A Trackless Path 10

Section 1


Student: Start again.

Ken: Okay.

Friday, August 28th. Morning session.

For many of you your time here is approaching, or the end of your time here is approaching. And, quite naturally, thoughts of other things start to intrude, I imagine.

A couple of things that may be helpful. First, anticipation. Thinking about things that you’ve just let go for the last few days. This naturally happens. And at this point one of the better approaches is to regard all of that stuff as like the wind that blows here. Everything will be waiting for you, and thinking about it now is probably not going to make very much difference. And it does. It comes up for all of us. So just remember that over the next day or two.

And the second thing. We talked a little bit about this at the beginning. I want to refer to a section in the booklet on page 6 to 9. Some people I know were very much into The Course in Miracles and kept encouraging me to read it and study it. I looked at it a few times. One of the reflections or points which I remember from there, which I thought was quite good, is that when motivation is clear everything changes. Thus the teachers of yore—I’m not quoting it exactly—always emphasized motivation.

And what we have on these four pages are the traditional ways that motivation was developed in the Tibetan tradition. The first one, precious human birth, is about appreciating that the opportunities that we have to practice, the freedom in our lives, are very rare. The conditions come together very rarely.

And the second one takes that a step further. And says we only have a certain period of time and then this life comes to an end. We have no idea when. It could come at any time.

And then the third one is basically asking the question, What really runs our life? What does our life consist of? And takes us into the whole realm of karma.

And then the fourth one is that when life is run by habituated patterns, emotional reactions and so forth, we can never ever really know any kind of deep satisfaction. It’s all suffering, as they like to emphasize.

Now these Four Reminders as they’ve come to be known in the West are very, very typical of a medieval society where there is an overarching worldview. And my student—the material in italics is taken from a nineteenth century teacher, Jamgon Kongtrul—and one of my students, George Draffan, who’s now teaching in the Seattle area, wrote the commentaries that you find at the bottom. And which was his way of taking this traditional material and bringing it into a way of contemplating on it that makes sense for him in the context of our culture.

I just thought they were very good. And then he and I conspired to pepper it with a few other quotes that we thought added other dimensions to it.

So these four pages are well worth considering. Not so much as a way of getting you to adopt this worldview, but to help you take a very clear possibly even hard look at this situation that we’re in. I’m always reminded that someone once asked Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, “Why do we practice?” And he said, “To make the best of a bad situation.”

Section 2

Now in many respects spiritual practice becomes possible only when societies are able to generate a sufficient surplus so the people have the leisure and time to do so. And the amount of time and opportunities that we have very, very much due to the way the society is set up, which generates huge amounts of surplus, does everything it can to rope people into generating more surpluses. And spending actually precious little time utilizing those surpluses, individually or collectively for the common good. Which is actually extraordinarily ironic when you think about it. But I mean that’s how we end up in this kind of rat race or the treadmill.

Possibly the most, at least for me anyway, the most important one of these is death and impermanence. Where we are faced with the certainty that we’re going to die. Which can be more broadly extended to everything we know—every relationship that we have is at some point going to change, and it’s not going to be there anymore. It may be with our death. It may be before that. And we don’t know when any of that is going to happen. And we have our ideas.

And we often fall under the spell of the last couple of centuries, which has allowed us to control our environment and circumstances to a degree which was unthinkable in earlier cultures, to the extent now that if anybody dies prematurely it’s deemed that something has gone wrong and somebody is to blame. And out come the lawyers and so forth. And we’ve lost touch in many respects with the contingency of life. But this is very important ’cause it doesn’t matter how many safeguards we build into things, things still happen. People get sick, accidents happen.

And out of this comes a very important piece. Traditional Buddhism, one is encouraged again and again to sever attachment to this life. And so everything is projected onto future lives and that’s what you’re working towards. That’s mythical language. One could say metaphorical language. And over the years I’ve come to interpret what death and impermanence do for us is to bring us into the awareness—and I’ve talked about this a little bit earlier—that what we experience now is all we will ever know. And then the question is what are we going to do with it. And all of the other reminders, their energy and the power come from being really, really clear about that one point.

So, over the next day or two one of the things I’d like you to keep in mind is we have this life, each of us has our own experience and what do we do with it. This brings into play the old Chinese adage or wish: “May you live a life of no regret.” Which sounds inconsequential perhaps when you first hear it, but as one allows it to rattle around inside, it becomes more and more or becomes weightier and weightier with meaning and implication.

And it’s very important, I think, because many people when they say, “Okay so you’re saying just focus on your own life.” That sounds very selfish. And this goes back to a point I touched on in the beginning of our time together. And that is we have to be very clear about what our life is. Our life is everything we experience. Not what we want to experience or what we want to happen, etc., etc. It is everything we experience. And this is where the Mahayana instruction of “Regard life as a dream,” comes into play in a way that a lot of people overlook.

Everything that arises in a dream is something that’s arising in your own mind. It’s not coming from anywhere else. Though one can develop theories about visitations and things like that. But it’s all coming from in your own experience. And you can’t get away from any of it because it’s all yours. And that’s what I mean when I say our life consists of everything we experience. What happens most of the time is that we direct our energies to those aspects of life which we find interesting or rewarding or fulfilling in some way, and we ignore, push away, or seek to destroy sometimes those aspects of life which make us uncomfortable. But all of it is our life. And what do we do with all of it?

Section 3

So these are some thoughts that perhaps may be helpful to you in the day or two that most of you are still here. And happy to take any questions or comments. Janet.

Larry, could you pass the mic please?

Janet: I have a very narrow question. There are instructions that when doing loving-kindness and compassion practice one shouldn’t use a child for the practice. And I’m wondering if you could explain why.

Ken: When you are using the methods in Wake Up To Your Life which are derived from traditional methods for loving-kindness and the same holds for compassion—but I’ll just talk about loving-kindness right now—you’re encouraged to take a person who has given loving-kindness to you. Traditionally this has been your mother. That’s what it is in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and the lamrim texts in Tibetan Buddhism.

The reason you don’t take a child is because then you’re thinking of attention flowing from child to adult, which is against the natural flow. And I mean, grrrr [Ken exhales]. You remind me of a psychiatrist that I worked with many years ago. I’m still angry about this. ’Cause he described to me his experience when his daughter was born. And he started to eat her right then. Because her eyes were so open and innocent, and he was just feeling all of the love there. And so it was completely in the wrong direction right from the very beginning.

Family attention needs to flow from parent to child. And when the child is required to attend to the parents, it really screws the child up. So that’s why we don’t use the child there. You receive loving-kindness from someone who has the choice. That’s really important because in experiencing that loving-kindness it has to be free of any strings. If there’s a bargain or something like that, and it’s not really going back to the relationships, then it’s a transaction. It’s not emotional connection.

And many, many examples but one of the things when I’m working with people in those meditations is to help them feel that here’s this person who gave you this out of their own volition. And not expecting anything in return. And really feeling that’s really important.

I mean there’s a person in my own life who I really didn’t appreciate for how much this had meant to me for, you know, years and years, decades later. He was a high school math teacher. And in Ontario, where I grew up, we had 13 grades in high school at that point. I think they’ve moved it down to 12 now. And I think it probably started in grade 11 but certainly it was grade 12 and 13. And I didn’t have a fun time in high school.

After school I’d often go to his homeroom and we’d start talking about math, and he would often give me advance stuff to work on. And I would bring back or, you know, sometimes some very intricate logical puzzles or calculus or things like that. And we’d discuss that for maybe half-an-hour, 45 minutes. And then we’d often talk for another hour, just about stuff.

Now, I have no idea how many hours he actually spent with me. But this would be often like two or three days a week that we would do that, you know, and there be would those like one- or two-hour discussions over a period of two years. That’s a lot of time. But this is a person I could really talk to. And he took the time to talk with me. And it was freely given. And it’s very different, you know, receiving that than feeling the love of a child.

Janet: I understand. Thank you.

Ken: Okay. Leah.

Leah: I’m so touched by that story.

Ken: Thanks.

Leah: It’s just amazing. I asked the same question, actually, that Janet asked one time when we spoke. And the answer was a little bit different. And I’m a little bit foggy on it right now but I think it had something to do with when you’re extending loving-kindness to someone, to the mentor or something, seeing the child in that place. But it was okay to say these aspirations of loving-kindness—

Ken: Oh, what I’m talking about are the methods in Wake Up To Your Life where you are imagining a person who has been kind to you.

Leah: Right.

Ken: And be getting very clear about the kindness that you receive from that person because that experience is the seed which allows you to grow loving-kindness in yourself.

In the methods in this booklet where the May all beings be free…, then giving that, giving loving-kindness to a child, to everybody—that’s not a problem at all. It’s the person you use to get in touch with the seed of loving-kindness in yourself. That has to be a mentor or at least a peer or someone who’s able to give it to you freely. When you say to a child, “Do you love me?” what choice does the child have? [Laughter] You know, the child has absolutely no choice about that. And that’s why you don’t do that.

Leah: Okay. So it’s in the position of the mentor.

Ken: Yeah.

Section 4

Leah: Okay. So then the next question I have is because when I first asked you the question was I was just worried that there might be a concern because this is a developing person and so maybe on some mystical level. And so along those lines, I do teach a pre-natal class and sometimes we do metta practice at the end. And I was like one—

Ken: But giving love like that, that’s not a problem at all.

Leah: For an unborn child?

Ken: I don’t see any problem with that.

Leah: Okay.

Ken: I mean, what I—

Leah: I mean I don’t specify.

Ken: Yeah, but what I would say is you don’t use a child as an example of the person who has been kind to you. That’s very different.

Leah: Okay. Thank you.

Ken: All right. Let’s break here for breakfast.

[Recording ends and restarts]

Section 5

August 28th?

Student: Yes.

Ken: Friday, right?

Student: Yes.

Ken: Yeah. And evening session.

Well, I think I’m going to just spend a few minutes on Pat’s question to Tom to start off with. And then do something a little different this evening. I think we did this in Montreal at some point during the weekend. Yeah. But what we’re calling the primary practice—this is the name a very good friend of mine gives it—is a way, initially, of coming into the experience of attention. As it matures it’s coming into the experience of awareness. And eventually is a way of coming into the experience of presence.

The method is the same for all three essentially. And as Tom was saying we begin by opening to everything we experience through our senses. And there are a couple of different ways you can do that. One is to select a visual object and rest in the experience of that object and gradually expand the visual field until you’re including everything in your visual field. And then add hearing and touch, smelling and tasting. There’s no particular order there. You could also start with sound.

Another way, which I’ve often done, is to start with the sensation of breathing, which is primarily a kinesthetic sensation, and expand from that to include all sensory sensations. That’s the first step. Then one opens to all the internal material, which is what Tom was referring to as all the thoughts and emotions and stuff like that. They’ll be beliefs and attitudes. All kinds of things. Many of them disagreeing with each other but you don’t worry about that. You just open to all of them.

And then the third step…well, as you work both those steps you begin to get the sense of a field of experience, some of which we generally call internal and some of which we generally call external. But it’s all experience. And there’s a field of experience and so we open to that field. And then we open our hearts to everything that is experienced in that field.

And many people find the notion of opening one’s heart to things a little strange. But more than once I’ve asked a person who says, you know, “How do you do that?” So I’ll take a meditation cushion being a nice, you know, endearing object. And say, you know, “Think of your husband or your wife. Open your heart.” They usually have no problem with that. If they have a problem with that then I’m in trouble. But they open to that. I say, “Okay, now, here’s this meditation cushion. Do exactly the same thing with that.” And they go, “Hunh.” But that’s what you do.

And so there’s a shift into a different kind of experience at that point because you’re very explicitly including an emotional component of attention, not just an intellectual or conceptual or mental component. And you can feel that because there’s a deeper level of engagement.

When you can rest in that then you pose the question, “What experiences all this?” And when you pose that question, you’ll experience a shift, and that shift is into the experience of awareness itself. What a lot of people will do is try to answer that question and that just plunges them straight back into conceptual thinking. You just ask this question. Experience the shift. And rest in the shift.

Now one can work these four steps slowly, building up stability in each one. And as you practice this over a period of time, it progressively deepens because one is building a capacity in attention through this practice. And one is also transforming the energy of experience of each of these levels into attention. So there’s two different things going on. It’s a very simple and yet very, very effective practice. Okay?

Section 6

Any questions. Okay. Microphone, please.

Leslie: In Montreal, we all fell in love with a clock when you took us through this practice.

Ken: Yes.

Leslie: If you remember correctly. Why is it called mahamudra?

Ken: Well, in the Tibetan tradition, there are probably half-a-dozen to a dozen practices of what I’ll call direct awareness or presence. Probably the three most well-known are madhyamika, mahamudra and, if you use the Sanskrit mahasandhi. Yeah, mahasandhi. In English they’re known as the middle way, or The Great Middle Way, The Great Seal, which is mahamudra, and The Great Completion, which is often referred to by its Tibetan name dzogchen.

They’re slightly different in approach but—and what they emphasize—but the differences are actually quite subtle. Mahamudra’s…but they’re all concerned with direct awareness. And mahamudra is so-called, it means The Great Seal. It’s not like seals in the north in Canada; it’s like the seal of the emperor. And the traditional explanation is when you have a piece of paper stamped with the seal of the emperor you can go anywhere. It has complete authority. So what the seal by which all experience is marked is the seal of emptiness. So when you experience everything arises as being empty. And that’s a whole discussion in itself. Then you’re freed from subject-object fixation, identity, etc., etc., etc. So hence the name The Great Seal. Okay?

Leslie: Thank you.

Section 7

Ken: Pat, you had a question. If you could pass the microphone over.

Pat: So, in this third step, if you’re either in your thoughts or in your body or both, but can’t get to the emotional realm, do you ask the question? Or do you stay in that third step until—

Ken: [Chuckling] Is this a theoretical question or a personal question?

Pat: Do I have to answer that? [Laughing]

Ken: No, of course not.

I was doing a retreat many years ago and working with The Four Ways of Working. We actually did two retreats. One was on power and ecstasy; one was on insight and compassion. And I had my friend, who I’ve worked with for many years come, and we actually tested people in each of these during the course of the retreat. And I remember saying to one of my students, “Okay, open to all visual experience.” [Ken makes clicking noise.] She was there. “Include everything in hearing.” Yep. “Your body, all the sensations.” Fine. “Include the emotions. All the internal material.” No problem. And I said, “Say something. From where you are right now, say something.” [Ken snaps his fingers.] Completely collapsed. Soon as she tried to say anything, all the attention just disintegrated.

So, you work this. Opening to sensory experience. And that’s something you can do. Just doing that. This is a wonderful place to do it, of course ’cause it’s so open. Another very good place to do this—shopping malls. Particularly at Christmas. Lots of stuff, you know. And another very good place to do it is parking lots. Because parking lots, you know, you have all of this rectangular stuff so you can just open to everything within those frames. They’re all over the place.

So as a way of practicing this, there are lots and lots of opportunities. Sitting in front of windows, you just look, see everything that is in the window. So, listening to polyphonic music, also another good way.

So you build up that abilities to be open to everything you’re experiencing through your senses at one time. We don’t have to be meditating to do that. You could just actually train so that that’s the way you’re functioning. And then you start including all the emotional material. And the thoughts, and the stories, and the associations, etc. So you have this field of experience.

And then you say, “Okay, now I’m going to open my heart.” What happens at that point?

Pat: Well, I think that if you haven’t really opened to emotions you’re not going to access your heart.

Ken: No, no, no not that. What happens at that point?

Pat: [Chuckling] Didn’t like that answer?

Ken: Pardon?

Pat: Didn’t like that answer?

Ken: No, it didn’t come from you.

Pat: Hmm.

Ken: What happens to you at that point? That’ll make it very explicit.

Pat: When I say to myself open my heart?

Ken: Yep.

Pat: What do I feel inside?

Ken: What do you experience?

Pat: A letting go.

Ken: Okay. How is that?

Pat: Sometimes good and sometimes not so good.

Ken: Yeah. That’s that step.

Ken: Does that answer your question?

Pat: Yes.

Ken: I don’t like theoretical answers, you know. Thank you.

Section 8

Okay. Any other questions on this? Larry.

Larry: In terms of the primary practice when you originally explained it you talked about a progression. Going from experience to attention to presence. I think I understand the experience part. You just talked about that.

Ken: It’s actually attention to awareness to presence.

Larry: I’m sorry.

Ken: Attention to awareness to presence.

Larry: Ah. Okay. I have one of your definitions of attention. I don’t think I have one of presence.

Ken: Oh, yi. [Sounds slightly exasperated.]

Larry: I mean, what’s the progression here. I mean, why aren’t these synonyms? I thought they were.

Ken: Yeah. [Long pause]

You start by putting attention on an object. So there’s the object. Our attention rests on it. We can say in a certain way that the mind joins with the object. But there’s very much a sense of “I’m here, object there.” You with me?

Larry: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah. Now as you do that, you could ask, “What experiences this object?” When you do that, there’s a shift. Okay? That shift into awareness.

Now in that shift there isn’t the same sense of subject-object. Right?

Larry: No.

Ken: Now just as attention needs to be stabilized the ability to rest in that experience needs to be stabilized. Even though there isn’t the same sense of subject there’s still kind of a sense of object.

Larry: Right.

Ken: So, as it says in one of the prayers, Look at object and you see no object. Do you see mind? That this is…the way we can do that is just know this experience. Now it ceases to be something out there. It’s just an experience.

Look at mind and there is no mind. Mind’s nature is empty. Now look at both of them simultaneously. What happens?

Larry: Mirroring aspect. In that last part, is the quality of a mirror beginning to emerge?

Ken: Yeah. Very good way of putting it. Yeah. So now there’s just experience.

Larry: Yeah.

Ken: And that’s moving in the direction of presence.

Larry: You’ve talked about attention being the ability to direct energy.

Ken: [Chuckles] Okay.

Larry: And going through the primary practice it seems like my energy is strangely depleted quickly. And—I’m thinking of Star Trek now—what are those engines that drive the…

Ken: The warp drives?

Larry: Well, yes those engines just kind of go “unh” [Larry makes engine powering down noise] and there’s nothing there. And then it takes a long time to kind of get it back up. And I have no idea how long it takes. It could take an hour or it could take a week.

Student: [Unclear]


Larry: So is this just something to work with or is there any little piece of advice there in terms of reconstituting yourself in order to come to the primary practice with more diligence?

Ken: [Laughs] So you feel the depletion of energy is an indication of the lack of diligence?

Larry: Well…[speaks without mic]

Ken: Microphone.

Larry: Nah, that was probably a bad choice of words. It was just—

Ken: Yeah. I’m just taking that—

Larry: The mojo just isn’t there.

Ken: Yeah, I was just taking that particular baseball bat away from you.

Larry: Oh. Okay.

Ken: We work—and it doesn’t really matter what the practice is. The focus of our efforts could be the four immeasurables. It could be that way of resting in mahamudra very open and clear for very short periods of time—we went over in the beginning. And we make this effort and we consistently move into a higher level of attention.

Section 9

What requires the energy is meeting the resistance of the patterns. If it wasn’t for the patterns [Ken snaps fingers], just like that. Because as many of you have experienced, when you move into that natural knowing it’s actually effortless. But then the patterns start [to] work. So after a while we run out of juice. And this is where flogging a dead horse is not a good idea.

How many of you have trained a dog? Okay. So some days the dog’s just really happy to work and can work really well and do all kinds of things. Other days…what happens if you try to work the dog on the days it’s not working?

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Well, it’s really counterproductive because you’re not getting anywhere with the dog. And the dog’s getting upset. And so you’re actually putting in a whole bunch of negativity in there. So the best thing to do is not do anything there. Just go and do something else.

So it’s why I’ve told many of you, you know, do this and when you hit that—stop. Go for a walk. Do another practice. You know, do some sky gazing. Whatever. Because trying to work the system at that point, actually, well it’s a bit like trying to squeeze water out of a rock. And, in keeping with the structure of the retreat, it’s one of the problems that often arises in very structured retreats.

Now if you are in a structured retreat, and everybody’s sitting for set periods, if this happens, you know, you just run out of juice, the best thing to do—and very, very few people do this—is just to rest. I mean you keep the posture. But you don’t try to do anything. You just rest. You know, you may keep a little attention on the breath. But that’s it. And you’re really resting. But in those kinds of structured retreats very, very few people actually rest.

Now what happens when you rest, when you take this break? Larry?

Larry: Well—

Ken: Microphone.

Larry: In time you may be able to approach it once again successfully. I’m thinking—

Ken: That’s what happens when you rest?

Larry: Oh, you mean—

Ken: When you take that break.

Larry: You’re not doing anything particular, I would assume.

Ken: Yes. What happens? Three times I’ve asked that question now.

Larry: But I thought you just said it. The energy returns. At least a level of energy.

Ken: Okay. I’ll ask it a different way. What’s your experience?

Larry: With resting? Well, I hate to be legalistic but—

Ken: [Laughing] No you don’t. You love being legalistic! [Laughter]

Larry: It depends on what you call resting.

Ken: Thank you, Bill Clinton. [Laughter]

Larry: You’re talking about resting in the—

Ken: Just hand the microphone to Paul, would you.

Paul: Me?

Ken: Yes. What happens when you rest, when you take that break?

Paul: Why do I have the microphone now? [Laughter]

Ken: You know damn well why you have the microphone, Paul.

Paul: [Sighs] Nothing.

Ken: It’s not quite—

Paul: It’s just resting. It’s just—

Ken: Yeah.

Paul: I, you know—

Ken: ’Cause you’ve done this, right?

Paul: Yeah.

Ken: Okay. So what happens?

Paul: You feel better. [Laughter]

Ken: That’s very good. Say a little bit more.

Paul: Your mind like calms down and it’s not so agitated. And—

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Is it fair to say it softens?

Paul: Yeah.

Ken: Okay. And how do you experience things at that point?

Paul: More naturally and calmly.

Ken: Okay. Thank you. Kristen. See, Larry, that’s what happens. Just for your information. But we’ll come back to you in a moment.

Kristen: Well, my immediate response is more space.

Ken: Pardon?

Kristen: I feel space.

Ken: Okay. Okay. So, Larry.

Larry: It wasn’t the word resting I was having a problem with. It’s what I felt you were assuming in terms of how rest would occur. I mean I can rest on the cushion. I can rest going out for a walk. I can rest reading a book.

Ken: That’s not the same. The last one.

Larry: Or listening to music.

Ken: Maybe the same.

Larry: Maybe. Because a book is too…when you’re an analytical—

Ken: There’s an engagement.

Larry: And not with music?

Ken: As I say, it depends.

Larry: On me or the music? [Laughter] I’m sorry.

Ken: I was just going to say both.

Okay. Now, yes, some people can just rest on the cushion and that’s fine. And in doing so mind and body are refreshed. And what often happens is that you’ve been making this effort, making this effort, making this effort. Now you stop. And you rest. And then what you’ve been working on often, not infrequently, just arises naturally. And you’re going like, “But I spent the last half-hour trying doing this and it wouldn’t work.”

Is this making sense to you?

Larry: Yes, it makes sense. You know some of the background I come from, and resting was just going into a different type of meditation practice. And so I guess that’s why I’m fumbling with this whole notion of resting.

Ken: Yeah.

Larry: And if creating mental spaciousness is the end result here—

Ken: No, actually it’s refreshing body and mind is the end result. Is what refreshment refers—

Larry: Okay. Thank you.

Ken: Yeah. Because—and this has a lot to do with what I was talking about the other night in terms of the rhythms of practice—we need to respect the rhythms of practice.

Rinpoche used to say that in Tibet they used leather bags to carry water and yak butter. And over time in either case the leather would become hard. When the leather was used for carrying water the leather could be reworked when it became hard. It became supple and then could hold water again ’cause now it was supple it wouldn’t crack.

When the leather had been used for carrying butter the butter impregnated the leather. When it became hard it was really hard. It couldn’t be reworked and it had to be thrown away. And he said, Don’t let your mind become like that. And that’s actually really important advice.

So respecting the rhythms of practice so we don’t actually wear out. And the experience of that, so you can see if you’re heading in that direction, is the mind feels like it’s getting brittle. And if your mind feels like it’s getting brittle, it’s really important to ease off on the practice. Probably good to go to a movie or something. Because when that brittleness breaks it’s really not a good thing. Okay?

Larry: Yes.

Ken: Okay.

Larry: Thank you.

Section 10

Ken: Other questions? Before we do something else. Covered quite a bit. Yes, Leslie.

Leslie: Can you comment on using exercise as refreshment? I know it’s not resting but it’s—

Ken: Oh, yeah, I think it’s very important. In Tibetan retreats the only two forms of exercise were prostrations—which is not a particularly balanced form of exercise. And if you’d had the training then various forms of yoga which were—have nothing to do with hatha yoga. They’re quite vigorous and quite demanding forms. And again very explicitly directed to transforming energy. So neither of these were particularly balanced.

It’s one of the reasons why Zen tradition has the kinhin or walking meditation. I think it’s really very, very helpful to balance sitting practice with some discipline of physical movement whether it’s yoga or t’ai chi or qigong or something like that, that helps balance the energies that have been developing in meditation and so forth.

And, in addition to that, I think it’s generally a good idea to spend some of the time just getting some straight physical exercise whether it’s running or hiking or something like that. Where you’re not doing anything particular. You know, you’re not working at something. And because there the mind and body aren’t being worked. And so they can refresh.

Leslie: Can you comment on this the recent information about daydreaming?

Ken: No because I don’t know what the recent information is.

Leslie: Well, apparently it—our minds spend quite a bit of time naturally in a state of daydreaming. And it is supposed to be one of the things that keeps our minds fresh. And so I guess what I’m asking is that what a person might be doing when they go hiking or…if they’re not working their mind they may be in some state of awareness but they’re not consciously working it.

I guess I’m getting things kind of mixed up here as I’m talking.

Ken: This kind of research is very, very, very subject to interpretation. And, I mean, that may be the case for most people just in the course of their lives and things like that. What we’re working at is something slightly different.

For instance, when I’ve done retreats here, this retreat I haven’t given myself a day off so I don’t get to do this. But sometimes I’ll walk up the mountain. Which is a good demanding hike. It’s approximately two and a half-hours to the top. Well, that works the body quite well. ’Cause it’s all uphill. But frequently when I’ve done, almost the whole time that I’m walking saying a certain Tibetan prayer which I like very much. It’s just one of these short four-line prayers. But I’ll synchronize that with the walking. And I’ll do that. And I often do that when I’m running or something in L.A.

So I’m not daydreaming when I’m doing that. When thoughts arise that throws off the synchronization with the walking. It’s all a jumble. And eventually I recognize that. And it’s actually more tiring. You know, I’m using more energy when I don’t have that synchronization. But I’m not actually really working the mind in the way that we often do in meditation.

So if I go for a hike like that or a run or something like that then I am refreshed. Very definitely. And it’s because the mind is quieter.

So I’m not sure what to make of that research. I’d have to have a closer look at what’s going on there. But I know ’cause I’ve gone to a couple of talks at UCLA on this mind-body research. And I find that the way that these researchers conceptualize stuff is just like mind-boggling compared to how things actually operate. ’Cause they’re coming at it through their FMRI’s and stuff like that. And it’s strange. And I can’t say any more than that.

Section 11


Kristen: Well I hadn’t thought about this until Leslie mentioned daydreaming but I’m curious about night dreaming. I don’t generally remember my dreams. And yet here I’m getting far less sleep and far more dreams. Is that just rubbing up against the material of the work?

Ken: No it’s probably because your mind’s clearer. Lighter and clearer. I mean when you’re resting—and we’re doing a good bit of that during the day—then you actually need less sleep. So, I mean the retreat we usually got between four and six hours a night. That was fine. As the mind grows clearer then dreaming becomes more vivid and you’re just going to remember them more.

And there are a lot of factors on which that depends. So I wouldn’t put any great stock in it. But…yeah.

Kristen: And I have two other questions. One, which is probably something I missed because we arrived a little bit later and perhaps something someone in the room can explain to me later. But I’d like to know what the han is. Like the story behind the han. So if you want to explain that to me later. But more importantly the closing prayers, the dedication and the aspiration, where do they come from?

Ken: Oh.

Kristen: Are they your creation based on a traditional…’cause they’re new to me.

Ken: Yeah, well. And the others aren’t?

Kristen: They’re more familiar. I like these two.

Ken: Yeah. I think we spent a little bit of time on this in the beginning. Just go through them very quickly. Four Instructions of Gampopa. This is my most recent translation of these. The refuge prayer, it’s fairly traditional. But the actual words are ones that I did for this retreat.

The same with Awakening Intention. These are The Four Great Vows in the Zen tradition which are usually translated somewhat differently. And even though I don’t know any Japanese, being a translator I could tell that there’s something fundamentally wrong with most of the translations.

So I found a page on the web which was put up by Bernie Glassman and Maezumi Roshi, which had the character by character the Japanese for these along with the seven different translations, which are used in various Zen centers all over America. And I dug up three or four more for research. And then just refined them until they developed a certain poetic quality that I was comfortable with.

But they’re quite significantly different from others. For instance the third line is usually translated as doors to the dharma. But the word for dharma can mean both the dharma, in the sense of scripture and instruction, and experience. And when you translate it as doors to experience, there’s a flow that opens up in this. So I felt that was the right way.

And ways of awakening is usually translated as the Buddha’s way. Well, Buddha means awakening. But when it’s translated as the Buddha’s way then the Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it, and I could tell that there was a parallel structure there, which that particular method of translation completely destroyed. So I cast around to find a way which was a translation and preserved the parallel structure.

Four Immeasurables—that’s translation. The dedication is based on a four-line verse from the Shangpa tradition which was a dedication prayer that I really liked. And I had an earlier translation for it, which we used for many years. You know, Julia’s very familiar with it. But I was irritated with it because…I mean I translated it and was reasonably happy with it. But I found it very irritating ’cause it used technical language like I dedicate to the realm of totality. Now what the hell does that mean?

So one evening—this is how usually my good translations come about—I get in a very bad temper and just tear into something. So this represents probably an hour, hour and a half’s work of just reworking that. And actually I wasn’t really trying to translate it anymore. I was just trying to invest it with a kind of meaning which made sense to me. And then when I finished it I went, “Damn, that’s actually a better translation!”

The other two are, well the Aspiration for Awakening Mind is a very famous verse from the Bodhicaryavatara. Again, there are many, many translations. This one I developed several years ago.

And then the Good Fortune prayer is one that I took from another set of prayers which were written as part of some ceremonies connected with my teacher before he died. And I just particularly liked this one. So I pulled it in.

Kristen: Thank you.

Ken: That good enough?

Kristen: That’s great.

Section 12

But more importantly the closing prayers, the dedication and the aspiration, where do they come from?

Ken: Oh.

Kristen: Are they your creation based on a traditional…’cause they’re new to me.

Ken: Yeah, well. And the others aren’t?

Kristen: They’re more familiar. I like these two.

Ken: Yeah. I think we spent a little bit of time on this in the beginning. Just go through them very quickly. Four Instructions of Gampopa. This is my most recent translation of these. Refuge prayer I put together. It’s fairly traditional. But the actual words are ones that I did for this retreat.

The same with Awakening Intention. These are The Four Great Vows in the Zen tradition which are usually translated somewhat differently. And even though I don’t know any Japanese, being a translator I could tell that there’s something fundamentally wrong with most of the translations.

So I found a page on the web which was put up by Bernie Glassman and Maezumi Roshi, which had the character by character the Japanese for these along with the seven different translations, which are used in various Zen centers all over America. And I dug up three or four more for research. And then just refined them until they developed a certain poetic quality that I was comfortable with.

But they’re quite significantly different from others. For instance the third line is usually translated as doors to the dharma. But the word for dharma can mean both the dharma, in the sense of scripture and instruction, and experience. And when you translate it as doors to experience, there’s a flow that opens up in this. So I felt that was the right way.

And ways of awakening is usually translated as the Buddha’s way. Well, Buddha means awakening. But when it’s translated as the Buddha’s away…the Buddha’s way then the Buddha’s way is unsurpassable, I vow to attain it, and I could tell that there was a parallel structure there, which that particular method of translation completely destroyed. So I cast around to find a way which was a translation and preserved the parallel structure.

Four Immeasurables—that’s translation. The dedication is based on a four-line verse from the Shangpa tradition which was a dedication prayer that I really liked. And I had an earlier translation for it, which we used for many years. You know, Julia’s very familiar with it. But I was irritated with it because…I mean I translated it and was reasonably happy with it. But I found it very irritating ’cause it used technical language like I dedicate to the realm of totality. Now what the hell does that mean?

So one evening—this is how usually my good translations come about—I get in a very bad temper and just tear into something. So this represents probably an hour, hour and a half’s work of just reworking that. And actually I wasn’t really trying to translate it anymore. I was just trying to invest it with a kind of meaning which made sense to me. And then when I finished it I went, “Damn, that’s actually a better translation!”

The other two are, well the Aspiration for Awakening Mind is a very famous verse from the Bodhicaryavatara. Again, there are many, many translations. This one I developed several years ago.

And then the Good Fortune prayer is one that I took from another set of prayers which were written as part of some ceremonies connected with my teacher before he died. And I just particularly liked this one. So I pulled it in.

Kristen: Thank you.

Ken: That good enough?

Kristen: That’s great.

Section 13

Ken: Okay. Gary.

Gary: Ken, I was curious about the prayer involving Niguma on page 21. But I know it’s quite a lengthy one. And I see that we have her likeness on the cover. So I don’t know if you were planning to get into this at all during this retreat. Or is this just reference…or?

Ken: Gee, you know, you’re a wonderful shill, Gary.

Gary: Okay.

Ken: That’s what I was going to talk about this evening.

Gary: Thanks for telling me ahead of time.

Ken: Pardon? [Laughs]

The selection of material for this booklet, since I knew there are going to be a variety of people over the course of this retreat–actually it’s gonna be 35 people coming and going here, which is a good number–people from different backgrounds, different traditions. So what I sought to do was to take material from my own training, which could cover a lot of different contexts.

So if you look on page 3, you have The Four Reminders, which as I mentioned earlier this morning, is about motivation. You have Seeing From the Inside which is an interpretation of The Principle of Full Awareness. A breathing practice. You have The Four Immeasurables. You have several things on mahamudra and dzogchen. That’s the Essence of Dharma, Tilopa’s Six Words of Advice, Vajra Song [Recognizing Mind as the Guru], Wisdom Experience [of Ever-present Good]. Magic of Faith is basically a guru yoga practice. Then you have a yidam practice which is associated with Avalokiteshvara, Chenrezi. And then two or three texts about how do you live this stuff, which we discussed earlier.

So one of the things that has been coming up in the last couple of days in the interviews is this relationship with devotion. I remember one of my longer-term students at a retreat that I was doing in Oregon asked if she could speak with me. And she just expressed it very, very beautifully. She said, “Ken, you know I’m not the devotional type. But I feel a certain devotion towards you. What do I do with this?”

And this emotion is something that arises in the teacher-student relationship in all traditions that I know of, and I think it is what I’ve said here before and I’ve said in many other contexts is the teacher-student relationship is a connection. And there is a very important emotional connection.

But frequently what happens is that emotional connection is interpreted in terms of the emotional connections that we’re used to. Which is either social connection so friendship, camaraderie, and so forth. Or romantic or intimate emotional connections. And that isn’t the basis of the actual connection. You know when there’s that feeling of connection is interpreted in those ways, it actually creates a number of different problems.

So I think it’s fair to say that devotion is an indication of the kind of emotional connection. And ’cause it doesn’t fit into the categories. You don’t usually, at least, can say in English, you know, we’re devoted to someone that we love. But it doesn’t mean the same thing as devotion does. If you see what I mean.

So this particular emotion is very important for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a form of ecstatic feeling in the sense it’s an opening. And it also can go very deep. So in the Tibetan tradition it’s regarded as a very, very important way of transforming energy into attention. And that’s why the practice of guru yoga is so widespread and strongly encouraged in this tradition.

So a couple of years ago, two or three years ago, somebody was at one of the retreats here felt a connection with Niguma. And I’ll say more about Niguma in a minute. And asked me to write a guru yoga practice based on Niguma. Now in traditional terms this was a completely inappropriate request. And but since I haven’t had visions of Niguma and etc., etc., etc., it’s completely inappropriate for me to write such a practice but there it is. And the damage is done. And so.

Section 14

In the Shangpa, which is one of the principal traditions in which I was trained, there is a key figure called Khyungpo Naljor who lived in the eleventh century who’s a contemporary of Marpa and Milarepa and that whole era of the new translation school movement of Buddhism from India to Tibet. And he’d become a highly regarded Bon priest in his younger days. And but you’ve heard me talk about the small voice or the stammering voice which asks questions. Well even though he was a highly regarded Bon priest, it didn’t satisfy his spiritual questions. So he trained in dzogchen and became a well-respected dzogchen teacher. And this didn’t work for him.

So he thought he would go to India and study with some people there. But his parents were old and they said, “Please don’t go.” So he didn’t. And he turned to a mahamudra teacher. And studied with him for a while. And made some progress but it still didn’t satisfy him.

So he turned to another mahamudra teacher. And after a few months of studying with him, the mahamudra teacher said, “Well, you know everything I know.” And Khyungpo Naljor more or less said under his breath, “Well, that means you know nothing ’cause I know nothing.”

And by then his parents had died. So he, at the age of 57, which in Tibet at that time was like at the age of 80, set off for India. And he studied with a number of teachers. And was recognized by many of the Indian masters as a person with extraordinary spiritual capability and potential.

But he couldn’t find anybody who could really speak to him about things which were important to him. And so he kept asking around and finally somebody said, “Well, maybe you should try Niguma.” And this very powerful feeling came up just as soon as he heard the name. I think actually he fainted or something. And, “Well, where does she hang out?” Oh, in this burial ground, corpse disposal, charnel ground, in such and such part of India, Sosaling, Sosa Park or Sosa Grove.

And so he had a lot of problems getting there, and eventually he arrived. And these charnel grounds were horrible places ’cause there’s corpses strewn all around. And I haven’t ever been to one myself. But the friends of mine who went said, “The one thing you’re not expecting is all the hair.” ’Cause the hair doesn’t rot. So it’s just hair all over the place. You know, corpses in various states of decay. Everything from skeletons to putrification, etc.

So he gets there and he’s praying to Niguma. And as it’s recorded she appears in the sky at the height of seven palm trees, which I guess would be about seventy feet or something. No, probably more like a hundred, hundred-forty feet. And she’s not too gentle ’cause she appears with a horde of flesh-eating dakinis who take one look at Khyungpo Naljor and start licking their lips.

And Khyungpo Naljor has saved some gold from all the gold he amassed in Tibet to make offerings to the Indian masters. And says, you know, “Please teach me!” And throws the gold up in the sky. And Niguma says, “Pfft [Ken makes dismissing sound], what do I need that for!” And turns the whole place into gold. And then accepts Khyungpo Naljor as a student.

Many really quite profound and wonderful teachings come through Niguma. In fact, you asked earlier about the mahamudra. And I talked about The Great Middle Way and mahamudra and Great Perfection. Niguma had her own tradition of mahamudra which is called The Locket Tradition of Mahamudra. But she also had another whole cycle of teaching of which only fragments remain today, which was a teaching based on experiencing the mystery or the sorcery-like nature of everything. So there are fragments of the texts, which I have. But they’re very abstruse. It’s very difficult to figure out what’s going on ’cause the commentaries have long since vanished.

But Khyungpo Naljor went on and studied with another woman, Sukhasiddhi. And he regarded these two women as his primary teachers. And then he came back to Tibet and basically established what is now what became known as the Shangpa Tradition, which went through a bunch of very difficult history, but we don’t need to go into that tonight.

So this particular practice I modeled loosely on this meeting. So, and I followed the traditional structure, largely—maybe a few little tweaks here and there.

Section 15

So you imagine Niguma in front. And start with refuge: I and all beings, infinite in number, take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. And you’ll see that I used this very non-Tibetan form of the awakening intention, the same as the one we have there.

And then the next verse, I have to confess, I cribbed from the opening, or the idea of it, I cribbed from the opening to Dante’s Inferno. You know,

Here in this forest, the middle of my life,

Trees close in, the darkening path awaits my feet.

And this is Khyungpo speaking,

Much have I learned, yet more I seek to know.

What sense does it make for me to turn back now?

And what I was seeking to express here is the notion of rational faith. There are three kinds of faith in how this is structured. And the first is rational faith. Like, “Okay this makes sense. I should pursue it.”

The mantra that follows…yeah, George included the translation in footnote 27: Homage to buddha and guru. Vajra heroes and heroines, noble dakas and dakinis, yogins and yoginis, I take refuge in all buddhas and bodhisattvas. Listen to me, listen to me.

This is the prayer that Khyungpo Naljor recited while he was looking for Niguma. So he just wandered around from village to village trying to find where Sosaling was or the Sosa Grove was. And when he went into the jungle this is the prayer that he just said to himself. So he was practicing this faith and devotion.

And then in the second stanza there,

Though many teachers assure me time and again

About what they feel I know and understand,

This is actually what he was experiencing all the time. “Well you know all this stuff.” You know. But his own spiritual questions hadn’t been resolved.

My heart still longs for what no words will serve.

What is there to do but trust this yearning and go on?

And this is the second kind of faith. The faith of longing.

And then again repeat the prayer. And if you do this practice then unlike the traditional forms of guru yoga where you’d be visualizing the guru on your head or in front of you, I didn’t give any of that. You’re like Khyungpo Naljor. You’re in the dark [little chuckle]. And all you have is your faith to go on.

“Find Niguma,” I’m told. With the magic of that name

I find a strength that gently leads me on.

Dark the way, yet clear my heart and mind.

How does this mystery show me where to go?

This is about the third kind of faith which could be translated as lucid faith. It’s not rational. It’s not really emotional. But it’s just like when you feel it, you just become clear and open.

And so when he heard the name of Niguma, this is what arose in him. And so he’s trusting that even though he has no idea where it’s going to take him. And so he continues to say Namo Buddha mantra.

And he arrives at Sosa Grove. And as I’ve conveyed in other talks there’s a both a literal and a metaphorical meaning. So,

The skeletons of my life are scattered all about.

You know, when you go deep into your faith what do you have left? You know just, you see the wreckage of your life. And you know nothing from your past life is going to be of any help to you.

So is the rotting flesh of love and hate and fear,

And all of these emotional connections that we have, they’re done. And hair…

And hair, the wild wild hair of thought, wafts everywhere:

You know.

Oh, Sosa Grove, what have you brought me to?

So he’s not feeling too cool at this point.

And one of the things I find very powerful about this particular story of Khyungpo Naljor, he’s describing, and again it’s coded language. You know, this story, whether it actually happened this way or not is irrelevant. It’s expressing what the path of faith is actually like. It’s telling us how to travel it. And you go deeper and deeper. And you’re having to let go of more and more. And it’s getting darker and darker. You have no light. No way of knowing where you’re going. T.S. Eliot expresses this very eloquently in a number of sections of Four Quartets: O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark, etc.

So if you’re practicing this, you put yourself in this state of mind. And really feel what it’s like. And here is a person who was very highly regarded in Tibet. He comes to India. And Indians thought the Tibetans were basically uncivilized savages. But his practice is so solid and spiritual presence is so powerful that he wins the respect of many august Buddhist teachers in India. They recognize his quality immediately. And still his questions aren’t answered. This is a very important message, I feel. And so he goes where those questions take him.

“What are you doing here?” a voice shouts from the sky,

“This place isn’t safe, especially for the likes of you.

Begone, before my companions soon arrive,

And feast on you, your flesh, and, yes, your bones.”

This is Niguma, of course. And follows the description. So at this point, if you’re practicing this, you imagine seeing Niguma and you feel that Niguma is the form your teacher is taking.

Dark tan your skin, black your hair, and

Your three eyes blaze like fire.

The rattle of a drum in your right hand

Summons your companions, intent and fierce.

Your left holds a skull cup, and encircles Shiva’s staff.

At ease you sit and turn your gaze on me.

And you can see a picture of her on the front cover.

This is painted by a friend of mine Sanje Elliott who’s a very talented artist. And this is actually only a small portion of a thangka that he painted. But he’s given us permission to use this. So it’s very nice.

So here you are. You’re Khyungpo Naljor. You’re at the depths of despair. Niguma’s appeared.

“Here, take this gold” I plead, “the last of all the wealth I’ve known.”

“Is that all you have?” you sneer, and toss it far away.

Anybody experience that with a teacher? You know, just dismissed.

Grinning, your cannibal companions lick their lips with glee.

For me what’s left now? What more can I do?

It’s getting pretty desperate.

At this point I put in two prayers. Both of these are traditional prayers. The first one is one that probably comes from Niguma herself. I don’t know that for sure but it is the form of prayer to the teacher that is used in the Shangpa tradition.

Treasured teacher,

In whose presence I awaken free from time,

That’s a very free translation of Essence of the Buddhas of the Three Times. But I like this way better.

I pray to you.

For the sake of all beings,

Give me energy to let self-fixation go.

Give me energy to be free of need.

Give me energy to master enchantment and dream.

These are two particular practices.

Give me energy to know the sheer clarity of just being.

Which is mahamudra actually. But I like to translate things into English.

The second prayer is from the Karma Kagyu tradition, which is a totally different tradition. It’s one that I used a lot in my own practice. And I just…I’ve always really liked this six-line, well, seven with the first line prayer. So I included it and one can do either or both, whichever you wish.

And this is where you’d spend the bulk of your practice session. Is imagining Niguma in front of you. You having no idea what’s going to happen now because you found her. You’ve offered the gold. And there’s zero response at this point. So you’re just there.

And then at the end towards the end of your practice session,

She smiles and, as I feel her light touch,

I slowly rise into the sky.

That’s what happened. She rose up.

Now that’s how it’s said in the book. You can also read this mythically as she smiles and the level of attention in Khyungpo just goes up. And as we experience when we practice together for instance. You just find yourself, “Oh, I didn’t know I could be this present.”

When I look into her deep black eyes,

I meet space—open, vast, beyond all measure.

And now Niguma speaks directly to him and the next two verses are very famous. And they are ones that I dearly love:

“Like and dislike are the mind’s disease,

Certain to drown you in samsara’s sea.

Know that there is nothing here at all,

And then, my child, everything is gold.

Experience arises like magic.

If you practice like magic

You will awaken like magic

Through the power of faith.

And you can put ”devotion“ there if you wish.

And then she gives pointing out instructions. Earlier in this retreat I talked about these very concise, pith instructions. And these one-set from Niguma:

Don’t think about your teacher or your practice.

Don’t think about what is real or not real.

Don’t think about anything.

Don’t control your experience at all.

Just rest in how things are.”

Anybody heard anything like this before?

With these words, she dissolves into light,

And, like water pouring into water,

She and I become one.

Now that next line Rest without reference and then conclude with this dedication. that should be in italics ’cause it’s a direction.

And when you feel Niguma, who you feel is in essence your teacher coming into you, then you just rest. And in other forms of guru yoga you usually have a somewhat elaborate scheme where you take empowerments through transmissions of various colored lights. I elected to omit that because, well, I just wanted to go for the essence of the whole thing. So there it is.

And then at the end of the session I conclude with the dedication.

I let go of all the good that comes from this practice:

May it touch everyone and everything I know.

May it ease the pain of struggle everywhere.

And awaken new possibilities for all.

Section 16

So. You know if any of you find this useful then that will be good. And please, any questions. Any points you’d like clarified ’cause I’ve gone over this pretty quickly. But I tried to give you the structure and some of the thinking behind it. Jeff.

Jeff: Know that there is nothing here at all. Huh? I’d like to engage that a little bit.

Ken: Joan?

Jeff: Hmm?

Ken: Joan, would you like to respond?

Joan: I was trying to find the page he’s on.

Jeff: It’s the page where we started, 21, 23 excuse me.

Ken: Yeah, but you’re not going to be able to respond. You got to respond from your experience.

Joan: Can we ask a question again? I was lost.

Ken: Yeah, so listen to him this time. I have to, so you have to. [Chuckles]

Jeff: Know that there is nothing here at all. Right here. The third stanza. Second to the last line. The third stanza. That line.

Joan: But I have to connect it with the rest of the paragraph?

Ken: No, just put that down.

Joan: Put that down.

Ken: Yeah. Jeff’s asking you: Know that there is nothing there at all, or nothing here at all. Respond. You know what I’m talking about. So say it. Floor is yours.


Joan: No I can’t.

Ken: I know you can. Speak directly from it. One more try. [Pause] That’s it; keep going. [Pause] Okay.

Jeff. When you look at your mind what do you see? You need to get the mic back from Joan now. Unless she wants to say something.

Joan: I can’t.

Ken: Okay.

Jeff: Nothing.

Ken: Okay. Float a thought up. And look at it. At what it is. What do you see?

Jeff: The same.

Ken: You see this? Look at the experience of seeing. Not the object. The experience of seeing. What do you see?

Jeff: The same.

Ken: Know that there is nothing here at all. When you open to that, what happens?

Jeff: Joy.

Ken: Okay. That help?

Jeff: Thank you.

Ken: Yes, Joan? [Laughs]

Section 17

Okay. Other questions.

It was a big step, don’t worry about it.

Student: When you asked what the experience was, what I noticed is that the longing was connected with the knowing. There wasn’t a gap there any more. And that’s where for me the joy came up. Anyway there was a connection there wasn’t a separation.

Ken: Yeah. Okay.

Any other points or questions, comments that people would like to make on this. You’d better ask. You’re going to have a long meditation period.

Student: I’ll ask one.

Ken: Anything to avoid meditation! [Laughing]

Student: So when you talk about working with this—and I’m happy to have this because I definitely have a longing for knowing.

Ken: Okay.

Student: And there is a lot here. And so would you suggest that, you know, I simply sit quietly and take my time and just go through it and see what arises and?

Ken: I think that would be a very good way. This is a method of practice. And I followed the traditional structure of methods of practice. But far more important than following a form is opening to both the feelings and the experience. Opening to both the feelings and the experience.

So that’s one of the reasons I built in all of these pauses or periods where you’re just sitting, feeling things into this. And whether you actually use this, these words or not it may be that you read this and you find a way to move through a sequence of feelings at your own rate. And that would be fine. Because there is a process of deepening faith. And as faith deepens being able to hold onto less and less. You follow? And by invoking that process within oneself one creates the conditions in which letting go can arise.

And the explicit cultivation of this very heartfelt devotion, as I said in the beginning of this evening, is a very, very powerful method for both opening emotionally but also raising the level of energy. So mind just becomes open and clear. And so from my point of view what’s important here is that you find a way that this framework or these words help you deepen your experience.

Section 18


Nancy: Well in the past year I think at the last retreat we did The Vajra Song Recognizing Mind as Guru.

Ken: Yeah. That’s—

Nancy: And I’ve actually used that quite a bit in practice. But that’s quite different and—

Ken: It’s totally different.

Nancy: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah. So this is on page 14. Take a few minutes with this. Julia’s actually analyzed this far more deeply than I have. Do you want to give the commentary?

Julia: [Unclear]

Ken: [Laughing ]The dog ate my homework. [Laughter]

Julia: I can probably reconstitute it.

Ken [Laughing] Okay! Uh, I love the way everybody just wants to jump into the fray.

When I asked Rinpoche towards the end of the first three-year retreat what I should practice, he said, “This.” But being a very bad and stupid student I just sort of read it over and went, “Yeah, yeah,” and then got very ill. And so I didn’t really look at this until really quite a few years later. And when I hauled the text out and started reading it, and then I realized, “Oh, maybe I should have done this a little earlier.”

And the first of the retreats we had here five years ago, it’s what prompted me to translate this.

Nancy: Well, I’ve used it as primarily inspiration.

Ken: Good. What inspires you?

Nancy: I guess it’s the way mind is explained.

Ken: Yes. Because Khyungpo Naljor I mentioned already, his principle student was Mokchokpa. And Mokchokpa’s principle student was Kyergongpa. So this is about twelfth, thirteenth century. And this is a song that he wrote describing his experience.

So let’s take a look at some of the earlier stanzas.

Yes, gurus do point out how things are,

I’m starting in the second stanza here.

But the guru who is natural being is within.

Mind that is my guru, here is how you are:

Now what follows is a description. And, I mean I should quibble a little bit with your choice of words, Nancy. This is a description not an explanation.

Nancy: Oh, yeah. It is a description.

Ken: Okay. So,

You have no genesis: you are just naturally present.

Or we could say naturally there.

Misfortune doesn’t hurt you; correctives don’t affect you.

Now when you hear those lines you know you’re talking about another level of experience.

Misfortune doesn’t hurt you; correctives don’t affect you.
It raises a possibility for us.

You don’t come or go; you don’t change with time;

And I cannot say you exist or don’t exist.

So as you hear these words, they invoke or elicit something in us. And a way to work with this is just let that be elicited. Don’t actually think about it.

I can’t see, hear, taste, smell or touch you:

You are not a thing, yet you are the source of all experience.

Try as I may, there’s nothing I can point to and say, “That’s you!”

But when I sit and don’t look for you, you are present in everything.

So, there’s a sense of extraordinary intimacy and complete ineffability. Nothing that we can sense in any conventional way. But it’s there and we feel it just the same.

You are not subject to conditioning, good or bad.

Finer than everything, you don’t attach to anything.

Not being a thing, you are the basis of everything.

Free from reasoning, you arise clearly when I don’t reason.

Because you aren’t anywhere, you arise as anything anywhere.

Maybe it should be “everywhere.” If you go to the primary practice, you have this whole field of experience. And at the end we ask, “What experiences this?” When you ask that question, awareness and experience are not separate.

Very early in this retreat I said we separate consciousness and appropriate consciousness for ourselves. So we experience a dead world. When you do the primary practice and awareness and experience are no longer separate, then there isn’t an “I” which is aware separate from objects which aren’t aware. And there is just experience and awareness in everything.

And so anything can arise. All the forms, sounds, thoughts, feelings that we experience.

Yet you don’t belong to any one place.

So, while you are not anything I can point to,

You are my guru!

He goes on to explain the spiritual history. It could be translated as Way of Freedom. And what is described in the next few verses is how this quality permeates all experience.

And then in the next section starting with Oh, mind that is my guru, I meet you by recognizing what I am—this is something that is frequently done in esoteric texts in Tibetan Buddhism. The ordinary forms of religious practice are reinterpreted in terms of being in this experience, or experiencing things this way.

So I meet you by recognizing what I am. A few moments ago I asked Jeff, “When you look at your mind what do you see?” He said, “Nothing.” That’s meeting.

I pray to you by letting go of doubt and hesitation.

So that’s a very different kind of prayer. Then you can go through the rest yourself.

The second last stanza on page 15 I rather like:

Without running away, I stop going into samsara.

Without going anywhere, I arrive at buddhahood.

I understand that no experience is good or bad.

It’s really important, that line. We consistently appraise experience, “Oh, this is good. This is bad. This is helpful. This is harmful, etc.” In this way of experiencing things, no experience is good or bad. It’s just experience. It releases us from hope and fear and all of that.

When I look outside, a guru may teach, but this is what happens:

Because I don’t know mind itself directly,

I take what is not as what is.

Chasing the past, I fall into old habits and pain.

That’s called ordinary being.

If you look at the third and fourth stanzas on page 16, how do we know this experience? That empty quality to experience is just there. It’s not something that we create or project or manufacture.

Emptiness is just there: I don’t need to hunt for the dimension of truth.

Now dimension of truth here is my translation of the term dharmakaya, if you’re familiar with that word.

The next line dimension of form is rupakaya or nirmanakaya.

So, we’re always looking for the truth for how things actually are. In a certain sense, it may seem strange to say this, there isn’t any such thing. During this retreat I’ve consistently emphasized letting the mind rest. When we—and I’m not even going to talk about mind here—when we rest very, very deeply there isn’t a shutting down of experience, there’s actually awakening of experience. When we rest very deeply we experience everything much more vividly. So that there’s that awake quality.

But in that deep resting, the way we experience is that what arises is not separate from the knowing. Is not separate from mind. And that knowing quality is experienced as having nothing to it. There’s no form, no substance, no quality. Almost no quality we can ascribe to it which is often referred to as emptiness. But that’s just how we experience it when we rest that deeply.

And because the knowing and the experience are not separate, then experience arises as empty. Which doesn’t mean to say it goes away. It just loses its seeming tangibility.

Now it’s a way of experiencing things. And it is so deep and so vivid that people say, “Well this is how things are.” Out of that, what tends to happen is people attach to it as being true in some sense. This actually takes us in the wrong direction. Because when we experience things that way, any sense of identity has subsided because of the depth of the resting.

And that freedom from identity, and that freedom from hope and fear because experience doesn’t arise as good or bad anymore—it just is—this is what allows us, or enables us if you wish, to respond to what arises in experience with what we call compassion but is just the natural expression of awareness. And we respond to the experience of suffering and struggle and pain without actually any real thinking. It is just the natural response because of…I don’t know what to say. And that is the direction this practice takes us. You know, the continuing search for truth or something like that takes us away from that just responding naturally to what arises.

And in that natural response because of the quality of experience our habituated conditioning doesn’t arise. And the lack of separation means that what arises as a response is appropriate for the situation. And that’s why it’s called compassion. It’s also why it ends suffering.

So it goes on to say:

Samsara is destroyed at its root: I don’t need to discard anything.

My mind is buddha: I don’t need to hope for anything.

It’s always been this way: I don’t need to cultivate anything.

Isn’t this a better way to work?

And then we discussed the other lines earlier. But just to review. We look and look at mind. What do we use to look at mind? Well, we use mind of course—knowing. What if any sense of mind drops out? Well, now you’ve got nothing to look with. You’re just present. That’s why he says, What’s the problem?

The others are structured the same way.

I have studied with many capable gurus:

Each guru has given me his or her own advice.

All advice comes down to one point—mind.

And it would be interesting to go through and substitute heart all the way through this ’cause that would give it another flavor.

So, mind [or heart] that is my guru,

I look at you, listen to you, and seek your instruction again and again.

Do you get the feel of this? And I’ve talked about very deep listening. In a sense we’re learning how to listen to nothing. And then we can really listen to nothing. Then stuff becomes very clear.

So, perhaps this is a little helpful to you.

Student: Yeah.

Ken: Anything else, Nancy?

Nancy: Thank you.

Section 19

Well, you’ve wasted another perfectly good two hours. [Chuckles]. Leslie.

Leslie: What’s the meaning of daka and dakini? Is it—

Ken: Oooh. [Sighs] Indian mythology they were spirits. Dakas are male, dakinis are female. In…before they were expropriated by Vajrayana Buddhism, they represented the elemental forces which caused you to act in strange ways without knowing why. So they’re very intimately connected with magic and sorcery. And there are rituals in which you would try to make use of their power.

But as they were expropriated in the development of Vajrayana Buddhism, they became symbols of the dynamic quality of knowing, of awareness. Which when it wasn’t recognized could beguile, seduce, terrify, drive you crazy. But when it was recognized as the movement of mind itself allowed you just to move directly, do things as if by magic. Okay?

So there’s in Wake Up To Your Life…does anybody have a copy of it here? Thank you, Pat.

There’s a song, a vision that Khyungpo Naljor had. This is in the beginning of Chapter 6 [pg. 214]. In which a lion-headed dakini appeared to him, Senge Dongma. And so he sings this song about the four dakinis:

Crystal dakini guards against interruptions.

Jewel dakini increases wealth.

Lotus dakini gathers energy.

Action dakini gets everything done.

When wanting and grasping hold sway

The dakini has you in her power.

You follow?

Wanting nothing from outside, taking things as they come,

Know the dakini to be your own mind.

The essence of mind is knowing.

Know that the crystal is the non-thought of mind itself

And the crystal dakini guards against interruptions.

So we all experience interruptions in our practice. And we run into them, “Bonnng.” What do we do? When we experience—to use Khyungpo Naljor’s phrase here—the non-thought of mind itself, well, that’s like that crystal clarity. Empty. Clear. Just there. And Naljor’s saying that’s the crystal that the crystal dakini holds.

And if you know that clarity, then interruptions can’t arise because there’s nothing for them to bump into or they bump into. Follow? What were interruptions are just movements in mind. So that’s why when you know that, crystal dakini guards against interruptions.

Know that the source of wealth is contentment

And the jewel dakini fulfills all wants and needs.

And it goes on through the other ones. This give you the idea?

Leslie: Yeah.

Ken: Okay. Thanks, Pat.

Okay. Let’s close here. We’ll just sit for a short period.

Creative Commons LicenseThis transcript by Ken McLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. This transcript has been edited to make it more readable. There may be minor differences between the audio file and the transcript.