A Trackless Path 11

Section 1

Saturday, August 29th, A Trackless Path.

Tomorrow a number of you are going to be heading back to your homes. And as you’ve discovered you’ll be saying something about your experience here this evening. Early in the retreat I talked about the four ways of working: power, ecstasy, insight and compassion. What you do this evening is actually an exercise in power.

Now, I’ve found that power is a tricky subject for a lot of people. And generally speaking in today’s societies power has a bad name. The consequence of that is that generally it’s only bad people who exercise power.

So I think it’s actually very important for people to develop a relationship with power. It’s essential in one’s own practice. I also said earlier that the principal practice of power in Buddhism is in shamatha. In the Theravadan tradition it takes the form of, “Can I experience this?” And this is whatever is arising. There’s no attempt to understand it, analyze it, figure it out, mold it, shape it, whatever. It’s—“Can I experience this?”

And in a certain sense among the modern Buddhist traditions, I would say that Theravadan in this respect has the clearest relationship with power. And in shamatha, resting practice, when thoughts arise or thinking arises and you recognize it, the exercise of power is you come back to the breath, or you come back to whatever you’re resting in. You just come back. Again, there’s no analysis, no trying to mold the experience, or shape it, or control it or whatever. You just come straight back.

Section 2

When Chán Buddhism from China was brought to Japan in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Samurai class was attracted to it because this was a warrior class in Japanese society. They dealt with life and death on a daily basis. And when you’re dealing with life and death in the rapid movement of a sword fight, there’s no time for analysis or trying to mold experience. You just have to move.

And you can read either The Unfettered Mind by Takuan or The Five Rings by Musashi to get a feeling of this. Takuan discusses the many different ways the gap into which even a hair cannot enter. And the way he demonstrates this is you clap your hands and yell at the same time. Not even a hair can enter into that gap. And these are his instructions to a sword master who wrote to him for some guidance. He says this is how you have to be.

Now, many of the times this is powered by our reaction and there’s no presence in that. It’s just internal agendas driving it. In the exercise of power that we cultivate through this practice it’s not reaction but response, and this takes training.

In martial arts training takes three steps or goes through three phases. The first is to learn the movement, the technique. The second is to learn it so that it just becomes part of you. And the third is to get rid of all of the internal material which would prevent it from manifesting when a situation arises.

So you guys have got a lot of work to do between now and this evening. You speak from your experience—it doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be articulate, it doesn’t have to be well-structured. When you do all of that, old conditioning’s going to come up. Experience it. Don’t be swallowed by it. And that is a very essential point in our practice—to develop a sufficient capacity in attention so that you aren’t swallowed by the internal material. And then speak or act, whatever you’ve come to present directly from there.

As I’ve said before the opportunity to speak directly with those who—of like mind—who share and act on the same intention is relatively rare. In fact I think it’s extremely rare in the context of most forms of spiritual practice. And the consequence of that is that relatively few people have the opportunity of acting from their knowing.

Section 3

In the Tibetan tradition there is a phase of practice called enhancement. At least that’s the word we’ve generally chosen to translate it. Not quite the right word because it actually means realize in the fundamental sense of realize.

And if you look up realize in the dictionary it doesn’t have anything to do with spiritual attainment or anything like that. Is you realize a profit when you sell something, or you realize a loss, you know, you have this paper loss or this paper profit and you make it real when you sell an item. You make money or don’t; and that would be a better way of thinking about this particular phase of practice. Here you have all of this training and now you do something, and it makes whatever you know real in your life.

So in addition to being able to share your experience this is an opportunity also to make it real in your experience because it’s no longer something that is just inside when you speak with a group of people like this. Now it’s real in the world. We have many inhibitions, as I said earlier, about the exercise of power this way. Most of them were installed by others for their benefit, not ours.

So this is an opportunity to stand in your own experience, have it be received and celebrated by those who share your intention, which is the actual meaning of sangha and earth-like mind.


Section 4

Student: Start it now.

Ken: No don’t—not quite.

Student: Yes.

Ken: Thank you.

Saturday—Sunday? Sunday, August 30th, A Trackless Path.

Student: 31st.

Ken: 31st?

Student: Yes.

Ken: Okay.

Students: It’s the 30th.

Ken: It’s the 30th, yes. A Trackless Path, evening session. Okay.

Section 5

What I was planning to do and we may have time still to do it is to go over the first part of the The Wisdom Experience of Ever-present Good. But I want to tie it into a couple of things.

You’ve come a long way; this is not a particularly easy place to get to. And you’ve come for a reason. And I’d like you to get very clear why you are here. This has to do with motivation and intention. And when we started the retreat—a bit over a week ago—that was the first thing I asked everybody to do was to sit with a question, “Why am I here?”

Now when we entertain that question various answers come up and often we start thinking about it. “Okay, why am I here?” and we start thinking about it. In this arena particularly, and I think in a lot of other arenas, thinking is considerably overrated as a way of coming to knowing, and there are a couple of reasons for that.

One is that whenever we start to think about things we’re actually presented with a great array of possibilities—I mean we have lots and lots of thoughts. And often we in what we call thinking we’re following those thoughts more or less randomly. So it actually gets very unreliable.

The second reason is that because there are so many little choices in there, there are many, many opportunities for emotions, which is really where decisions come from. So the thinking process itself is completely in the thrall, to use Keats’s phrase, of emotions and our emotional biases, our emotional prejudices. Please come in Pat. [Ken talks to a student.] And so whatever is happening in us emotionally is going to determine the result of the thinking process.

Section 6

The human being—and if I’ve stumbled over the vocabulary it’s because I’m in the middle of trying to make a transition in my vocabulary into something which is more congruent with where I’m coming from these days, but it’s very much a struggle at this point. But the one and only thing we can actually know about this experience of life is that we’re aware. Well there are two things: we’re aware and we’re going to die. But everything else is hypothesis and speculation.

How many of you have read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Oh good. If you haven’t it’s very important. Going to put it on the compulsory reading for future reference. Anyway there’s a portion in it guess I think it’s in the section called Restaurant at the End of the Universe where these space travelers visit the ruler of the universe, and at the last Teacher Development Program session we actually had people act this out—it was hilarious.

And one person asks this question and the ruler of the universe says, “Oh, that’s a question about the past is it?” And the person goes, “Yyyyes.” And the ruler of the universe then says, “How do I know the past isn’t a fiction I have created to account for the discrepancy between my present physical state and my mental state?” [Chuckles] And we can’t know that. You know, it’s entirely possible.

So other than that we are aware in some way and that we’re going to die, there’s almost nothing else we can know about this experience we call life. And it’s very important to pay attention to this aware quality, and it has many dimensions. There’s the cognitive which where most of us spend our time. But there’s a physical knowing which is immediate and direct. There’s a Nasrudin story I often used in meditation instruction which refers to this.

Mulla Nasrudin and a friend are at a friend’s house; they’re having a conversation. They’re so engrossed in the conservation. It gets dark and Nasrudin’s friend says, “Nasrudin why don’t you light a candle. You’ll find some matches and candle in the drawer by your right hand.” And Nasrudin says, “What!? How can I tell my right from my left in the dark?”

Well we can’t, you know, there’s that immediate knowing. There’s emotional knowing, there’s a knowing in the heart, knowing in the body, there’s a knowing in the guts, there’s intellectual knowing. There are all of these different kinds of knowing. And by opening to all of those different kinds of knowing in every moment of our existence then we come into a much more complete experience of our life. And we find that what we know and in many cases the decisions we make are very different if we bring all our “senses” quotation mark to bear on that.

So when you’re working with this question, “Why am I here?” what does your body say? What do your guts say? What does your heart say? What does your mind say? What does your intellect say? What does your intuition say? Maybe some of you will come up with other ones. Maybe each of them has a different answer—that can be interesting. And that’s what I’d like you to spend some time in the morning session.

Section 7

Now, since many of you have just arrived newly I’m going to say a couple of words about the structure of this retreat. It’s very open and it’s deliberately designed to be very open. Get up at 5:00; meditation from 5:30 to 7:00 is individual. There will be people meditating in here. There usually are. But it’s up to you where you meditate and how you practice between that period of time. We meet here at 7:00, everybody, for group meditation 7:00 to 7:45. And then usually a very short question and answer period, or some comments, practice tips I’ll make between then and 8:00 when we have breakfast. And then at 9:30 you’ll hear the, or 9:15, you’ll hear the han begin for the morning practice session, which is 9:30 to 12:30. And of course you’re meant to sit in here absolutely stock-still and never move. No, it’s again completely open. That period of time is for practice, and you’re going to determine what the best way for you to use that time is.

Some people have used some of that period for yoga or other physical disciplines. Other people have used it for a walk, you know, let things settle that way. Again there are usually people in here practicing. And the people in here practicing, one person takes responsibility for timing, rings the gong every half-hour, and do a period of qigong. And I’ll be giving a qigong class tomorrow when the others get here probably around 4 o’clock or so. And then sit again for half-hour so there’s a sequence of half-hour sittings, and some people come in for them and then leave when they want to do another practice.

And then there’s we have lunch and then the same thing from 2:00 to 5:00, basically. And at 5 o’clock we’ll meet here for a half-hour of sitting together, have dinner, and then in the evening we have this kind of extended discussion, talk, question and answer period. But that varies from evening to evening.

During the day of course there are interviews. And I meet with everybody once during the day. And you bring your questions about practice, or I may get curious about your practice and ask some questions—either way you take your risks, so…

But those interviews are designed to help you get clearer about your practice. And the main reason is that particularly in a time like this, rather than people spending two or three days struggling with something, I want to be able to meet with you. Find out what’s going on in your practice so I can give you some guidance or suggestions about how to work through a block, or how to approach a certain experience, or work with a particular practice point. And what most people find is that those regular interviews move things along actually quite well. And they aren’t the Zen kind of thing where you have a koan and you just never know what to say. These are about 10 to 15 minute interviews where you can really talk about things. And one of the questions I’d like to discuss with you tomorrow during the interviews is, “Why are you here?”

So at this point I think I’ve covered the basics that I want you to know about. Any questions that any of you would like to ask on that? Pat.

Pat: It will be my last question.

Ken: For this retreat I’m sure there will be.

Section 8

Pat: In your book Ken, you talked about the four levels of knowing.

Ken: Oh!

Pat: Intellectual knowing.

Ken: Oh yes,

Pat: Energy surges. Direct experience which includes the body and cognitive knowing.

Ken: Right.

Pat: And then the last one was knowing at the level of being or deep knowing. When you want us to ask the question, “Why are we here?” do you want us to go through those four levels and try to access the last level or are you just saying be open to experience?

Ken: I’m saying more be open to experience. Those four levels of knowing refer to something a little different. And that is, you could take compassion or experiencing the dropping away of subject-object perception. So first, you know, you read about it, you get a kind of idea you understand it, and then as you practice the level of energy becomes higher and you begin to have experiences. But they aren’t stable ’cause they’re dependent on the movement of energy in the system. And then at a certain point there’s a direct experience in the stable…and the system changes—that’s the direct knowing. And then eventually it’s just the way you are. And that’s what those four levels refer to. What I was talking about earlier is the multiplicity of ways that we do know things. But frequently people don’t pay attention to many of them they just focus on the intellectual.

Okay? All right. Other questions or comments? Okay.

Section 9

Do you all have this in front of you? [Holds up retreat booklet.] And now this maybe some help in pursuing this. I want you to turn page 17. Now this booklet that you all should have a copy of you’ll find on page 4 and 5 the prayers that we use for opening and closing meditation sessions. The rest of the book consists of various texts which cover a fairly wide range of practices, and because many people are going to be doing many different practices here, I selected from a number of different sources and hopefully find something in here that will support you in whatever practice you’re doing. So it’s very much intended as a support, and we aren’t going to be studying much of it in a kind of systematic way.

Section 10

Page 17 there’s a long poem, which comes from an individual called Jigme Lingpa who lived in the seventeenth century—quite an extraordinary Nyingma master. And this particular text was given to me by Kilung Rinpoche; he asked me to translate it as a kind of summary of a three-week retreat I did with him back in 2003. And it’s a wonderful text.

This first section which we’re going to look at this evening uses a framework which is quite common in the Nyingma tradition—the nine vehicles. And the way it’s worded, it looks like a criticism of all the “lower” vehicles, but that’s an erroneous way to interpret this kind of text.

Each of the verses describes a way that any of us can approach our practice and the problems. And he touches briefly on the problems in approaching practice that way. So as we go through this, what I’d like you to be doing is checking yourself. Like, “Okay. How does that apply to me?” or “Can I recognize myself in this?”

So he starts with an homage to Samantabhadra, which I’ve chosen to translate as Ever-present Good.

Student: Could you turn up the lights maybe.

Ken: Okay, is that easier for people to read now? Okay, good.

Section 11

Ken: Yep. Okay, so, I bow to mindful Ever-present Good. Ever-present Good is a translation of Samantabhadra who is, you know, to use the technical term Adi-Buddha, which basically means Primordial Buddha. And try to get that into English it doesn’t have much juice in it but if you like the principal of awakening mind or of awakened mind, this possibility that is present in everything we experience. And by that I’m not really referring to buddha nature but I suppose in dzogchen they would probably say it’s more like the awakened quality of experience, but I don’t like using that kind of terminology ’cause I don’t actually know what it refers to. So,

Mind itself is utterly without root like space.

Just as space does not refer to the nature of space,

Nor can awareness be pointed out by examples.

Yet I use such methods to explain the key points.

Now he acknowledges right at the beginning that language is a problem here. We need language to communicate but what is being communicated is not something that can be described in language. And I came across an interesting quotation a couple of weeks ago: “Language begins with the death of the individual.” And this probably has many levels of meaning, but the way that I take it is that, you know, here’s a simple object—this gong. Each of us right now has our own experience of it. You know, each of you sees it slightly differently; the play of light, shadow, shape, etc., is different. So it’s a different experience for each person. As soon as we say “gong,” our individual experiences are gone. Now it’s a common experience—we have a word for it—and I think that’s what’s referring to that, “Language begins with the death of the individual.” I just like the way it was expressed.

So we’re going to use language but the language is always pointing to something, and in particular it’s pointing to an experience. Language can never be the experience. It points to experience.

So we have this room here and I say, “This is space.” Well, space isn’t the space. “Space” is a word it points to. And so we’re going to be discussing mind and awareness. These are words but they’re pointing to something. Let’s see if we can get a better idea of what they’re pointing to.

Section 12

So the first one:

Suppose the house of a poor man contains a wonderful treasure,

And although he has it he doesn’t know it:

He continues to be a poor man.

In the same way, you are tangled in the net of unaware thinking

And don’t know what you have. How heartbreaking, you beings in samsara!

Anybody relate to this line?

Student: Mmm-hmm.

Ken: Who said, “Mmm-hmm?” Yeah, Larry. Did you say, “Mmm-hmm?”

Larry: Yes, I did.

Ken: Okay, say a word about that. Leslie has the mic. No, Pat has it.

Larry: Well I certainly can identify with the second from the last line: being tangled in a net of unaware thinking and don’t know what you have.

Ken: Yeah, well that’s a great place to start. This thinking is going on almost all the time right? Is what is aware of the thinking thinking? [Pause] Shall I ask that again? Is what is aware of the thinking thinking?

Peri: No.

Ken: Peri says, “No.” Larry says, “Yes.” We have to have a vote on this.

Larry: No I’m saying could be.

Ken: “Could be.”

Larry: I’m not saying, “Yes.”

Ken: Well let’s try it another way. It was a bit cold this afternoon right? Especially in the evening with the rain. Is what is aware of cold cold? Hmm?

Students: No.

Ken: Well now you say, “No.”

Larry: In that particular case no.

Ken: Microphone please.

Larry: In that particular case.

Ken: “That particular case.” Okay, so now we have to go through case-by-case.

Student: I say yes.

Ken: [Laughs]

Jeff: Yes.

Ken: All right Jeff, what is aware of cold?

Jeff: Cold.

Ken: You remind me when I was getting my Master’s in math. People said they would feel a pinprick in their brain. If I pinprick their foot they experienced the pain in the brain. I really wanted to stick a pin in their foot. So you want to reconsider that? [Chuckles] The cold is aware of cold?

Jeff: The experience of cold is aware of its experience of cold.

Ken: What is aware of the experience of cold?

Jeff: You want to split things up, eh?

Ken: Yeah right now—it’s convenient.

Jeff: Nothing.

Ken: Ha!

Jeff: No-thing.

Ken: Oh, okay. But there’s the experience of cold all the same isn’t there?

Student: Yes.

Jeff: Yes.

Ken: Yep. So all of this thinking is going on. How much attention, how aware are we of the awareness of the thinking usually?

Jeff: Will you say that again please?

Ken: How aware are we, usually, of the awareness of the thinking?

Have a seat. [Ken speaking to George.]

Student: I would say usually not at all.

Ken: “Usually not at all.” So, and don’t know what you have. Now that awareness, does it come from anywhere? It’s always there in everything we experience, and yet we’re ignoring it all the time. So this is how we’re like a poor man. It’s there and we don’t know it. We aren’t aware of it, and so we can’t do anything with it. Like a poor man has this treasure chest of gold, and it’s buried in his basement but doesn’t know it’s there and that’s it. JP.

JP: It’s always there?

Ken: Well that gets into a little…I’m using traditional vocabulary—I’m still struggling. What’s behind your question there?

JP: I think it’s pretty straightforward from my perspective.

Ken: Well…

JP: Is it something that we can access and then it’s there—or it’s always there?

Ken: I think traditionally it would be said it’s always there in the same way that it doesn’t matter how much furniture, or how many people, or how much stuff we put in this room—the space is there. But that’s a metaphor. I would probably be more inclined to say it’s always possible to experience things that way, but that doesn’t mean to say it comes into being, or goes out of being, or anything like that. That gets pretty tenuous. Another way of saying it, although I really don’t like using this kind of vocabulary, is to say the potential is always there, but again that’s another kind of metaphor. So we’re running straight into the language problems here. Jeff.

Jeff: It seems that it’s always there when you look.

Ken: Or when you quotation marks “allow it” or what have you. Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah, so that’s all you can know. The rest of it is just speculation.

Ken: [Laughs] Yeah, okay, yeah. I like that, thank you.

So that’s this first verse, and George you just came in around page 17 in the book.

Section 13

Now, the question that I’ve asked you to consider—“Why am I here?—now comes into play right now. ”Are you here to experience this awareness?“ How many would put up their hands and say, ”Yes“? Oh dear trick question. Why?

Student: I’m here to learn how to stop blocking awareness.

Ken: Why?

Student: Because when I’m not aware of awareness—when I’m not looking, I get tangled up in confusion and—

Ken: So what’s the problem with that?

Student: And I create misery.

Ken: Okay. So you’re here to to learn how to stop creating misery.

Student: Absolutely.

Ken: Yeah. Okay. That’s important because time and again, particularly within Buddhism, we get caught up in, you know, this natural awareness, or direct awareness, or emptiness, or perfection of wisdom, or ordinary knowing, and so our efforts become more into getting that which is, becomes highly problematic, and we forget why we’re actually doing this. Which is along the lines, I mean it will be different for different people, but for many people it’s along the lines of I want to stop creating suffering or misery. I want to stop being miserable or whatever. And a way to that is being able to experience whatever arises without confusion, or blocking, etc., etc., because if we can experience whatever arises, then we don’t have to react on the basis of anything. You follow?

Yeah, and it’s the reactions which usually cause suffering for others and ourselves.

But this is precisely why I want you to be very, very clear about why you are here. So that you don’t get caught up in trying to—or let me put it this way: you stay very clear about what’s means and what’s ends.

Student: What’s that?

Ken: What is means and what is ends. In this sense—I don’t know how much trouble this will get me into but what the hell—direct awareness is a means to not suffer. You follow?

Section 14

You going to take issue with that Jean?

Student: Oh, okay. Seems like [unclear].

Gene: [Unclear]

Ken: Just one second.

Gene: It seems like arriving at not suffering is being in awareness or it’s the means as well as the end.

Ken: It may be for some. I would hesitate to say absolutely it is that way for everyone. I would feel that I was saying much more than I could really vouch for. Okay.

Gene: No comment.

[Big chuckle and laughter]

Student: For me awareness alone is sometimes I’m aware of terrible things and terrible pain and to me it’s the acceptance of if I can accept it—

Ken: Yes.

Student: —and go with it then there’s less suffering. But boy if I resist it struggling and it creates more—

Ken: Yeah.

Student: —suffering.

Ken: Exactly. Yeah. So if we develop a relationship with an awareness which can know whatever arises, pointing to the acceptance that you’re describing, then there isn’t that turmoil and that spilling out into the world, and so it is the end of suffering. And that’s actually a fairly tall order.

Section 15

Okay, so in the next verse we find…Larry.

Larry: That last statement you made Ken about developing a relationship with what arises we can—

Ken: An awareness which can experience whatever arises. Yep.

Larry: —can help reduce or eliminate suffering? If you were at a cocktail party and you said that to someone, I mean wouldn’t most people say, ”Well I do that. I know what’s going on. I pay attention to what’s happening in my head.“ I’m not trying to be argumentative I’m just trying to get a fix on how—

Ken: Well I—

Larry: …this is brought into the world.

Ken: I wouldn’t do this at a cocktail party because it’s not but—

Larry: Well an open venue.

Ken: Yeah. But if somebody says, ”Oh I do that all the time.“ Then I might ask him what happens when you get angry? Because, I love doing this with CEOs—they hate it: We only get angry at what we feel weaker than.

Student: At what we feel?

Ken: We only get at angry at what we feel weaker than. Because if we feel stronger than something we say, ”Uh, we just don’t do it.“ But when somebody or something happens and we feel weaker, I mean it’s the fire cycle in the elements. We feel alone and kaboom up comes the anger. We can’t experience the aloneness and that’s why we get angry. If we can experience the aloneness, then the anger doesn’t arise. And I would you use an example like that to point them to specifically what they can’t experience.

Larry: And that’s exactly the kind of…[gets mic]. And that’s exactly the kind of individual I could see responding that way to a statement that one might make—

Ken: Yeah.

Larry: Along those lines it’s…thank you.

Ken: Okay.

Section 16

So, next verse, and obviously we’re not going to get through all eight verses here this evening at this rate. But that’s fine.

When you turn your back on the path of natural being…

And just take that line in: When you turn your back on the path of natural being—how many of you can recognize this?

Jeff: What was the question?

Ken: How many of you can recognize this: When you turn your back on the path of natural being? What’s your experience of that?

Jeff: Tangled.

Ken: ”Tangled.“ Okay, well I’ll go a step further with you Jeff. Mary could you hand him the mic. How do you turn your back on the path of natural being?

Jeff: With the greatest of ease.


Ken: Okay. How do you know you’ve done it? [Laughs]

Jeff: When I’m no longer doing it.

Ken: [Laughs] Okay. What I’m pointing to here is that if we pay attention to our experience, and this speaks to Larry’s comment a few moments ago, something knows something is wrong. Gene.

Gene: I just thought of an example where it happens all too frequently. I’m thinking I’m a teenager and I’m in a group and I don’t what to say, I don’t know how to act.

Ken: You’re in a group…

Gene: And it seems like if I was like two-years old I would just start [Ken laughs], you know, I would just start connecting with people.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a good example. So there’s all of this conditioning comes up. We can’t just respond naturally. And even if we are very skilled at interacting with people and things like that, there’s still something in us that knows something’s out of balance or something’s not quite right.

So what this points to is that there is a knowing present in us of, and we can call it natural being, or the path of natural being, or any other word that you want to use, but that knowing is present. And when we don’t pay attention to it—or we don’t live it—probably a better way to say it—things don’t go right. And that’s really what the next line says: Mistaken notions don’t stop at all. What usually happens is that we latch onto some way of…some belief, or some principle and try to live by that. Anybody guilty? Okay.

Section 17

So this is what he says,

So you ascetics latch onto a single principle

From such flawed philosophies as order or chaos.

Now it’s a good thing Charles Goodman isn’t here because he would be giving me a long lecture about now on how order and chaos are mistranslations here. We had a long email exchange on this, and it would be a little fair to say, probably, and you can cross these out and change this, from such flawed philosophies as mind or matter. Or mentalism or materialism.

Now the reason for this is that in the later Tibetan formulations eternalism and nihilism, which is what the usual translations of these terms is defined, often explained as eternalism is the view that everything is determined, and nihilism is the view that actions have no consequences. So that’s why I used order and chaos. But the deeper roots if you go back into Sanskrit it’s more closely connected with the problem of is what we experience…is this experience we have does it actually exist? Does it have matter or substance to it? Or is it a figment of our minds?

Well it’s probably pretty hard to relate to a brick falling on your foot as a figment of your mind. These are both reductionist thinking. Trying to reduce it to one category. We can’t say what it is, but when we—to use the phrase here, turn our back on the path of natural being—what we do is we immediately start categorizing and trying to say, ”This is what this is,“ ”This is what this is,“ ”This is what this is.“ And try to fit experience into that category, and this is what he means when he’s saying, You ascetics latch onto a single principle, saying everything is matter, or nothing is matter, instead of just living in the experience of things as they arise.

Section 18


How confused you are by wrong ideas, you extremists!

Now as I describe this can any of you recognize yourselves? Want to say a word about that Larry? Robert could you hand the mic back.

Larry: Well I think that we’ve had some conversations about that in our interviews.


Ken: We’re you lashed? [Laughter]

Larry: No, no I was challenged—

Ken: Yeah, I’m just joking.

Larry: …you know, to consider those views and to––

Ken: Pardon?

Larry: To consider those views—

Ken: Yeah.

Larry: And to see if they would really check out with my experience.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Even more important is, do these views, do these ways of viewing our experience help us in the direction of why we are here? That’s even more important—not are they true or false. Are they actually helpful? And that’s the kind of thing I’d like you to look at.

Okay, so I have certain fixed about this or fixed ideas about that. And how do you know whether an idea is fixed? Okay I’m gonna give you three principles. An idea…there’s a good chance an idea is fixed if you don’t even notice its influence on your thinking. It’s also a very good chance it’s fixed if you never question it. And there’s also a very good chance it’s fixed if you can’t laugh about it.

You know, I don’t think Queen Victoria had any idea how profound her statement, ”We are not amused.“ was.

Student: ”We are not…?“

Ken: ”We are not amused.“

Student: Can you give me an example of a fixed idea? I mean for the example you used before, ”Do you believe in gravity?“ I mean it’s—

Ken: Well there are all kinds of candidates here. I mean one fixed idea that we were referring to earlier is that everything is determined by physical or chemical processes. Okay?

Student: Thank you.

Ken: Another fixed idea is that—I come across this very frequently—bad things don’t happen to good people. And there are a lot of people who have those kinds of…even if they aren’t explicitly acknowledged they really live by them. And it’s one reason why when somebody dies prematurely or for some people they’re shattered. It’s not just the loss. It’s their whole idea of how the world works has been broken. And that’s very, very difficult for them. Does that help?

Student: Thank you.

Ken: Okay.

Section 19

Robert and then Gene.

Robert: Is it okay if I go back?

Ken: Yeah go ahead.

Robert: Earlier you raised the point that we only get angry at the things that we are weaker than.

Ken: We ”feel” weaker than.

Robert: That we feel weaker than. Okay. And then you said we can’t stand the aloneness. I understand about getting angry at things that I feel weaker than, but I was surprised to hear you what I thought was kind of a jump on the aloneness so how does that connection go?

Ken: You have a copy of my book here?

Robert: Yes.

Ken: Okay read Chapter 5, The Five Elements [Meditation 2 on p. 151, Wake Up To Your Life]—it’s all there. Okay?

Section 20


Gene: I just wanted you to repeat the three…Could you repeat the three––

Ken: The three principles of whether it’s a fixed idea. Yeah, these are actually in Chapter 10.

Gene: Oh.

Ken: You know, everything’s in the book I’m sorry. [Laughter]

Gene: Then how are we going to figure out why we’re here?

Ken: What we don’t notice, what we don’t question, what we can’t laugh about. [Dismantling Patterns, p. 428] Those are all very good candidates for fixed ideas.

Gene: Okay, thank you.

Ken: You’re welcome.

Student: Helen, Ken.

Ken: Helen.

Helen: It was also very helpful in one of your talks that I heard, podcast actually, about how you asked what do we trust in, what do we value in? That I sort of saw some of the things that I would be very righteously indignant about like unfairness, or people not responding to logic…or decisions not being made on objectivity or logic, or all those things.

Ken: Right.

Helen: So that was very helpful to me.

Ken: Yeah, well you just threw out a number of good candidates for fixed ideas. All decisions are made rationally, you know, and so forth.

Section 21

Anyway, that’s as far as we’re going to get this evening. But I hope I’ve given you some idea about how you might read this material. And so you can look it over, and we can continue with this tomorrow evening. I’ll be doing some other things, too. What I’d like to do now is just to close with a short period of meditation.

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.