Eight sources of disturbance

From: Chö 5
Full transcript
"Beginning with our enemies that provoke anger, impediments that generate harm, conditions that cause interruptions, obsessions with mortality, local disturbances, physical disturbances, and our own parents. In short, all sentient beings whose numbers are as infinite as space will obtain the direct understanding of the Supreme Mother. Consequently, I take up the profound practice of the holy ground where obsessions are cut down." 
There are eight sources of disturbances. Let’s go through them again. Enemies that provoke anger, that’s number one. Impediments that generate harm; conditions that cause interruptions; obsessions with mortality, that’s number four; local disturbances; physical disturbances; and mother and father. That makes eight, right? 
The language of chö is all about inviting demons. But what you’re really doing is working with what is arising in you. 
When something arises and provokes anger, you move out of presence, right? So, anything which gives rise to the disturbance of anger in you is included in that “enemies that provoke anger.” 
When we encounter impediments in our practice, things that block us, then our practice goes to pieces. And all of us know what happens when our practice goes to pieces: really good things happen in our life. Okay? We experience harm, emotionally, spiritually, possibly even physically. So anything that comes up in our experience that, bang, blocks our practice—it’s an impediment—you’re also inviting here. 
Conditions that cause interruptions. This is not quite as strong as the things that block the practice, but these are things that interrupt, you know. We get a lot of business. And so we’re so involved with our business and earning lots of money that our practice goes down the tubes for a couple of months. 
Or we fall in love. I’ve found that falling in love is the worst obstacle to most people’s practice. People become totally unworkable when they’re in love. It’s not the same as loving someone. When they’re in love they become unworkable, you know. When a student comes in and says, “I just met someone.” I go, “Oh shit!” [Laughter] 
Okay, but there can be other things. Any set of conditions—the loss of someone close to you, a relative getting sick, losing your job—all of these kinds of things. These are conditions that cause interruptions in one’s practice. 
Obsessions with mortality. Actually, these “obsessions” include the four obsessions: the classical obsessions, obsessions with mortality, obsessions with reactive emotions, obsessions with peak experiences, and obsessions with physical being. But particularly obsessions with mortality, that’s something that gives rise to a great deal of anxiety and fear in us. 
Local disturbances. These are places that hold a charge for us and give rise to disturbance in mind. Because we may have associations with them. Something unpleasant may have happened, so we’re uncomfortable going to that place. In Tibet, these were regarded as local deities and things like that. But it’s anything which causes us disturbance coming from the physical environment. 
Physical disturbances refers to things happening in our body which causes disturbance. Which can be illness; it can be pains, arthritis, you know, things like that. They can be actual physical illnesses or psychosomatic stuff, doesn’t make any difference. Anything that’s happening in the body that causes disturbance. 
And most of us have a little bit of baggage connected with our parents which causes us some anxiety or some frustration or some irritation. And then there’s the rest of humanity, which can be an absolute pain in the neck sometimes too. 
So these are the eight demons or eight sources of disturbance. And this what we are working with in chö. But the point is, in effect, what we’re working to cut through is the disturbance that arises in us.


Why study Buddhism?

From: Learning from the Lives of the Lineage Holders: Khyungpo Naljor
Full transcript

I was with Rinpoche in Hawaii, and this is our first trip. And we’re on O’ahu, and we were staying with a couple who retired in Hawaii and she was a kind of strange woman—extraordinary palm reader. I mean just totally extraordinary—very sweet person. And her husband was such a grouchy, old, retired, aeronautics engineer, who had no time for things mystical. So dinner was a debate between him and Rinpoche. I mean he was just picking holes, and Rinpoche would be answering—I was doing all the translating. Great fun. 
And that evening Rinpoche started off his talk—about four hundred people there—in a way that I’ve never heard him open up a talk before. He said, “Some of you may be wondering why it’s important to study the dharma, study Buddhism. Well, I want to be very clear about this. It’s not important for everybody. There are three kinds of people who don’t need to be here tonight. First, if there are any of you who know that you aren’t going to die—you’re never going to die—there’s no reason for you to be here, so you might as well leave right now.” 
Nobody left. 
Second is, “Those who know when they die nothing happens: it’s over, it’s done, nothing. If you know that, there’s no reason for you to be here, so you can leave too. 
Third, those people who know that when they die they’re gonna be born into circumstances that are definitely better than the ones that they have here. If you know that for certain, there’s no reason for you to be here tonight. It’d be just a waste of your time. But if you don’t know one of those three things then maybe you should stick around. 
I’m sure he was talking to the grouchy old engineer. But the point here is: It’s not enough to hear it from somebody else. You can take in those teachings but you’ve got to think about them, and think about them, and think about them until, you know, “Right! I, I am going to die. And if I die like I am now I’m not gonna feel very good about it. I feel I won’t really have done anything meaningful in my life. And I’ll have these questions that I haven’t answered, and I will die with regret.” 
And that has to become very, very strong. And that’s it. The shade and flavor of it is actually a little different for everybody. It can be expressed in general terms but it really has to become one’s own experience and motivation. You cannot adopt that as a motivation without having gone through the process of making it your motivation. When you make it your motivation by really thinking about what is important, deeply, deeply important to you in your life. You follow? And it is absolutely essential.



From: A Trackless Path 9
Full transcript (Available soon)
I want to talk a bit about something which a few of you have heard me talk about directly and probably a few more have picked up on the podcasts. I'm going to add a couple of dimensions to it. And this is the topic of mind-killing. And this is, in a certain sense, an elaboration of comments I made earlier on institutional thinking. The main emphasis I want to put and what I want you to bring attention to in your own work is how this operates inside you. Everything I have to say also applies to organizations, institutions whether they're families, workplaces, governmental systems, nations, media, what have you. But I want to put the emphasis on how this works inside us. 
Now there are six methods which I got from a book by Noam Chomsky called Manufacturing Consent. And in some work that I was doing not too long ago, I came across another four which go back a lot further than Noam Chomsky, which go back to Francis Bacon. So I want to discuss these 'cause they all operate. 
The first six come in three sets of pairs. The first pair is marginalize and frame. Now George Lakoff has written quite a lot on framing. He has a couple of big books on it but the two that are intended for popular audience are Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate and The Political Brain. I've read them both. I think the Don't Think of an Elephant is actually clearer than Political Brain but Political Brain touches more points. 
When I say to you, "Don't think of an elephant," what do you think of? 
Student: An elephant. 
Yeah. And what framing refers to is how a topic is framed. And you can frame topics in a lot of different ways. And each frame will allow certain ways of thinking to proceed and certain kinds of questions to be asked. And will not allow other kinds of questions to be asked or even other ways of thinking to be entertained. I'll give you an example from my own experience. 
Having read and studied a number of texts in Tibetan Buddhism about the importance of posture in particular the seven points of posture of Virochana I became convinced--this is an example of framing--that you couldn't meditate unless you use that posture. Most of the other people in the retreat didn't have too much trouble with it. But I did. And I managed to make myself extremely ill trying to do this. 
Of course, I didn't stop there. I continued to insist on trying to meditate that way. And it wasn't until my body just really just was lying in pieces around my apartment that I thought well maybe I should try meditating in a chair. That's how deeply that frame set in me. And so one of the things I'd like you to explore is what frames do you present the whole notion of practice to yourself. What does it allow and what does it not allow. Now very similar to Paul's question earlier, and it's one of the reasons I was pushing him a bit on that, is that you get into this, "It's this way or this way!" And so that's what's allowed. You can either go this way or this way. That's it. And you can't see the other possibilities that go in other directions. And that's why studying these frames, becoming aware of them in ourselves, can be quite important. 
And I'll give you a couple more examples. Many years ago a Buddhist teacher that I knew a bit moved to LA. And I invited her to come to a retreat that I was teaching at Mt. Baldy. Now her background was in Theravadan and Zen. Actually Rinzai Zen which tends to be fairly strict. And she would see people at Mt. Baldy reading in the dorms. And they weren't Buddhist books. She'd see people going jogging at lunchtime. And jogging at a retreat? Right, Nancy? Unthinkable, isn't it! And we'd do these insane interactive exercises in the afternoon where stuff I'd make up to illustrate various points. And early on she just said, "Ken, what's going on here?" 
But in the meditation hall she came to appreciate, from the energy, there's some pretty serious practice going on. And at the end of the retreat, she came to me and said, "You treat people like adults. You don't treat them as children to be kept in line. I thought that was really weird when I first got here but it works." And you can feel the frame operating there. You know, this is the way it has to be done. And all of these other things aren't allowed. And it works for some people but it doesn't work for everybody. 
And she's absolutely right as you can probably tell from this retreat. There's nobody standing with sticks, whips, or machine guns saying, "You have to practice now." And yet it's pretty evident that there's a lot of serious work going on. And when we sit together, there's a lot of energy in the room. And I know from the work that, conversations I have with you in the interviews, that there's very definitely non-trivial emotional material being met. So the work's taking place. So this is another example of frames. And internally we think whenever we find ourselves thinking things have to be done a certain way or this is the way that you're meant to be or something like that, this is the operation of a frame. 
Now many frames developed because they supported practice. But it is good, I think, from my perspective to question, "Is this actually supporting practice or is it doing something else?" Another technique which is used, and it's quite closely related to framing, is marginalize. In marginalization, ideas or perspectives that threaten the operation of the system are dismissed as unimportant or inconsequential. So one of the ways that that can play internally: "My body's in pain when I'm meditating. That doesn't matter. Keep going." And what it does, it kills the possibility of actually listening to your body. 
A number of people have come to me from various forms of Theravadan training. And this isn't universally true in Theravadan training of course, but frequently enough that I've run into it a number of times. Where emotional material has come up and they've been told, "Ignore it. It's not important." That's an example of marginalization. And sometimes, yeah, it's a little bit important. So in terms of internal processes, when you find yourself saying to yourself, "Nah, that's not important" or "That doesn't matter." And get curious about that sometimes. You've heard me talk about the small stammering voice that is asking the questions. Well, this is usually how the small stammering voice is treated. "Nah, don't worry about that. Not important." Marginalization. 
The next pair is seduction and alignment. Seduction says, "If you want to realize your dreams do this." And what's happening there is the system is presenting you with the illusion of realizing your dreams to get you to behave in a certain way. I had a very good friend who, by her own admission, loves to live in the story. And I've known her for many years. She's been very helpful to me. But when she dies she's gonna be Snow White in the glass case. And people will come from miles around to...[Ken giggles]. This is the dream. And it got her into really, really serious trouble a couple of years ago. Really serious trouble. And it's been very difficult for her since because now she knows she can't live in the story. But she's had a very successful life up to that point from living in the story. But it's all about this internal operation of seduction. 
One of my students, a stockbroker, and he was in a group I did in Orange County on basic meditation. And he came in one meeting and said, "You know, I just got another award, you know, for some very large amount of sales." He's a stockbroker. "And it doesn't mean very much to me. I can't figure out why." So I looked at him. I said, "Congratulations." He said, "What?" I said, "Congratulations." He said, "Why?" "Now you know. They lied." He said, "What are you talking about." "Weren't you told that if you sold this very large amount of stocks you would be happy and feel fulfilled. And your life would be rich. And everything like that." He said, "Yeah." "Do you feel that way?" "No." "So you know. They lied." That's the dream. That's what seduction's about. You're presented with the illusion that your dreams are going to be fulfilled. If you behave according the the demands of the system. We do this internally to ourselves all the time. 
Alignment in one way isn't as extreme but in another way it's more extreme. With alignment it's you're told you have to do this in order to survive, in order to exist. And I run into this many, many times with people. That they're doing something and I say, "Well, why don't you stop doing that? It's not working for you." And why don't you do this instead. And they say, "Well, I wouldn't know who I was." Their very definition is locked up there. And it's a prison. And it kills the ability to see other alternatives. You run into this very frequently in people who've worked in a single job for many, many years. And it becomes their raison d'etre. So seduction and alignment. 
And then you have reduction and polarization. In reduction, complex issues are reduced to a single emotional issue. So a person comes. Says, "I'm having a lot of difficulty doing my practice. My body hurts, etc. My mind's all over the place. I'm not sure this is the right form of practice for me, you know, doing this complex visualization, etc. It's really hard and I just can't hold the image, etc., like that." And the teacher says, "Well, you want to get enlightened, don't you?" One single emotionally charged issue. Anybody experience something like this? That's reduction. 
And there are many other forms. Very often we'll do this to ourselves internally. And it eliminates any possibility of discussion and negotiation, exploration, etc., etc. This, I mean this has happened to me many times, actually. I remember one teacher that I was talking with saying I was having a difficult time with certain meditations. And I found that resting with the breath just really helpful. Reply, "There's no breath in the bardo." Reduction. 
Okay. Polarization. It's a little different from reduction in that complex matters are split into just two choices. And the limiting of it to those two choices prevents any other discussion or any other consideration. So, right and wrong is one way to polarize things. And it precludes any possibility of a nuanced discussion or even a nuanced response. So it's this or that is polarization. 
So, those are six methods. And as I've said, look at how these operate inside you. In particular, look at how patterns or a particular pattern presents things to you. Does it say, "Do this and you will know happiness beyond your wildest dreams. Or is it saying, "This is right and this is wrong. You can't think about anything else." Or any of these other four.

Note:  The correct title for the second book by George Lakoff is, The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain

More on mind-killing in this article on the Unfettered Mind website.


Practice deeply with little fanfare

From: Pointing Out Instructions 9
Full transcript
In his commentary on Seven Points of Mind Training, Kongtrul said: Practice deeply with little fanfare. This is a very, very old tradition.

Some of you may have heard the story about Shantideva who was regarded by his fellow monks as a complete wastrel who ate, slept and shat. And did nothing else. Little did they know that he was practicing very deeply all the time. Only when they tried to make of fun him by asking him to deliver an annual lecture that they learned as they listened to him recite the Bodhicaryavatara which was his own composition, “Oh, he’s not who we thought he was.”

So there’s no need to make any kind of display or tell anybody. I mean the very worst kind of thing—and this is a dharma center disease—“I’m going to be so compassionate, I’m going to give you the opportunity of being patient first.”


Listening to the body

From: A Trackless Path 2
Transcript (available soon)
Audioclip (available soon)

Janet: Some of us have health issues and other experiences that make our body not feel that reliable. So I want to know how to work with that. I mean when your body has often been sort of the central problem in your life, then how do you work with trusting it more? 
Ken: Many years ago a person came to a retreat at Mt. Baldy who had been studying dzogchen for quite awhile. And he'd memorized a poem about this mind broken and in the sea of samsara etc. And in one of our interviews he recited it. It was a beautiful poem. I said, "That's great. What I'd like you to do, make one change. I'd like you to recite that poem and wherever it says mind, say body." He got through two lines and was in tears because he could feel how he was ignoring his body pursuing this awareness and stuff. 
Okay. So your body has been in a lot of pain. And it's caused you a lot of pain. If you ask your body, how would you like to practice? What does your body say? 
Janet: It wants to rest. 
Ken: Okay. Ask your body, do you know how to rest? 
Janet: It knows how to rest. 
Ken: Then, are you willing to let your body rest? 
Janet: I fight it. I fight it. 
Ken: So, is the problem the body or you? 
Janet: I get it. [Very softly.] Yeah. [sighs] 
Ken: You see it's--listening to the body that way--it's very inconvenient because we've developed this whole way of relating to the world that ignores it. And now we're beginning to see that that's somewhat problematic. But your body seemed to know what to do here. 


Finding direction in life

From: Sutra Session 35
Full transcript
There’s another quality about faith, which is a little difficult to put into words. When you think about opening to whatever life brings you, there’s simultaneously a yearning and a fear. I’ve already talked about the fear or the panic. Cultivate that yearning, because that yearning is your direction in life. There’s a phrase that Uchiyama Roshi uses, The direction of the present. And it’s about opening to everything in your life until you see what the next step is. In my own experience, you come to know what the next step is by sensing imbalance. And the imbalance may be in you, it may be in the world around you, or maybe in some combination of them. But that tells you what the next step is, the direction of the present. And that is why I say, don’t be afraid of faith, or that yearning quality, which is often felt as a pain in the heart. 
Now on my website you’ll find a prayer called, Devotion Pierces Your Heart. And it’s a long prayer written by a great teacher in the nineteenth century. And he’s using traditional vocabulary, but every verse, he’s expressing this yearning, different ways here and there, everywhere. And it’s quite beautiful that way. If you stay in touch with that yearning, I think it’s fair to say you’ll never go astray in your life. That may be a lot to say, but I’ll stay with it. Everything that I’ve talked about right now is not so much, ”This is what you should do,“ but these are things you may find helpful to navigate your life. There is an extraordinary amount of Buddhist teaching, hundreds and hundreds of original—quotation marks—original scriptures, thousands and thousands of commentaries by teachers over the years, philosophy like you wouldn’t believe—particularly the stuff developed by the medieval Indian philosophers, also many of the Chinese—rituals, moral codes, prayers; it is unbelievably rich. What is important here is the purpose of all of it was to help one individual or another find their direction in life.


Taking and Sending and the Four Immeasurables

From: Four Immeasurables 6
Full Transcript
Audioclip (NOTE: this is a long clip with the quote below starting about 15 minutes into the audio)
One way of looking at taking and sending--Mahayana mind training--is that it combines all the four immeasurables into a very simple breath-based practice. And so that’s what we’re going to be looking at in taking and sending.

And it’s very simple to describe. You practice equanimity by doing taking and sending with all sentient beings—not just a preferred group. When you’re giving away your own happiness and joy and goodness and everything, that’s the practice of loving-kindness. When you’re taking in their pain and suffering, and negativity, and fears, and hatred, and so forth, that’s the practice of compassion. You’re being present with that. And taking joy in this process of exchange is the practice of joy. So there are all four just right in the practice. And so it’s a very wonderful practice.

I practiced taking and sending quite a bit before doing the three-year retreat, but in the three-year retreat we had two months on taking and sending, which was a very long time given the program. And I spent the first month just doing loving-kindness and compassion because Kongtrul said you really need this as a basis. So I thought, okay, let me do two weeks on loving-kindness and two weeks on compassion.

And I found that it really changed everything—changed a tremendous amount. And it certainly changed my whole relationship with taking and sending. So I’ve always felt it’s a very, very important preparation for taking and sending as well as being a very potent practice in its own right—four immeasurables.


Connection between Taking and Sending and Chö

From:  Chö 1
Full transcript
At the beginning of the first three-year retreat I did, a very distinguished lama of the Kagyu tradition came to visit us. A really extraordinary person: very quiet spoken, very, very quiet presence. And we had just started practicing chö. So, it was very much on our minds. And so we said, “Could you explain chö to us?” And he went, “Oh, oh, it’s so long since I’ve practiced chö.” Because he was in his 80s at this point. He said, “Oh, it’s probably fifty years, oh, I don’t think I can remember anything, ah.”

And then this is what he said: “The secret practice of chö is mahamudra,” which in our parlance is direct awareness. “The inner practice of chö is taking and sending. The outer practice of chö is offering your body to gods and demons.”

This is one of the reasons that I wanted to include chö in our work here in this retreat, even though it’s a whole other body of teaching. Because of its intimate connection with taking and sending.

Now, tomorrow, in the teaching we’re going to be talking about how to transform adversity into the path of awakening. And there are particular instructions of how to do this. And several of those instructions refer more or less to directly to chö. So, that’s another reason I wanted you to have this background.

Note:  For more background on Chö read the entire transcript and/or listen to the full recording. 


Pairing practices

From: Awakening from Belief 5a
Full transcript (available soon)
Audioclip (available soon)

Ken: Jamgon Kongtrul once said, When you're studying, study everything under the sun. When you are reflecting, keep a really open mind. When you practice, do one thing.

That's very good advice, because to practice we need to go deep and you can't go deep if you're doing a lot of different things. I'm trained in the Tibetan tradition. What that means is that I'm trained in anywhere from a hundred and fifty to two hundred meditation techniques. You know, you can't practice them all. And I'm not even counting individual deities as separate meditation techniques. You add those then it gets up into the thousands. Well, you can't practice them all and it's absolutely not necessary.

When I work with students and in my own work, I always say, "You study and you practice and at a certain point you hit a practice that speaks to you." You may not like it, you don't always like the one that speaks to you, but that doesn't matter. When you find one that speaks to you--that's it.

And the other thing, just since we're discussing this, is that usually I'll have people do two practices. One which the emphasis is going to be on the wisdom or awareness side, and one which is going to be on the compassion side.

Student: Why?

Ken: Well, take two practices, very simply. Say resting in attention, mahamudra or dzogchen on the one hand, and taking and sending on the other, which is a compassion practice. That would be one example of pairing, but there are so many practices you can choose different pairs. Deity meditation, which is a visualization practice which has to do with form and manifestation, and a direct awareness practice.

When people are doing things like the death meditation or the karma meditation, I'll often--people are pretty busy and often can only practice once a day--I'll have them do one day just resting with the breath and then one day a reflective practice. so that it has that kind of alternation.

It's good to have those two parts, those two components. But very definitely, when you find a practice that speaks to you, mine it, and just keep going with it.

Note:  You'll find more on going deeply into practice in this clip and quote from Four Immeasurables 6 


The Purpose of Meditation

From: Awakening from Belief 1
Full Transcript (available soon)
Audioclip (available soon)

Ken: The purpose of meditation, or one way to regard meditation, is building a capacity of attention. I don't know whether you've had it explained that way to you before, but you're building a capacity of attention. Why is it important to have a capacity of attention? Well, arguably, a reasonable translation of the term samadhi, which I imagine some of you have heard, is attention.

Now, those of you who are familiar with such esoteric teachings as the five paths, and the ten stages, and all of that stuff, may recall that at the end of the tenth stage the bodhisattva enters vajra-like or diamond-like samadhi and becomes enlightened or awakened--becomes buddha. Let's put this into English. The fundamental effort in Buddhist practice is to develop a sufficient capacity in attention so that you can experience your own non-existence.

Student: Could you repeat that?

Ken: That's fine. The essence of Buddhist practice is to develop sufficient capacity in attention so that you can experience your own non-existence. That's exactly what Buddha did under the bodhi tree. Such a relief--don't have to be anybody. It's a little counter-intuitive.

So, all forms of mediation practice--and it doesn't matter what--they're developing attention. Sometimes they develop attention very directly, as shamatha does. Sometimes they're getting rid of the blocks in the way of developing attention--things like death and impermanence. Many of the purification practices in the Vajrayana, sometimes they're developing energy, which you're going to use to power attention. Guru yoga is an example of that, loving kindness, compassion are examples of that. And there are also esoteric methods of developing states of attention, states of energy--but it's all about developing attention so you can actually experience what is.
Note:  Click here to read about the Awakening From Belief retreat


Engagement and Intention

From: What to do about Christmas?
Full Transcript
Ken: When you are fully engaged in a situation, how conscious are you of yourself?

Student: No, I’m not.

Ken: Okay. When you're not fully engaged, how conscious are you? And a wonderful example of this is, "I’m bored."

Student: Is what?

Ken: "I’m bored." Because boredom is all about self-consciousness.

So, I want you to take some of the situations you are likely to encounter in the next three or four weeks, you know, this wonderful holiday season. And imagine engaging them completely, whatever they may be.

Now there’s an important piece in engaging something completely: you have to have an intention. And what many people do is go into situations without a clear intention. And when you go into a situation without a clear intention you get carried away in the currents of whatever reactivity that situation provokes in you, because that’s where you’ll end up going. And that’s how you get lost in your own feelings in your own reactions.

But if you have a clear intention then you can fully engage the experience. You may or may not be able to affect or make much progress with your intention but then that calls into question what are you actually doing there? Should you be there at all in that situation?

So imagine going into these various situations. And I would like you to pick one, one that you may think will be challenging and take a few minutes to become clear about your intention and then imagine going into the situation and engaging it completely. And that’s what will do together now.

Katherine: Can you sort of give an example of that? Say your intention is to buy your mother a present?

Ken: Well lets say your intention is to visit your mother, okay?

Katherine: That’s so complicated! [Laughter]

Ken: That one is so complicated? Well, no, I think that’s the important one, because buying a present is just part of that, isn’t it?

Now what’s one’s intention in visiting one’s mother in the holiday season? And that’s a very good example. What is your intention here? Why are you doing it? That’s what to think about and reflect on.

And when I say think about it, that’s really a bad use of language on my part. You have this situation in front of you, feel it and feel what your intention is and see what comes up. Why am I actually going here?

And you can ask yourself why again and again. Well I’m going because I have to. Well, why do I feel that I have to? That takes you to the next level and so you just keep cutting into those levels. And at some point you are going to hit a feeling which you may or may not be able to put into words but it will be really clear. Okay?


Ken: Okay. What was your experience here? Let’s hear from some people we haven’t heard from to this point.

Helena: I am well aware of the fact that I have done many things in my life... a sense of obligation [unclear].

Ken: So one point there is, when we are coming out of a sense of obligation it feels like something is being imposed on us. But when we become clear about our intention, then there’s a sense, “Oh I’m doing this” and do you feel as separate from the situation then?

Helena: No, not really, no. It’s just part of me.

Ken: So rather than something being imposed on us from outside, we discover our own connection with the situation and what we intend to do with it.

My apologies, Katherine, because your first example would have been fine to take: What is my intention in buying my mother a present? What am I intending to do here? You could have worked with that just as well. Okay.

Anybody else? This give you any clues as to how to approach things?

Student: Yes.

Ken: What were some of the clues?

Student: Well I found my lack of clarity over a Thanksgiving where I felt trapped for a few days. Literally trapped. I really wasn’t, but inside I just felt trapped and this whole exercise is giving me that awareness that had I had this intention, those days would have been less trapped, I would have been less trapped.

Ken: Well not only would you have been less trapped but you might have actually enjoyed them! [Laughter]

Student: Oh what a change!

Ken: Yes and both your point and Helena’s point. When we feel something is done to us, we feel separate from. But by being clear about our intention the only way we can become clear about our intention is dissolving the sense of separation from the situation: I’m in it, what am I doing here? And then we can engage it. Then we lose that sense of self by being clear about our relationship with the situation.


Six-Armed Mahakala

One of the most memorable passages for me is from the class Ken gave in January 2005 after the Asian tsunami. The podcast is called Working with Fear, and about 29 minutes into the podcast he tells the traditional story of the origin of the Six-armed Mahakala.

Ken describes how Avolokiteshvara, the embodiment of awakened compassion, falls into despair at the vastness of the world's suffering. Through the help of Amitahba, he moves through despair into a kind of fierce determination. That's what Mahakala represents.

From: Working with Fear

Ken: The story begins with Avalokiteshvara, the embodiment of awakened compassion. Early in his career, he took the bodhisattva vow from Buddha Amitabha, the buddha of boundless light, who is the manifestation of awakened compassion at the buddha level. Avalokiteshvara promises to work for the welfare of beings without stop, and if he should stop or succumb to despair, his head will burst into a thousand pieces.

For three immeasurably long eons, he works providing beings with everything of which he can think. Then he looks and he sees even more beings suffering. He sees reactive emotions are even stronger. He sees they're suffering from poverty. All need help very, very quickly. He can’t understand. Things are worse off than before. He sits and says, "What’s the use?" Then his head bursts into a thousand pieces.

His guru Amitabha shows up and says, “Well, you broke your vow. What are you going to do now?” It’s not recorded how he is able to talk when his head is in pieces.

Avalokiteshvara says, “I need to do something.” So Amitabha heals him, and the thousand pieces become a thousand arms each with an eye looking at suffering. This is the origin of thousand-armed form of Avalokiteshvara with 13 heads looking in all directions at all times.

Avalokiteshvara is not content, because he’s seen the vastness of the world’s suffering. In contemplating that, a blue-black hung takes form in his heart. The syllable hung is a symbol of the five pristine awarenesses. The blue-black hung manifests as the Six-armed Mahakala. So the six-armed Mahakala manifestation, compassion, compassion that is beyond despair.

If you look at the story, it’s about when you begin to touch into compassion. As you begin to help people, you see more and more how much suffering there is and how difficult it is to really help. The suffering’s far more pervasive than you thought. Avalokiteshvara had the impression it was worse than before, but really it's that you see more and more deeply. When we open to that, really open to that, we find in ourselves the blue-black hung, that natural knowing that in some, takes the form of quiet determination. One might say fierce determination that brooks no obstacle. Nothing stops it from doing what needs to be done. It has a clarity that cuts right through through all the red tape of bureaucracy, the inhibitions of individuals, the cultural conditioning that teaches us to ignore certain suffering as not counting. That’s what the Six-armed Mahakala represents.