention to the quality of your attention, if you wish.

Note: Another commentary on samadhi: A Trackless Path II 5

Drive all blame into one

From: Mind Training Santa Fe 3
Full transcript
Ken: Whatever happens, you experience it as completely as you can. Now, there are a number of instructions here which help you do this. And you can see that they fall into three categories. The first two pertain to how we interact with others. And the first one is wonderful: 
Drive all blame into one. 
Basically what this means is that you are responsible for everything that’s gone wrong in the world. Each one of you. You know, in your life, in the life of every being on this planet, you’re responsible for everything that’s gone wrong. How does that feel? 
Student: Power. [Laughter] 
Ken: Either you’re very clever, or you've just walked into my trap. [Laughs] Say more.
Student: Well, if I’m responsible for everything, then I can have that power to change things. 
Ken: Exactly. What happens to guilt? 
Student: It goes. 
Ken: Exactly. So if you’re responsible for everything, you’re to blame for everything--guilt’s gone. You don’t have that luxury anymore. Okay? 
Student: Life is [unclear]. 
Ken: Mmm-hmm. But now it’s just become the law of the world. You’re you’re to blame for everything. You’re the universal screw-up. [Laughter] Everything that goes on in the world--your fault. That’s it. Now, when you really sit with that, how does it feel? Does it feel heavy? 
Student: No. 
Ken: No. Yeah, very freeing. That’s transformation. Now, it’s very easy to do it right now. We’re just doing it, like, theoretically. Okay? So, you leave this retreat, you go to work, and your boss says, “Where the hell have you been? Do you know that we lost these contracts, and so-and-so’s left, and all this stuff is falling apart. This is the last time you can go on vacation.” You didn’t know this was a vacation, right? [Laughter] Okay, now do this instruction. What do you do? How do you respond? [Laughs] 
Student: Yeah, I know. 
Ken: Shauna? [Laughs] 
Shauna: What? [Laughs] 
Ken: A little too close to home? [Laughs] How do you respond? 
Student: Well, it actually might help... 
Ken: Yeah, but if your boss is there it’s probably not a good idea just to go, “Yeah.” [Laughter] So? [Laughs] Right. What do you do? 
Student: You agree with him. 
Ken:  Yeah, Say it again. 
Student: You agree with him. 
Ken: Yeah.


Path in Buddhism

From: Then and Now 26
Full Transcript

One of the things I've always appreciated about Buddhism is its great emphasis on path, which distinguishes it from a lot of the people who have spontaneous awakening, like Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi. And while they are very notable people in their own right, they downplay the role of path. And path is basically the process of awakening evolving and growing in us, and creating the conditions for that to happen.

In the Tibetan tradition this is expressed and translated as "the" path. I've always had a little bit of tension with that, because the stages of the path that you were meant to follow never worked for me, so I've always had to find my own way. And then I realized that I actually do the same thing with every student that I work with. I never work with two people exactly the same way. 

And then some comments that I was listening to from Stephen Batchelor pulled the whole thing together for me. There isn’t "the" path. You find "a" path. And what you actually do is you find "your" path. So it’s a path to awakening for you.

Note:  Other commentaries on path in Buddhism include: Eightfold Path 01, Then and Now 35,  and What do I do Now 


The Black Box

From: Who Am I  (4)
Full transcript

So the three tools that I've found helpful are the black box, the middle way, and interdependence. Now to understand the black box [writing] the first thing we have to appreciate here is that we live in two worlds. Okay? The two worlds here are the world in which we think we live and the world in which we actually live. Okay? So I'm going to describe one of these, but I'm not going to say which it is,and I want you to tell me. Family, career, education, birthday parties, celebrations of various kinds, beginning and ending relationships, doing things with people, enjoying doing things with people. Which of these two worlds, you know, making progress in our career, living to a ripe old age, etc.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Yes. This is the world in which we think we live. What is the world in which we actually live?

Student: The moment.

Ken: Can you be more specific?

Student: Experiencing.

Ken: Yeah.

Student: Right at that time.

Ken: The world in which we actually live consists of only three things: thoughts, feelings and sensations. By sensations I mean all our sensory input, so touch, smell, taste, form, etc., sights, sound. Now, the world in which we think we live is constructed out of the world in which we actually live. [Drawing] So there's the world in which we actually live. That's in blue there. And you've got your camera?

Cara: I do.

Ken: Good. And here's the world in which we think we live. Okay? We'll put "T" for "think," and "A" for "actual." Now just idle question here: what percentage of your time are you in this world versus this world?

Students: [Unclear]

Ken: Intentionally, yes. How many would say that you're in this world more than five percent of your time? Okay. [Laughter] We spend most of our time in this world. Okay? There's a very interesting feature that I should have touched on. In this world we're used to exchanging, giving, take, sharing things, like we can share our book, we can share a CD, share a movie. You know, I can give you a book. I can give you a flower, or I can give you all kinds of gifts. And you can give me things. In the world in which we actually live, is giving, receiving, sharing or trading or any form of exchange possible?

Students: [Unclear]

Ken: Okay. This is very important. The black box approach is based on living in this world. Please note this world is included in this world. So you're not leaving this world, but you're actually living in a larger world in which you know your constructs to be constructs. And so you aren't limited by them, because when you're in this world, that's where you get limited by the stories. Are you with me? Making sense Christine? Okay. So what does the black box actually look like? When you have a difficulty with somebody, and you're talking about this with a friend, what is the dominant pronoun that you use?

Student: I.

Ken: No.

Student: They.

Ken: They. "They're doing this. They're doing that. They're doing this. They think this. They think that. I can't get anywhere, because they're doing this," etc. All right? When you're having a problem with someone and you're speaking to them directly, what is the dominant pronoun that you use?

Student: You.

Ken: Yes. You know, "If you would just understand what I really want, then everything would be fine. You. You. You. You. You." All right? That's what I said to Cara at the beginning of this, you know, "If you just read my mind, probably everything would be fine. It's all your fault." Okay. Now, this is living in this world. And it's actually living in a story about this, because do you actually know what is going on in the other person's head?

Ken: No. You never know. So the black box--I'm sorry, just to step back, [turning page of chart and drawing] they're used to my wonderful art history these days--so we have two people interacting. This person (use different colors here) has one idea of the interaction, and just to make it very confusing, this person has another idea of the interaction. What is the relationship between these two representations? Pardon?

Student: Black box?

Ken: No, I haven't got to the black box yet. What's the relationship between these two representations?

Students: [Unclear]

Ken: Yeah. They may be completely different. We have a wonderful case of this with the Dalai Lama with Tibet and the Olympics. Because from the Chinese point of view, it's a completely internal matter. This is their country. "Why is everybody kicking up a fuss. There must be somebody big behind this, because this could not be happening spontaneously, because they're all actually happy Chinese citizens. Therefore there must be an outside agitator. It must be the Dalai Lama," etc.

From the Dalai Lama and the West's point of view it is; "You've occupied this country, and we're doing our best to keep violence at a low level so nobody really gets hurt. But you're coming in with all your goon squads and beating everybody up, and this is a horrible thing. And we want you to talk to the people that can help make it better, and at least talk to somebody."

Now, if I was the Chinese leader, and I got a phone call from Bush saying, "Please talk to the Tibetans," I'd say, "I'm happy to do that as soon as you talk to the head of the Sioux tribe." And of course, Bush would say, "What?" But that's how the Chinese look at it. So they have two completely different views of this. There can be no rapprochement or resolution in these circumstances. It's very tragic. A lot of people are getting hurt.

The black box theory, or approach to things, is, Get out of your idea of what is going on, because it's a story that you're living in. Okay? What do you do instead? What you do instead, [writing] here you have this interaction. Now, what's over here, that's in the black box. You cannot know it. It's impossible. If you think you know what's going on in there, you're just living in a story. What can you know? You can know what's going on in your own experience. That's what you can know, is your own experience. And the way that you live being no one is you assume nobody else exists. You don't exist, so let's share the bounty. Nobody else exists either. You only have your own experience. And what you're doing is addressing imbalances in your own experience.
NOTE: Ken also talks about the black box approach in a Huffington Post article and in several other classes and retreats including Then and Now (30),  Surviving Stressful Times (1) and Four Immeasurables ( 4).


Right recollection, right mindfulness

From: Money and Value 4
Full Transcript
Right recollection, right mindfulness. We're going to have to retire the word mindfulness. It's been hopelessly corrupted in English. Its fundamental meaning is to remember. To remember where you are and what you are doing. That's what mindfulness means. The word in Tibetan, Sanskrit and Pali means to remember. So I'm not sure where mindfulness came from English-wise. But it did. 
It's constructive and helpful to remember. And there are certain things that is not constructive and not helpful to remember. Wallowing in the memory of things still done and done to others harm and things that were done to you is not particularly constructive. It reinforces a whole bunch of tendencies etc. So there's a way of practicing mindfulness or recollection which is beneficial. That's what right mindfulness is.

Note:  More on mindfulness in: A Trackless Path II, 5 Eightfold Path 2


How do you know when it's a reaction?

From: Eightfold Path 1

Student: How do you know when it's a reaction?

Ken: I think it's sometimes very difficult to tell. But one of the qualities--the couple of qualities--one is stickiness. You know, it isn't quite clean, it's like...and it's a little sticky. This is not a rational way, I'm describing a quality to it. And another way is insistence. Insistence: it has to be this way!

Whenever the internal vocabulary is: has to, must, always, never. Very, very good chance that there's a reaction, a reactive pattern operating. Well it just has to be this way!

I mean, one person I was reading recently says, "Belief is where we stop thinking." This is actually a pretty good indication of reaction. When you stop thinking and it just has to be that way, then you're in reaction. Because you've closed down, it's fixed. So insistence, fixedness, stickiness these are the qualities I use to recognize reactions. Does that help at all?


About our mothers

From: Then and Now 17  
Full Transcript

Ken: Now the next thing that happens in the chapter, as you may recall, is that you extend this to all sentient beings. And the way it is extended to all sentient beings is by considering that every being in the course of time without beginning and samsara has been our mother innumerable times. And so we should naturally feel this for all beings. How does this work for you? I see a bunch of people here are shaking their heads.

Again this is a mythic expression. It's based on a world view. But we can interpret or work with it in a somewhat different way. And I think what people have described about their discomfort with receiving kindness allows us to explore this quite easily.

Are there parts of you that can receive kindness relatively easily, and in which that natural love can be elicited quite easily? Okay? Are there parts of you that it is more difficult? Raquel?

Raquel: Yeah. I was actually going to ask about that. When you just asked us, you know, "Think of a camp counselor," or whatever. And I thought of a high school teacher who was so kind. And I did have this feeling of love, you know, from them. And it wasn't this awkward, you know, embarrassed thing. And then in another example it's totally different. So I guess I was just wondering, could it just be a reaction to the feeling of no separation? Or not? What's it a reaction to? I mean it's not a reaction to Chuck or anyone actually there. It seems like it's like a reaction to a feeling.

Ken: Well I think that there are two possibilities here. One is it can be a reaction to a feeling of no separation, which, if we have a very strongly defined sense of self, as being separate from the world, suddenly feeling ourselves without any barrier can be very disturbing, or frightening. And so there can be a withdrawal from that experience. And then I think the other source is what Diana was referring to earlier is that there are certain associations of receiving kindness when something, when it has been given with strings. And we've had to pay a price for being open. So now we distrust the feeling of being open and responsive that way. And that's why I told the story of the warm fuzzies and the cold pricklies. Which is about that exactly.

So, in terms of cultivating this, instead of thinking of all sentient beings as being my mother or mothers at one point or another, one might think of it in terms of, "Can I receive kindness in every area of my psyche, my personality?" And we quickly come to appreciate that there are certain areas of us, for most of us, that are very uncomfortable of receiving kindness. They've been threatened or possibly even traumatized in the past. And they're closed. So, working at this meditation, or this form of meditation, is a way of actually opening up those closed areas in ourselves. And that is, to my mind, the function of fostering loving kindness for all beings without limit, That it's a different way of coming to open to loving kindness in every aspect of our mind.

Do you see how those two things are different ways of saying the same thing? Because what are all sentient beings? All sentient beings is the totality of our experience. So if we can let loving kindness pervade every aspect of experience, then we'll have loving kindness for all beings.

Now this is very doable. I mean in terms of many of the meditations that we do in Buddhism, this one's actually not that hard. I remember one of my students who, when she was working on this, recalls coming out of a yoga class, actually feeling complete loving kindness for all beings. And then another part of her saying, "This is nauseatingly sick and sweet." But it's actually quite easy. If one can sit with the discomfort of receiving kindness, and, in just the way that I was pointing out to you earlier, and recognize that the basis of that is all conditioning. And when you recognize the basis of it as all conditioning it becomes possible to let that in. And the natural response is this love, this radiant warmth that just goes out.