Practice intensively with little fanfare

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

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

Ken: Oh!

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

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

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

Ken: I agree. 

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

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

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

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

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

Student: Thank you.

Note: Another take on this here in Pointing Out Instructions


Leave no ashes

FromWhat to Do about Christmas?
Full transcript

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?


People work in different ways

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

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

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

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

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

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


Poetic and Mythic Expression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Warrior's Solution

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.  
Through the perception of imbalance an intention forms, and emotional material arises. Contrary to that intention you sacrifice, and when you move  right into that it feels like you are going to die. You just die and you're able to do. And some of you experienced this yesterday in the exercises. The other side of the coin can be described as resting in the experience of life. So it's what follows; you die. Now the question that I gave you for your awareness practice is, "Who dies?"  What do you experience when you ask that question. Linda?

Linda: [Unclear]

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

Linda: Relief.

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

Art: [Unclear]

Ken: But as you just rest there what happens?

Art: Things start to come up.

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


Ken: Okay, anybody else?


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


The reliable witness

From: A Trackless Path 13
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.


Compassion and Insight

From: Awakening From Belief 6a
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.


Most thinking is in the service of habituated patterns

From: A Trackless Path 9
Full transcript (available soon)

Tom: So I'm sitting in my practice and some material comes up. And my understanding is that I'm to sit in awareness with that material. How can I get to the bottom of this without doing a bunch of thinking and noodling on this?

Ken: The way you get to the bottom is not doing thinking. And the reason is that most of the time thinking is in service of habituated patterns. The Age of Enlightenment suggested that reason trumped emotion. It's absolutely not true. Emotion determines the framework in which thinking takes place. And so when something comes up in your life, if you think about it, and we're all intelligent people, we find ourselves where we can think of arguments on this side and arguments on that side and arguments on three or four different sides. 
And, you know, there are all of these wonderful schemes about, you know, weighting, things like that. I don't know about you, but whenever I try these, I'm always cheating in the weighting. And that's the emotional stuff running. You know what I mean?

So this thinking process is extremely unreliable. To give you an idea of how unreliable it is, World War II, the British Admiralty resisted the use of convoys for a very long time. Because their statisticians assured them  that convoys made of large numbers of ships are more subject to attack. And so it would be less effective than single ships trying to sneak across the Atlantic. But the U-boats were so ineffective that they eventually said, "The hell with this," and they started using convoys 'cause that wasn't working. And they found that large numbers of convoys would get through.

When they went back and examined their data and analysis, the statisticians had made the error that the probability of finding a fleet of a hundred ships in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean was for all intents and purposes the same as the probability of finding one. This is the kind of thing that if you just rely on thinking you can get into. 

So something comes up, and rather than relying on thinking, what I suggested to you is you go to the body, first. And you become aware of and open to the physical reactions that arise in connection with that issue. Now what happens is that as we do this we start hitting those physical reactions, story number one pops off, story number two goes off. We're just flooded with stories. And the function of those stories is to dissipate attention so that the issue is not actually felt or experienced.

Now what we do in practice then is as soon as we notice we're off in another story, okay, come back. Come back to the body. And as we do this over and over again we'll begin to be able to stay in the experience of the physical reactions which may be various kinds of tension, discomfort, openings. All kinds of things are possible. It can be pleasant, unpleasant. They're aren't any rules.

As we develop the capacity in attention to be present with those bodily sensations, body sensations, we'll then find ourselves beginning to experience the emotional sensations associated with that. And that's similarly challenging, especially if it's a deep issue. And again there will be lots of stories. But they won't quite have the same power 'cause you've already taken a step.

Eventually we're able to be in the body sensations, the emotional sensations, and all of the stories and associations. Now we are in the complete experience. Being in the experience this way we know the stories to be stories, not true. And that is how we get out of the mind killing. And that's essentially what's outlined in Seeing from the Inside, that practice. That is actually how you get out of mind-killing, by coming as deeply as you're capable of into your own experience. Because what mind-killing is doing is shutting you down from the possibility of experiencing what is arising for you.
Note:  Here's a clip & quote on mind-killing