A Trackless Path 14

Section 1

Wednesday, September the second, A Trackless Path, morning session.

Most of the religions that developed over the last couple of thousand years, certainly the early ones, were oriented to a significant extent or formulated in terms of transcending the human condition. This was because—this is part speculation on my part—people would have experiences which they could not account for and this led them to become curious, explore.

In the Jewish tradition the various prophets would find themselves visited by God in ways which they found profoundly disturbing and shocking, which led them to very different views of life, which made them sometimes popular and sometimes quite unpopular with their people.

And we also find this in Buddhism. The very term paramita in Sanskrit, which in Tibetan is translated as pya rol tu phyin pa [pron. parol tu chin pa], which literally means going across or going to the other side. And it’s a very different way of experiencing things. Not only just experiencing things because as you all know in the mahayana we have the six paramitas which have now been translated as the six perfections, which is really quite unfortunate because it doesn’t carry this idea at all. But it wasn’t just experiencing them because it was being able to act in a fundamentally different way which seemed to transcend ordinary ways of doing things.

Now, out of that has come an idea of getting to something beyond experience. And this was has been reflected in a lot of different religious traditions. We think, we speak, we understand our world basically through metaphor, so when we talk about transcending, then it’s the idea of moving beyond something. We also have it in the term nirvana, which in Tibetan is translated as mya ngan las ’das pa [pron. nyangen lä dä pa]. mya ngan is the word for misery and las ’das pa means to transcend, to go beyond. So it’s going beyond misery.

And Christianity too has had its way of looking at things. And the primary metaphor is that God represents a higher transcendent experience or way of being, a possibility, source of being, however you want to regard it. In the 1950s the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time wrote a book called Honest to God, which was a relatively short pamphlet, booklet [Editor’s note: written by John A.T. Roberts, the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich, not the Archbishop of Canterbury]. It’s maybe 60, 80 pages. Very much in the tradition of Protestant theology, but he suggested a change in metaphor rather than going beyond as going in. He was very much coming out of the existentialist thought of Heidegger, and Kierkegaard, and Tillich, and others. And it caused a huge furor in the Anglican Church and everywhere. It was just like reverberations all over the universe, because the idea that God could be within rather than transcendent, that really bothered a lot of people.

And in the same way in Buddhism we can put a lot of effort into trying to get beyond our experience, but one of the things that I’ve found—and it’s certainly born out in my studies and teachings I’ve received—is it’s actually much more a case of going very deeply into our experience—very, very deeply—because then we find that when we do that we experience things differently, which ironically often creates the sense of having moved beyond ordinary experience. And both of these are metaphors. They are ways of thinking and understanding our efforts. But as I was saying last night what’s really important is actually to do this, because when we work this way in practice something happens. And now a different way of experiencing arises, and that’s what actually changes. We don’t actually get there by trying to understand the metaphor; the metaphor is simply a vehicle to the practice.

And one of the things I’ve thrown out sometimes: we have refuge. You would take refuge in the three jewels: buddha, dharma, and sangha. But all of you know very well that from Buddha’s point of view there’s nothing “out there” that’s going to save us. But we can turn that around and say, “Okay, there’s nothing inside us that’s going to save us either.” And, “Oh, okay,” because we hang on to this notion that there’s something that can actually make things different for us. So if you take that idea there’s nothing outside that’s going to save you and there’s nothing inside you that’s going to save you—what are you left with? And you can see by holding those two possibilities at the same time, it’s like you come right into this experience.

Section 2

Now when we’re practicing meditation and during the day emotions, feelings come up. And you’ve heard me probably to the point that you’re bored with it saying you know, “Go to your body, experience the emotions very deeply.” But if you take emotions such as anger, or pride or desire, any of these when you in a certain sense become the emotion without being swallowed by it, what changes is that the emotions cease to be a drive, or a compulsion or something that moves you to action and becomes an experience.

Now that’s a fundamentally different way of experiencing emotions. And the object at which your emotion is directed now is experienced in a different way because that drive, or compulsion or, etc., is no longer operating. So you have this experience here, and you look at say, say it’s desire and you look at this person, you know, somebody you’re very attracted to or what have you. Or it could be anger with someone you really don’t want to deal with. And you move that emotion by opening to its experience from being a drive or a compulsion—but probably other words would be better—to just an experience. And now you look at this other person, and even though you may be experiencing anger there isn’t any sense of anger “towards” that person or needing to “own” in the case of desire, own or draw in that person. And you can actually see them as “a person.”

And this is different for us. And many people who’ve worked with me and they have that experience they just say, “That’s so weird.” And the possibility of actually operating in this world without being pushed or pulled those ways—this is freedom. And when there’s a sufficient level of or ability in us so that we can experience that regularly and consistently, then we do find ourselves free.

And for many people it’s extremely disorienting in the beginning because it’s like, I mean it’s a bit of weird example I suppose but, it’s like you’ve been in a maze all your life and you’ve got really used to the walls. And you sort of bump up against this wall, and bump up against this wall but you know your way around. And so you’re going around and “Oh, you know that’s that wall.” And you go this way. “Oh, good that’s it going to push me in this direction,” etc., etc. And you shift like this and then suddenly there are no walls. And you go, “Okay. How do I know what to do?” You know, “Which way do I go now?” Because the usual references, and the pushes and pulls aren’t operating in the same way.

But—and I really want to emphasize this: You can’t think your way to this at all. The only way, at least the only way I know of, is to move into our experience so deeply that that shift takes place. And you know this through various practices we’ve talked about—opening things, opening to all aspects of experience. That can be enhanced to some degree by looking at what experiences. Or looking at what is experienced. But there’s no sense of trying to get away from this what’s arising in our experience right now but much more about really being in it. And we discover all kinds of possibilities right there.

Section 3

So those are my thoughts for this morning. Questions, comments? Judy.

Judy: This last thing you just said about being open to all aspects of experience, and then you said something about this can be enhanced—

Ken: By looking, yeah.

Judy: By looking. Feels a little paradoxical or something?

Ken: Not really. Looking raises the level of energy so it enables you to move further into the experience. That’s an enhancement. You follow?

Judy: I guess it just seemed like if you were open to all aspects you’d kind of be there.

Ken: Yes, in theory. But as Yogi Berra says, In theory there’s no difference between practice and theory. In practice there is. So sometimes we need to break it into steps or we reach a certain point and need to move a bit further. Okay?

Section 4

Anything else?

Helen. Randy could you turn that clock so we can see approximately where we are. Okay.

Section 5

Helen: I still have a lot of difficulty with seeing my unrealistic expectations…

Ken: Seeing your unrealistic expectations.

Helen: Yeah. I mean, you know, it’s like okay so suddenly maybe I’m expecting a positive response and why I would do that. But I only know that when it’s maybe a cool response, or something jarring, you know, some negative which is not necessarily the other person’s, wherever they are. But it’s not necessarily their fault or anything. It’s just…well then I realize, “Well why was I expecting to be agreed with?” or whatever that is, you know?

Ken: Or disagreed with.

Helen: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah. Well you’re right. We come into situations in our lives with certain expectations. I mean, Jeff expects when he pushes the light switch the lights will go on [laughter]. They don’t always—it’s very troubling for him. Or he pushed them the other way and they’ll actually go off. Or you push the dimmer and they’ll get brighter or less bright.

When something happens that doesn’t conform with our expectations what do we do right there? Well, some people ignore, some people get angry, some people get curious. And there are probably other responses. But as soon as something doesn’t meet our expectations there’s an emotional reaction. Go right there. “Yes, okay. There it is.” And you’ll feel that compulsion, and drive and pulling that I talked about. But if you go right into that experience, just open to it, “Oh,” and you practice this a lot. Then you, “Oh, this an experience.” And the moment that you’ve opened to it as an experience you’ll find that your expectation of what should be maybe doesn’t release completely but is diminished significantly.

Now, you’re actually able to, “Okay, this person isn’t agreeing with me. Now what?” I read something that George Draffan who’s an old student of mine describing how he was in the middle of an argument [chuckles] with somebody which was beginning to get fairly heated, and then he realized that for a moment that they were arguing about nothing. So it was like, “Oh,” and there was that shift into “This is an experience.” And then the next moment all of the emotions came surging back and they were locked right into it again [laughter].

But that possibility of experiencing things differently is present in every experience and everything that arises. And to a very significant extent that’s what we’re training to do through the practices in this kind of retreat setting is building the muscles, practicing the scales, developing the flexibility with the tumult of our internal experience so we aren’t pushed around by it. We just keep opening to it and discover other possibilities in the process. Okay?

Section 6

George. The bell for breakfast didn’t go did it?

Student: No.

Ken: Okay.

Section 7

George: In the context of stopping and seeing are we just stopping reacting? Because we’re not really stopping anything.

Ken: Yeah. This is a very, very fundamental principle in the Theravadan tradition. That one of the practices in the Theravadan tradition is to note like and dislike whenever it arises. So you’re going on whether in your meditation or going on about the day you know you see something and—like, dislike—you know what’s happening. And there’s a woman in Sebastopol in California, a Burmese woman, who doesn’t teach sitting meditation. She just gives people tasks to do around her place, and your assignment is note like and dislike. You know, so you’re cleaning the toilet: Do you like this? Do you not like this? You know you’re raking leaves under the sun: Do you like this? Do you not like this? You hit a rock, stub your toe: Do you like this? Not like this? And the point is that when you are noting whether you like or dislike you’ve already moved out of the like and dislike.

So, you’re by working this exercise you’re replacing the frequency in which we’re in like and dislike by more and more equanimity where we’re just, “Oh. Am I liking…do I ‘like’ this or ’not’?” So that there’s a neutral equanimity. Over time that equanimity which initially is simply a form of dullness, of neutrality, but because you’re stepping out of those push, pull states you’re actually creating the basis for a quieter mind. And in that quieter mind you begin to move into a real equanimity which is just non-judgment about experience. And now you’ve come to experience and being able to work with experience in a totally different way.

George: What is actually stilling? [Repeats into mic] What is actually stilling?

[Bell rings]

Ken: Stilling or being stilled?

George: What is stilling?

Ken: Use microphone please.

George: What is stilling?

Ken: Okay. When you make an effort in your practice, George, what makes the effort? Now, what do you experience right now?

George: Tightness.

Ken: What else?

George: Scurrying around for the answer. [Laughter]

Ken: So let’s just try this again. I’m going to ask you the same question, and I want you to tell me what you experience before the scurrying starts. Because you’re quite right that’s what you were doing.

When you make an effort in your meditation what makes the effort? Okay. Right there. Can you rest right there? That’s good. Okay. That’s practice.

But now you’re going to say, “But but but but but but but…” [Laughter] Got it?

George: I see…

Ken: Told you! [Laughs]

George: [Laughter] But the question came still up: What is stilling?

Ken: Yes I know, but you experienced something—that’s your practice. The rest is just intellectual curiosity.

Section 8

Yeah, Monica.

Monica: Can I have my word on it?

Ken: Of course yeah then we’ll break for breakfast.

Monica: This bouncing against the walls and then not having any walls that really resonated with me. And yes it was very disconcerting to find myself without walls and find myself without wanting something. So what do you then do with your life if you don’t have this striving? [Laughter] So I reverted back to something I’ve done before like work and tasks.

Ken: Yeah.

Monica: But basically what are you supposed to do? Just stay with it and see what arises? There was a little fear in me I can tell you that.

Ken: Yes. That’s a very deep question because the usual drives and impulses and reasons for doing things are gone. And it’s as if you’ve come into a new space. So, you start to explore that space, and as you have observed, the old stuff kind of creeps along, comes back. What the great religious figures in the past have done is that they’ve gone repeatedly back to that—no walls. And this comes out in various ways. When that happens…it’s well…in An Arrow to the Heart, the last two lines I wrote was very much on this topic:

How do you act? Let the struggles of others be your guide.

How do you rest? Let the struggles of others be your guide.

That’s the best I can give you there. Okay?

Monica: Thank you.

Section 9

Ken: Let’s break here for breakfast. Jeff any announcements? Okay.

[End morning session]

Section 10

Okay so Wednesday, September the second, A Trackless Path, evening session.

Now I think there were a couple of questions leftover from last night or the night before. Do I recall that there was one on empowerment? I thought there was. No?

Student: But you talked about it.

Ken: Did I? Oh, well it was Gene’s technical question, and all different kinds, and well okay. It doesn’t matter I’ll give you something on empowerment anyway.

Here we are.

Section 11

Gene: I had a question about a technique.

Ken: Microphone please.

Gene: You mentioned that when you described protector, as an illustration is you come into a situation, you see what needs to be done and you do it. How is that connected with protector offerings [Ken laughs]; I think we did that last year and…

Ken: Pardon?

Gene: Well I think we did that last year. Wasn’t there?

Ken: Last year?

Gene: [Unclear]

Ken: We did? No. We did Mahakala last?

Gene: You said burnt offerings.

Ken: Oh the burnt offerings in the morning. No. The year before we did protectors. Well okay let’s…

Gene: I was just wondering if you could elaborate on at least that example you gave: how protectors manifest in that situation or other examples.

Ken: Okay, let’s see what we can do here. This is not exactly straightforward.

There are two different topics in your question. One is a clearer understanding of protector, and then the other is the relationship of the principle of protector to protector rituals. Right? So, ah that’s a gritty way to start off the evening.

Well, one way to understand protector is the relationship between a king and a general. Now a king’s responsibility is to protect the kingdom, protect the subjects from invasion or harm coming from outside, and to create the conditions in which the kingdom can prosper. That’s what a king’s responsibility is. And in pursuing that or fulfilling that responsibility he may have occasion to call upon the military, which is one tool that he has at his disposal.

So let’s say there was a neighboring kingdom was threatening to invade. And he dispatches his general to meet that army. Now once he dispatches the general, the general gets to decide what needs to be done in the situation—he’s the one in it. Maybe he meets this army and realizes this is a much better king than his…the one that dispatched him. Maybe he sees that he can negotiate a truce without bloodshed. Maybe he sees that what they’re really interested in is a trade agreement. So he comes to an agreement and returns to the king and says, “You really need to dispatch some diplomats for this.” There are lots of possibilities.

A general is like the protector. The general is like the protector. Does what needs to be done. Okay?

George: Is this mythic language?

Ken: Of course it’s mythic language, George.

George: So…

Ken: Use the microphone if you…

George: If we’re using mythic language to describe protector is it an energy within us or within mind?

Ken: Dig deeper. Don’t try to understand. What are you interested in knowing?

George: Source of truth.

Ken: Oh, right. Come on get serious.

George: No source of—-

Ken: No, no, no, no

George: Of what’s real. [Ken laughs] Uh-oh, I just stepped in doo-doo there.

Ken: Somebody hand him a shovel please. No, you’re skipping over something. Don’t skip over it. What do you actually want to know?

George: Does the protector exist?

Ken: What difference would that make to you?

Let’s review the situation. I gave this metaphor to Gene. He considered it, seemed to make some sense to him if I’m not mistaken. But it rubbed you the wrong way. What’s the rub?

George: When we take refuge in protector are we taking refuge in our ability to act in accord with the moment?

Ken: May I rephrase your question? I think your question is: When we take refuge in the protector what the hell are we taking refuge in?

George: Okay, I’ll buy that. [Ken laughs]

Ken: Okay, that’s what rubs you. That’s good. And I can imagine how this might be a little scary to you and probably to some other people because what I was saying to Gene through the example of the king and the general is that when we say, “Okay I want to wake up,” and we deploy, if you wish, our various resources we have no idea whether the I that took refuge is going to survive this matter. Right?

George: Very true.

Ken: So—you’re prepared for that?

George: Well that’s why we’re here.

Ken: That’s not my question.

George: Are we prepared for that?

Ken: Are you?

George: Am I prepared for that? No. I guess I’m hoping that I’ll [Ken laughs] be taken care of in the process. So there’s my protector. [Laughs]

Ken: No, no that’s what you hope the protector will do so that’s very honest on your part, you know. You may not survive this process. A few other people are bothered by that, too. So you’re right to ask this question. But now you understand what we’re talking about. Okay? Good.

Section 12

Leslie. Please pass the microphone.

Leslie: When I think of a protector, and I rest as best I can, the protector seems to be kind of like looking but it looks all over and destroys what’s not able to look. What’s not able to rest I should say.

Ken: Yep. And?

Leslie: Well it’s just like [makes buzzing noise] everywhere that—

Ken: Well yeah okay. And if you’re not able to look and you’re not able to rest?

Leslie: Well I’m practicing the instructions. I’m practicing the instructions.

Ken: So you too hope to survive the process [laughs].

Leslie: I didn’t say that.

Ken: Yes you did [laughs]. In so many words.

Leslie: How did I say it?

Ken: “I’m following the instructions.” [Laughs]

Leslie: Okay. How can I say it without using “I”?

Ken: You’re putting your faith in that following the instructions you’re going to survive. Not necessarily [laughs].

Leslie: I don’t think that’s what I said.

Ken: [Laughs] Okay, anything else on this topic [laughs]?

Section 13

Okay. The Time, the Place and the People. [Tales of the Dervishes, pp. 121-124] All right I think I’m going to read two stories, and both of them are about empowerments in a way.

In ancient times there was a king who called a dervish to him and said:

’The dervish Path, through a succession of masters reaching back in unbroken succession to the earliest days of man, has always provided the light which has been the motivating cause of the very values of which my kingship is no more than a wan reflection.’

The dervish answered: ’It is so.’

’Now,’ said the king, ’since I am so enlightened as to know the foregoing facts, eager and willing to learn the truths which you, in your superior wisdom, can make available—teach me!’

’Is that a command or a request?’ asked the dervish.

’It is whatever you make of it,’ said the king, ’for if it will work as a command, I shall learn. If it operates successfully as a request, I shall learn.’

And he waited for the dervish to speak.

Many minutes passed, and at length the dervish lifted his head from the attitude of contemplation and said:

’You must await the “moment of transmission”.’

This confused the king, for, after all, if he wanted to learn he felt he had a right to be told, or shown, something or other.

The dervish left the court.

After that, day after day, the dervish continued to attend upon the king. Day in and day out the affairs of state were transacted, the kingdom passed through times of joy and trial, the counsellors of state gave their advice, and the wheel of heaven revolved.

’The dervish comes here every day,’ thought the king, each time he caught sight of the figure in the patched cloak, ‘and yet he never refers to our conversation about learning. True, he takes part in many of the activities of the Court; he talks, he laughs, he eats and he, no doubt, sleeps. Is he waiting for a sign of some kind?’ But, try as he might, the king was unable to plumb the depths of this mystery.

At length, when the appropriate wave of the unseen lapped upon the shore of possibility [isn’t that a wonderful line of poetry?], a conversation was taking place at court. Someone was saying: ’Daud of Sahil is the greatest singer in the world.’

And the king, although ordinarily this sort of statement did not move him, conceived a powerful desire to hear this singer.

’Have him brought before me,’ he commanded.

The master of ceremonies was sent to the singer’s house, but Daud, monarch among singers, merely replied: This king of yours knows little of the requirements of singing. If he wants me just to look at my face, I will come. But if he wants to hear me sing, he will have to wait, like everyone else, until I am in the right mood to do so. It is knowing when to perform and when not which has made me, as it would make any ass which knew the secret, into a great singer.’

When this message was taken to the king, he alternated between wrath and desire, and called out: ’Is there nobody here who will force this man to sing for me? For, if he sings only when the mood takes him, I, for my part, want to hear him while I still want to hear him.’

It was then that the dervish stepped forward and said:

’Peacock of the age, come with me to visit this singer.’

The courtiers nudged one another. Some thought that the dervish had been playing a deep game, and was now gambling upon making the singer perform. If he succeeded, the king would surely reward him. But they remained silent, for they feared a possible challenge.

Without a word the king stood up and commanded a poor garment to be brought. Putting it on, he followed the dervish into the street.

The disguised king and his guide soon found themselves at the singer’s house. When they knocked, Daud called down:

’I am not singing today, so go away and leave me in peace.’

At this the dervish, seating himself upon the ground, began to sing. He sang Daud’s favourite piece, and he sang it right through, from beginning to end.

The king, who was no great connoisseur of music, was very much moved by the song, and his attention was diverted to the sweetness of the dervish’s voice. He did not know that the dervish had sung the song slightly off-key deliberately, in order to awaken a desire to correct it in the heart of the master-singer.

’Please, please, do sing it again,’ begged the king, ’for I have never heard such a sweet melody.’

But at that moment Daud himself began to sing. At the very first notes the dervish and the king were as men transfixed, and their attention was riveted to the notes as they flowed faultlessly from the throat of the nightingale of Sahil.

When the song was finished, the king sent a lavish present to Daud. To the dervish he said: ’Man of Wisdom! I admire your skill in provoking the Nightingale to perform, and I would like to make you an adviser at the court.’

But the dervish simply said: ’Majesty, you can hear the song you wish only if there is a singer, if you are present, and if there is someone to form the channel for the performance of the song. As it is with master-singers and kings, so it is with dervishes and their students. The time, the place, the people and the skills.’

Section 14

That’s one. And here’s another.

[Valuable—and Worthless, , pp. 127-129]

A certain king one day called a counsellor to him and said: ’The strength of real thinking depends upon the examination of alternatives. Tell me which alternative is better: to increase the knowledge of my people or to give them more to eat. In either case they will benefit.’

The Sufi said: ’Majesty, there is no point in giving knowledge to those who cannot receive it, any more than there is point in giving food to those who cannot understand your motives. Therefore it is not correct to assume that “in either case they will benefit”. If they cannot digest the food, or if they think you give it to them as a bribe, or that they can get more—you have failed. If they cannot see that they are being given knowledge, or whether it is knowledge or not, or even why you are giving it to them—they will not benefit. Therefore the question must be taken by degrees. The first degree is the consideration: “The most valuable person is worthless and the most worthless person is valuable.” ’

’Demonstrate this truth to me, for I cannot understand it,’ said the king.

The Sufi then called the chief dervish of Afghanistan, and he came to the Court. ‘If you had your way, what would you have someone in Kabul do?’ he asked.

’It so happens that there is a man near such-and-such a place who, if he knew it, could by giving a pound of cherries to a certain necessitous man, gain a fortune for himself and also great advancement for the whole country and progress for the Path,’ said the chief dervish, who knew of the inner correspondence of things.

The king was excited, for Sufis do not generally discourse upon such things. ‘Call him here and we will have it done!’ he cried. The others silenced him with a gesture. ‘No,’ said the first Sufi, ’this cannot work unless it is done voluntarily.’

In disguise, in order not to influence the man’s choice, the three of them went straight to the Kabul bazaar. Divested of his turban and robe, the chief Sufi looked very much like an ordinary man. ‘I will take the part of the exciting cause,’ he whispered, as the group stood looking at the fruit. He approached the greengrocer and wished him a good day. Then he said: ‘I know a poor man. Will you give me a pound of cherries, as a charity?’ The greengrocer bellowed with laughter. ’Well, I have heard some tricks, but this is the first time that someone who wanted cherries has stooped to ask me as if it were for charity!’

’You see what I mean?’ the first Sufi asked the king. ’The most valuable man we have has just made the most valuable suggestion, and the event has proved that he is worthless to the man to whom he speaks.’

’But what about “the most worthless person” being valuable?’ asked the king.

The two dervishes beckoned him to follow them.

As they were about to cross the Kabul River, the two Sufis suddenly seized the king and threw him into the water. He could not swim.

As he felt himself about to drown, Kaka Divana—whose name means Insane Uncle—a well-known pauper and lunatic who roamed the streets, jumped in and brought him safely to the bank. Various other, more solid, citizens had seen him in the water, but none moved.

When the king was somewhat restored, the two dervishes intoned together: ’The most worthless person is valuable!’

So the king went back to his old, traditional method of giving whatever he could—whether education or help of any kind—to those whom it was decided from time to time were the most worthy recipients of such aid.

Section 15

In particularly the Mahayana Buddhist traditions transmission became sometime ago, a very big deal, and it continues to this day. Now when the circumstances are right, when you’re with a person with a high degree of ability or knowledge—knowing—that can resonate in you, raise the level of energy in your own system, and then perhaps like one candle lighting another awaken something in you. But it’s very much a matter of time, the people, the conditions, skill. And ceremonies have been developed which seek to create these conditions. And some form of transmission has taken place from generation to generation in many traditions of Buddhism. And that’s one of the things that has gives Buddhism its vitality because unlike other religious traditions, the experience of contemporary masters is recognized as an equal authority to the scriptures, to the sutras. In many other traditions the written word is regarded as a higher authority. And this very definitely can inhibit a tradition from being able to adapt or manifest in ways that are appropriate for the time and age that it finds itself in. And we’re remarkably free from that problem in Buddhism, which is very fortunate.

But as people practice, receiving transmission becomes a thing. And exciting the usual emotions; many of you I’m sure are familiar with the story of the Sixth Patriarch who was a person of extraordinary spiritual talent, which is recognized by the abbot of the monastery where this person was a menial laborer in the kitchen—he just pounded rice. And everybody assumed that the transmission would be given to a very capable scholar-monk, who definitely had a practice, but his practice had only taken him to a certain point.

And there are two famous poems about this, which I don’t have by heart. Did I put in them Wake Up To Your Life? I can’t remember. [Editor’s note: Ken is referring to these poems, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixth_Patriarch]

The body is a bodhi tree,

The mind a standing mirror bright.

At all times polish it diligently,

And let no dust alight. —Shenxiu

Bodhi is fundamentally without any tree;

The bright mirror is also not a stand.

Fundamentally there is not a single thing—

Where could any dust be attracted? —Huineng]

The result of which the Fifth Patriarch gave the transmission to this menial laborer and then said, “Run!” which he did. And when the abbot died and all hell broke out in the monastery, and someone chased him like crazy trying to grab the bowl and robe that symbolized the transmission—eventually caught up to him. And then was the origin of one of the first koans, was the Sixth Patriarch turned to him and said, “Where was your face before you were born?” And it just stopped him cold. And he realized, “Oh, this guy is at another level.”

And there have been many, many other stories in which or incidents where transmission has been used for political and economic and other purposes. So it becomes a thing and some people feel that if they practice a certain while they have a right to receive transmission. And they can’t…“Well, why hasn’t anybody given it to me?” and I mean this stuff just goes on and on and on.

And in all of this there is a hidden message, which a friend of mine pointed out to me. The hidden message is, “What was discovered once cannot be discovered again.” Which of course is nonsense. And it can create a kind of dependency.

Section 16

In Indian times and early in the Tibetan tradition very definitely the ritual of certainly the higher empowerments in the Tibetan tradition were very carefully designed to produce the conditions in which an experience arose within the student. Could you hand me your copy of Wake Up To Your Life? Thanks. I’ve got to find it. And these were often quite elaborate rituals.

Student: May I ask a question?

Ken: Yeah. Microphone.

Student: Are you in this instance using the term transmission strictly in the sense of the transmission of like a particular spiritual authority from one person to a successor?

Ken: No I’m using it in a more general sense of evoking experience in a person, which is what takes place, it’s one of the things that takes place in that transmission of authority. But you’ve also identified another problem because the two get wrapped up together.

Section 17

[WUTYL, pg. 389]

A lama in England once told me about his one and only interaction with a famous and somewhat controversial teacher in Tibet, Khenpo Gangshar. This lama had heard much about Khenpo Gangshar and yearned to study with him. Khenpo Gangshar came for a two-week visit to the monastery at which this lama resided. Lama submitted a formal request for a meeting. When no reply, not even an acknowledgement, came back, he resubmitted his request. He hesitated to make a third request, but so deep was his yearning that he did so anyway. Again, no reply. Khenpo Gangshar was due to leave the next morning.

That night, the lama sat in his room wondering what to do, He desperately wanted to see Khenpo Gangshar, but he was hesitant to violate monastic protocols. He was so agitated that he couldn’t sleep. A knock sounded on his door. He opened it, curious to see who would come to see him so late at night. One of Khenpo Gangshar’s attendants told him to come. Elated, he followed the attendant and was shown into Khenpo Gangshar’s room.

Khenpo Gangshar was busy in conversation with another monk, so he sat down and waited. Eventually the monk left. Protocol demanded that Khenpo Gangshar initiate any conversation, so the lama waited for leave to speak. Khenpo Gangshar just looked at him but said nothing. The lama couldn’t ask any of the questions that were burning in his heart.

The two sat in silence for about fifteen minutes. Then Khenpo Gangshar motioned for him to leave. He was devastated. He left and returned to his room, where he sobbed with grief and raged with anger. Eventually, totally exhausted, he fell asleep. When he awoke the next day, he started his morning meditation practice and found that his meditation had changed completely. To this day, he regards Khenpo Gangshar as one of his most important teachers, even though he had only this one meeting and they never exchanged a word.


Section 18

Greed enters into this business very, very easily and greed is greed.

Student: Greed is what?

Ken: Greed is greed.

Student: Oh. Thanks.

Ken: It’s based on a sense of deficiency and you’re trying to get something to fill something in you. Not a propitious condition for any kind of transmission or awakening to take place. We have to be very, very clear. As I’ve mentioned before, we come into this work out of some form of curiosity about how to come to terms with this experience we call life. There are several things it’s important to keep in mind.

One. It’s volitional. We enter this path and we practice it under our own volition. Nobody is making us. Nobody can make us. And the practices that we undertake and the disciplines we undertake, we undertake because of the yearning and longing in our hearts.

Number two. Nobody owes us anything. Because everything we do is volitional nobody owes us anything. We may choose to serve a teacher but in serving that teacher we’re making a volitional action. We are not putting the teacher under any obligation. Teacher doesn’t owe us anything. We have made that decision. People forget this stuff and the longing degenerates into greed. Thinking that the teacher can do something which is going to make everything okay for us. And that we have a right to that.

Throughout this retreat I’ve encouraged you to be in touch with your own spiritual questions because when you’re in touch with those, and as many of you have mentioned to me in interviews, when you’re in touch with those then things open inside quite naturally. They open naturally but getting there may not be easy. And it’s in that natural opening that the conditions are created so that a teacher or someone with a level of experience, insight or whatever, may be able to elicit some kind of experience or awakening in you, which opens possibilities you may not have known existed. And that’s essentially what’s happening in transmission and in empowerment.

Section 19

Any questions or comments people would like to make? J.P.

J.P.: So basically you’re saying that the way you teach you are actually in a sense giving empowerments but you’re not creating a ritual and saying you know, “The highest this or…”

Ken: Did I say anything about that?

J.P.: Am I misinterpreting what you’re saying? I mean you’re—

Larry: [Unclear] one or you.

J.P.: Sorry?

Ken: Do you mean me particularly or do you mean one in general? Was Larry’s question. That right?

J.P.: I mean Ken.

Ken: [Chuckles] Okay.

J.P.: Am I misinterpreting what you’re saying? That it—

Ken: Well, I was speaking more generally. But one of the reasons I make daily interviews, a part of the retreat is that in those interactions, teaching and practice are made real. That is, when you or somebody else comes in and talks about your practice you’re putting your practice out into the world. It’s real, you say, “This is what I experience.” It’s no longer just a personal experience. It’s being presented. You follow?

And in responding to that, I can’t just pull a formula off the shelf and say you know, “Two teaspoons of this, and one of this and off you go.” My responsibility is to find a way, is to discern what may or may not be helpful to you and communicate it in a way that you can actually hear it and use it. Which often involves, as many of you experienced, eliciting some kind of experience so that there’s—“Oh.” You actually know what to do through your own experience, it’s not just words.

And that process repeated day after day has a cumulative effect so that over the course of a retreat such as this, people find themselves being able to practice with material or at a depth that they didn’t know was possible. So in a certain sense you might say there’s something comparable to empowerment is taking place through that. And it’s very similar, though it’s greatly more formalized in the Zen practice of dokusan, which is again the interview with teacher.

But I’m not terribly concerned with, you know, establishing correspondences with traditional forms ’cause all of the traditional forms developed within a certain context and provided methods of development within those contexts. Some people have chosen to duplicate those methods in the context of western societies and practice in western societies. I’ve chosen not to and to explore other ways in which people have an experiential flavor of how to practice as a basis for their practice rather than a theoretical one because that’s what I see as being important.

Does that provide a response to your question? Okay.

Section 20

Any other comments or questions? Leslie.

Leslie: I see the interview process as always balancing so it’s I think quite natural for students to go a little bit too far one way and then the interview helps [Ken chuckles] you go back the other way.

Ken: That certainly happens, yeah. Yeah definitely. I mean it serves many functions.

Leslie: Yeah.

Ken: Yeah. Robert.

Robert: I, as you know, am accustomed to a different type of teaching environment but you and I have had a relationship for eight or nine years.

Ken: Is it that long?

Robert: I think so.

Ken: Okay.

Robert: And well particularly after having been here for this several days and kind of being in the atmosphere of a particular approach that you have to teaching, this is my experience of what happens. That I constantly am experiencing myself provoked in a very personal way by things that you say—not necessarily just in the interview process. So there’s some kind of a—I’m just going to have to invent language here—kind of a low-level transmission that I experience all the time because you are insisting that we practice in a very personal way.

And then I have had some experiences in private meetings with you where it’s been a little bit more personal to me. But it has that quality of…because the whole thing is so much different from what I’m accustomed to. The whole foundation of what I’ve experienced here, and the meetings that I’ve had with you in the past, is so personal that it has the feeling of a I guess some kind of more quieter or more forceful transmission.

Ken: Okay. Any other comments or questions? Okay.

Section 21

We have four more stanzas of Ever-present Good [Jigme Lingpa, The Wisdom Experience of Ever-present Good] to consider. On the bottom of page 17, so the next stanza:

Because mind itself doesn’t take up the good or give up the bad,

A shrewd moral practice acts as an added pollutant.

Ken: Now, well let’s read the whole stanza so people know what we’re talking about.

The forms of dualistic fixation distort what is not two.

Ritual tantra seeks to attain a state where there is nothing to attain.

How elegant you are, you followers of ritual philosophy!

Now I took a few liberties in translating this. The context or the framework that he’s referring to we’re going to be looking at tonight are the four levels of tantra. And the first level is…

Student: Four levels of what?

Student: Did you say?

Ken: Tantra, tantra.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: You know, which are Kriya tantra…well so long since I’ve done these I can’t remember. It’s not Upaya is it?

Student: Yes. [Unclear]

George: Upaya, Yoga, and Anuyoga and Mahayoga.

Ken: Okay. Thank you George.

George: 38.

Ken: Yep. Here we are. Kriya tantra, Upaya, Yoga and…Anuyoga, Mahayoga. Yeah, well the Anuyoga, Mahayoga are both at the same level more or less.

So, these were particular forms of practice in Indian society or Indian Buddhism. And they were brought to Tibet in different forms, some of them even migrated as far as Japan. But as we’ve noted earlier Jigme Lingpa here is not…he’s using that context not to criticize those practices but to criticize or point out the problems of a certain kind of mentality.

Section 22

Now, I was at a conference which was sponsored by an Indian Muslim group in Waterloo, Canada. Interesting community there—quite a large immigrant community—all of the same faith. And they have a yearly conference in which they invite teachers and leaders from various other religious traditions to have…seeing they also had masses of Canadian politicians there—it was a big community event. And we didn’t have much of an opportunity to interact beforehand. But I met with a few people. And I found it very interesting because in this particular form of Islam, the sole question that they are concerned with is right action, pure morals. That’s the only thing they’re concerned with. And every one of their questions was about, you know, “How do you be morally pure?” “Is this action—how’s this viewed in Buddhism?” It’s all about that.

So, for the reasons that I mentioned yesterday, that when you come into a situation, you know what to do and you do it. Mind’s clear. Don’t do it, it’s troubling. Moral practice is a component of spiritual practice, and in some traditions it becomes a very important practice in its own right. This can be carried to extremes as in Jainism in which you have the whole population is to support a very, very small priesthood and they’re the only ones who get to be pure. You know they’re wearing masks so they don’t inhale flies, and they can drink ultra-purified water that does not have any little organisms swimming in it, and they eat really very refined food that is absolutely not associated with any kind of killing, etc. I mean and everybody else, you know, works like mad to make it possible for these people to live that incredibly pure life.

Section 23

So Jigme Lingpa says here, Mind itself doesn’t take up the good or give up the bad. And now those phrases—take up the good or give up the bad—I mean this is the essence of moral practice. You know, you do what is good and give up the bad. So what does this mean Mind itself doesn’t take up the good or give up the bad? What does he mean here? Pat. Can somebody hand the microphone please.

Pat: I think he says it in the third line: The forms of dualistic fixation distort what is not two.

Ken: Possibly but I want it in your own words. Mind itself does not take up the good or give up the bad. What does this mean?

Pat: It’s not that simple—it’s not either or. It’s not…mind doesn’t divide things up into good or bad.

Ken: I still don’t understand. Please explain.

Pat: Experience is more than just good or bad. It isn’t…there’s so much gray. So if you decide that you’re going to have either good or bad you can shrewdly pick the correct response but—

Ken: But now you’re into the second line, I’m just into the first line here. Let’s not complicate things I’m a bear of very little brain.

Pat: [Laughs] Me too. [Ken laughs] Mind itself doesn’t take up the good or give up the bad. Because mind doesn’t distill it into just two little extremes.

Ken: I love it. What’s this mind you’re talking about?

Pat: Didn’t we say mind could be experience?

Ken: Yeah we said a lot of things but what are you talking about? Yours was talking about this mind doesn’t distill things into extremes. What’s this mind you’re talking about?

Pat: I think mind, or our inner-nature or whatever euphemism we use.

Ken: [Laughs] Euphemism—I love it. Okay, go on.

Pat: I think our true nature understands things are just not that simple and carving ’em up into such simple little pieces is a distortion.

Ken: Okay. That I got. Thank you. Anybody else? Judy, Jeff, Peri.

Judy: I’m thinking that it’s that in that first sense before we can make an attraction or a repulsion, there isn’t one.

Ken: Okay. Jeff.

Jeff: Clear knowing just is. The direction depends upon all the factors involved, the context.

Student: Could you speak up.

Jeff: Clear knowing just is. The direction depends upon all the factors involved, the whole moment.

Ken: Okay. Peri.

Peri: A mirror will reflect whatever stands before it.

Ken: “A mirror will reflect whatever stands before it.” Better give another word or two of explanation there. Or connect that with the line.

Peri: Using a mirror as a euphemism [laughs]—no I’m just borrowing from her—but you know as a metaphor for the mind, and like the mind it’s clear, it reflects everything as it is without prejudice.

Ken: This is somewhat similar to what Jeff and I think Judy were saying. Okay good.

Section 24

Now this is a bit of a translation problem: see we make a distinction between mind and mind itself—which is not obvious in translation. But I think Jeff was right in pointing to this knowing quality.

And it’s not so much Pat that things get very complicated. If you look at…how to say…the knowing that is present in all experience, we can call it awareness if you wish. Then it can be compared to a mirror—things arise—good arises, bad arises. But just like holding an ugly picture in front of a mirror or a beautiful picture in front of the mirror, the mirror is still the mirror. It may reflect what’s there but it doesn’t take it up, and it doesn’t reject anything.

So it’s pointing to the potential or the possibility of an immediate presence to which calculating what is the right thing to do and, and I very deliberately chose these words shrewd moral practice because the Tibetan has the idea of trying to be clever about things so that they work to your advantage. Which is how many people actually operate morally. But this calculating quality just introduces actually moves us away from that immediate presence that I was talking about.

So, A shrewd moral practice acts as an added pollutant. Now, how many of you carefully consider what is right and what is wrong sometimes? Gets pretty complicated, messy. In some cases it becomes very difficult to determine. We give careful consideration because we know all actions have consequences. But what makes it very difficult is we can never really know what all the consequences of any given action will be. And for those us who like to control our experiences this is very frustrating. ’Cause what, “Make things just right.”

So, this is where Jigme Lingpa is directing his, directing our attention really to that quality in all of us that seeks to control our experience by acting, by adhering to a moral practice. And in the case of Kriya tantra these are, you know, there’s long lists of dos and don’ts. Kriya tantra, a ritual tantric consists of using very set forms as a vehicle for developing attention. So you’ve got to do everything just right. You got to wash six times a day in just such a way, and you prepare these kinds of offering, and these rituals, and this way, and when you got everything together then you perform these rituals. And you make a ritual out of every aspect of your life.

And what he’s saying is, The forms of dualistic fixation like a “this is right,” “this is wrong,” “this is right,” “this is wrong”—you’re running into this all the time—distort what is not two, which is awareness-experience. You know, just how things are. And by introducing this right and wrong we’re actually distorting our…and preventing that kind of experience from arising.

Section 25

Ritual tantra seeks to attain a state where there is nothing to attain. You’re trying to attain a state of purity. And [pause] what about mind is impure? What about natural knowing is impure? Okay. So how can you make it pure? Very difficult. And this theme there’s nothing to attain—there’s just how things are. And yet we’re motivated by this idea of really pure practice. And one of the things that I’ve come to observe is the desire or the longing for purity is always motivated by anger. Is always associated with anger.

Student: Ken.

Ken: Microphone please.

Student: You said that before and I’ve meant to ask you what you mean? Or could you say more?

Ken: Sure.

You have a background in the arts right?

Student: Yes.

Ken: Ever run into anybody who is interested in pure art?

Student: Pure art? [Talk over each other] No.

Ken: Well, dance okay. Pure dance.

Student: Oh yeah.

Ken: What kind of people were they?

Student: They had a rather rigid spine.


Ken: How do they regard anything that was other than pure dance?

Student: With disdain.

Ken: Anger.

Student: Ah.

Ken: So ever run into anybody who’s interested in pure food?

Student: Uh yeah.

Ken: What kind of people are these?

Student: They don’t like Snickers! [Ken laughs] They don’t like Snickers.

Ken: Yeah. You get my point?

Student: Yes.

Ken: And it’s the same with pure ideology, pure morals. When people insist on purity it’s a de facto admission that they hate dirt. There’s the anger.


Bill: This reminds me a lot of St. Paul arguing against the Pharisees.

Ken: Well you’ve got the jump on me. Give me a bit more context.

Bill: Well that the idea that by following the law of Deuteronomy out to its—

Ken: Oh right. Yep.

Bill: You know you’re going to…that’s the essence of—

Ken: That’s the essence of practice.

Bill: Yeah, yeah exactly.

Ken: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean we find this in all religious traditions.

Now, I want to be very clear here. Kriya tantra is a very effective form of practice because it requires you to bring a tremendous amount of attention to everything that you’re doing. That’s the point of the practice. But what happens is that people think by being pure in this way they’re becoming something special, and they’re reaching some kind of idealized state. So that’s right when he says, Ritual tantra seeks to attain a state where there is nothing to attain. Saying this wrong interpretation of ritual tantra which, you know, thinking I can get really pure. Well no there’s no such state exists.

Section 26

Bill: Well I first wanted to read this in another way that I don’t think it’s quite meant but maybe has something more with what Judy was saying is that there is an idea that there’s an idea that there is a self-existent good and a self-existent bad out there that we are able to just take up and tap into. And in…I just think you have to have a sort of historical perspective and say, “We and all other traditions have been working on trying to understand what’s right for thousands of years and our current understanding of…”

I mean one of the things I try to get across to beginning medical students when I teach medical ethics is they don’t understand what attitudes towards gay people were like when I was an adolescent. I mean they just it’s—

Ken: Yeah, I mean DSM-III [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders] there it was regarded as—

Bill: As a disease.

Ken: Exactly.

Bill: And it’s the transformation in our understanding of what’s right and wrong in this context in my lifetime has just been epochal. And that’s going to continue. We, much of what we hold right now is going to be viewed as abhorrent by people who follow us. I believe anyway.

Ken: Well it probably will go in cycles yeah. And it’s very much dependent on social conditions and so forth. So you teach them this why?

Bill: To get them to ask themselves questions about what they’re doing and to listen. I mean it’s kind of a sort of a shock treatment. [Ken chuckles] I mean I think that one of the things that happens unfortunately in medical professionalization is, you know, doctor as someone who just knows.

Ken: As God.

Bill: Yeah. And you just want to have, we just want to make sure they understand that there is something to think about in trying to understand what’s the right thing to do and what’s the wrong thing to do. That’s…that’s the context in which I raise that.

But if I can make one brief dissent about this—argue with Jigme I guess but—there still is a role for calculation in here, in thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong. And it…in many cases you’re in a situation and there’s a quality of knowing. And in others, and I think I heard you say this, but I run into this all the time that you know that it’s just really incredibly hard to figure out what the right thing—these are extreme situations perhaps but it’s very hard to figure out what the right thing to do is. And you have to gather a lot of information sometimes and weigh many things understanding that you’re probably going to be wrong but you gotta do something anyway.

Ken: Well yes, a friend of mine in Los Angeles works for one of the big pharmaceuticals. And he used to be a doctor at a university hospital. So he was…in very much teaching. And he was hired by this pharmaceutical for his expertise in this certain area. And a lot of his responsibility is connected with testing and ethics. And boy when you get into the ethics of medical testing it is unbelievably complex because you’re struggling with two fundamentally different ways of regarding what is beneficial. You know, for the population as a whole versus for individual patients. It becomes extremely complex, and there’s been some extraordinary thinking.

Bill: Exactly. And I just don’t want Buddhists to be not part of that discussion. I mean—

Ken: Okay, yeah. And I think your point here is very well taken. What I was trying to point to is not that kind of consideration. It’s where…or calculation…because when you come into some of these very complex situations on an individual level you come into complex ethical situation what I generally advise people is to open to the totality of their experience. So they aren’t working strictly cognitively. Emotional factors and the sense of the body—all of that comes into it. And it may or not produce quotation marks “the right decision,” but it may well result in a course of action that the person can live with. Which is an important consideration.

But when you are going into policy circles and things like that then you’ve got a huge amount of information and you try your best to come to weighing all of the different factors. And so there’s no argument that in those situations, very careful thought is required and really careful thought with the right I would say philosophical framework can produce good results.

Here, this isn’t what Jigme Lingpa’s talking about at all here. He’s talking about situations or the people who are concerned with trying to behave a certain way because they think it’s going to be beneficial to them. And rather than just relating to things naturally, which is when I say take in the whole of experience that’s a much more natural way of approaching things. And who are calculating the benefits for themselves, you know, in terms of merit and all of that kind of stuff. So I think we’re talking very different situations here. Okay.

Section 27

Any other comments on this one? Judy.

Judy: I’m not sure—

Ken: Microphone please.

Judy: I don’t know if it was this or right before, you were talking about not always knowing the consequences of our actions. And then you spoke about the purity and the anger and I’ve been contemplating, you know, the consequences of actions and how sort of where they live, in—I don’t even know what to call it, cause I’m not totally clear about this, but I’ve been wondering if there’s a point where there’s no trace to actions? [Ken chuckles and sighs] And I’m not even sure what I’m asking but it’s just been, I don’t know, kind of floating around me.

Ken: Okay. Here you’re moving the discussion in a very different direction but maybe this will be helpful to you. In the opening to The Art of War his translation, Thomas Cleary, in his introduction opens with a story. Did I tell this group this story before? I thought I told it recently. Nope? Well, okay.

The emperor summons a master physician because the emperor is ill. And this master physician comes and treats treats the emperor and the emperor is cured. And very grateful, he rewards the physician. And says, “I hear you got two brothers. Are they also doctors?” And this master physician says, “The eldest of our family. Yes they are,” he says, “The eldest of the family is able to detect illness before it enters the house and takes actions accordingly. As a result very few people know about him. And the middle brother is able to detect illness as soon as it enters the person. And so and he takes actions accordingly. So a few people know about him. Myself I can only detect illness when there are signs so I prescribe potions, and put needles in people and do various other things so a lot of people know about me.”

Okay? So if you want to be trackless you have to address problems when they’re still very, very small. Nobody notices. Good things just happen—but nobody notices or can see how, why, how that happens.


Section 28

Yes we have time. Next stanza top of page 18. This is Upaya tantra, which is about behavior.

The natural condition is not good or bad. It doesn’t grow or fade.

Even when you stop ordinary concepts with outlook, practice, and behavior,

You still hold as real your activity in means and wisdom.

In behavioral tantra, you waste time doing stuff when there is nothing to do.

How tiring your chosen disciplines, you followers of behavioral philosophy!

Now, the difference between Kriya tantra, ritual tantra, and what I’m translating here as behavioral tantra—Upaya tantra—is that in ritual tantra you follow certain rituals, and they become your life. Your life becomes a set of rituals. In behavioral tantra you make your life rituals so you go about the ordinary activities of life but you imbue them with a ritual significance.

So that when I’m sweeping the floor, I’m sweeping out the impurities. You follow? So it’s not as…the way that you act is more natural than in the Kriya tantra where there are very definite prescribed rituals. But you’re giving a ritual significance to everything.

Student: Ken.

Ken: Microphone again.

Student: Are you making a distinction between that and Karma yoga where the yoga is of single-mindedly doing one thing, one task so as to not bring in discursive thought into your life.

Ken: Well that could be part of either of these, but that’s a whole different framework there.

Student: Okay, so it’s not the same thing. Okay.

Ken: Not really no.

Student: Okay.

Section 29

Ken: Now, The natural condition is not good or bad. This is very similar to the statement in the earlier one, Mind itself doesn’t take up the good or give up the bad.The natural condition is not good or bad. It doesn’t grow or fade. That’s Jigme Lingpa’s statement of how things are.

Then the next statement, Even when you stop ordinary concepts with outlook, practice, and behavior, which is a framework that’s used very extensively in later Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, and gives you a way of relating to the world as not relying on the ordinary thinking process, which is what you’re aiming to do in tantric practice anyway.

So, even though you stop ordinary conceptualization and so forth with this framework for practice, you still hold your real…your activity in means and wisdom. That is, you’re giving a ritual significance to everything that you do. Now the aim of that is actually to stop ordinary thinking so you just become open to experience. But being the humans that we are, we never stop there. We now think, “Oh! I’m really doing good here. I’m combining means and wisdom in these activities, and this makes my actions more real in some way.” You know what I’m referring to?

And so, this is the distortion that creeps in where you’re, you know…Zen’s very refreshing, you know, Chop wood, draw water. Well for someone who is practicing this form they would say, “You know I’m not chopping wood, I’m chopping down the kleshas. I’m not drawing water, I’m gathering merit.” And so they come to believe in the associations that they have applied to the ordinary activities of life. I mean, you laugh but this is what people do. I mean how many of you know people who’ve done this?

Student: [Laughing] I’ve done it.

Ken: Well, there’s two of you right here. Okay.

So now you’re wasting time doing stuff when there’s actually nothing to do. [Laughter]

Student: And I am second to none in wasting time in creative ways by the way.

Ken: Okay. So these are chosen disciplines. You’re doing these things feeling they have a[n] ultimate significance. And so how tiring, you know, and so you got one thing after another to do. You know, “No I have to clean my kitchen again in order to get rid of all of the impurities in my life, etc.” And so, never-ending activity—how tiring this is.

Section 30

Next one,

There is no outer, inner, or in-between in the nature of attention.

Mind itself is free from any sense of manipulation.

In union tantra [this is Yoga tantra] you use thoughts to manipulate symbols of what is profound and clear,

But to little effect, you followers of union philosophy!

So here, rather than imbue or endow the activities of life with a ritual significance, you begin to relate to your life as symbols. Everything in life becomes a symbol of some aspect of awakening. And you have outer levels of interpretation, inner, and so forth. Outer practices and inner practices, all kinds of things. And the idea that one falls into is that by manipulating symbols, by doing various rituals and things like that you can actually control and determine what arises in experience—sorcery in other words. And this is something that people fall into again. What the symbols represent are things that are profound and clear. But we get caught by playing or manipulating the symbols.

And then for some reason he reverses—the last two refer to supreme Yoga tantra, which has in the Nyingma tradition two aspects the Mahayoga and Anuyoga. Mahayoga usually comes first but for some reason he reverses it here. And Anuyoga deals with the development of the ability to work with energy—energy transformation—and developing high states of attention through practices such as tummo and other forms of energy work, transformation of sexual energy, transformation of sensory energy, transformation of emotional energy, all of these things. And the idea is you generate these high states of attention and use that to power your practice. But what frequently happens is that people get attached to the high states of energy as ends in themselves.

And now they start working to maintain those high states of energy and neglect or don’t use that energy to dispel the confusion of subject-object duality and so forth. Or to power insight. And so they get stuck in certain things. And you can see this in people who work with pranayama or various practices and ride the energy. Their physical form usually takes one of two forms. They either get quite overweight or they become very drawn and thin. And when they get overweight it’s because they’re hanging onto the energy—they’re not dispersing it. And when they get drawn and thin it’s usually because they’re blocking something. And that the strain of always blocking something that’s being—also being powered by the energy—just becomes increasingly demanding and drains energy from the system.

Section 31

So by resting—Jigme Lingpa says here—

By resting in a state that doesn’t rely on effort or process,

You can use the result, pure being, as the path.

Now this is a practice in essence that I’ve been giving many of you here. By resting in a state that doesn’t rely on effort or process. You know this goes back to the one of the themes of this retreat is resting very, very deeply. And I’m not giving you methods to rest most of the time I’m just saying you just go. So there isn’t…most cases there isn’t a sequence of steps you go through in order to rest. It’s just like okay, just open and be there. And when you do this, you can use the result, pure being, as the path.

Now, pure being, my understanding here is a description of a certain kind of experience. It’s an experience which is very profound, very deep, and because it is so profound and deep, it is held to be “true” in some sense. And thus it’s given such names as pure being and which is in Sanskrit dharmata.

But when the mind grows very quiet, and it…really quiet, you experience things in a very different way. When the mind grows very, very quiet there’s a natural luminosity, a natural clarity that arises. There is no sense of mind as a thing. Knowing is present but there’s no sense of it as a thing, and you don’t have the sense of I in there.

And when that resting is sufficiently deep, then even if there’s movement in the mind, there is no disturbance. It almost it becomes…there’s a dynamic quality so it’s very easy to relate to whatever arises in experience. There’s no resistance to it at all. So it’s not necessarily a state of stillness. But it is a profound peace, which is experienced as a freedom from the need to react to anything.

Section 32

Leslie. Coming up. Larry.

Leslie: Can you speak about how to use the high-energy state to work with patterns. Because…well for today example there were periods of time where I had what I think you’re describing, when I didn’t have any sense of difficulty. And then it tipped over into elation, and then, that was quite fun. [Ken laughs] But I thought it could be annoying to others.

Ken: That can get a bit messy.

Leslie: Yes. And then it dropped down, and then I could start to feel my patterns in my belly—what I think of as my patterns anyways. So when I was in that high-energy state was it actually working to further my level of attention so that I can cultivate more clarity in the long-term?

Ken: Yeah, okay. The high-energy you’re experiencing now, it often arises in experience of bliss, or clarity or non-thought. Now it can arise as a combination of those so what were you experiencing?

Leslie: Well particularly when I was sky gazing [unclear]

Ken: Microphone please.

Leslie: When I was sky gazing it was extremely mirror-like; there was just…nothing separating.

Ken: So it, yeah, so clarity and with some non-thought. Yeah, okay. So that arises. Now in the beginning such experiences aren’t stable. So you just continue to do the practice until there’s some stability in the experience, because if you try to work with unstable experiences, it just fragments and doesn’t work. But when you rest, and let’s just say that clarity is an example, so you rest in that clarity in which everything arises as if it’s being reflected in a mirror. Right? Then you ask, “What experiences this clarity?” And when you do that, things go empty. Okay? Now you can open to the clarity in a different way. That’s how you mix clarity with awareness. Because now when the clarity arises it’s just there. And you can see the similarity of this with the primary practice. That’s how you work with it.

Now, the same holds for bliss, or non-thought or combinations of those. What sometimes happens with people is that they try to hold onto the state of clarity and make it last forever. Or bliss or what have you. And that’s where the problems start. Because now they’re trying to solidify experience and that never works.

That answer your question?

Leslie: Yes.

Ken: Okay. There was another question.

Student: No.

Ken: Okay.


By resting in a state that doesn’t rely on effort or practice [process],

You can use the result, pure being, as the path.

Instead, you use complex practices to relieve and refresh mind, channels, and energy.

[And that’s this idea of constantly working at these energy transformations.]

How tired you must be, you followers of supreme philosophy!

That’s Anuyoga.

Section 33

And then the last one,

Mind itself has no heads, hands, or regalia.

When you fall into the mistake of seeing what arises as a deity’s form

And hold mistaken ideas about sound as mantra,

You won’t see what is true through the path of great union!

This of course is referring to deity practice or yidam meditation in which you imagine that you are this form with many hands and legs, all of which have…are deeply invested with symbolic content. And you’re told to see everything as the deity’s form right?

Well, going back to a discussion I think we had earlier about Avalokiteshvara, one mistakes the form for the deity. Avalokiteshvara, Chenrezi or Great Compassion, because that’s one of the terms for Avalokiteshvara, the deity is Awakened Compassion. The form is white, four-arms, one-face, legs crossed in vajra position, etc., etc., etc. You meditate on the form or you cultivate the experience of being that form in order to form a relationship with being the embodiment of Awakened Compassion. And when you’re given an instruction to see everything as the deity, the instruction really means to experience the world as the expression of Great Compassion.

Now what would it be like to negotiate life if you experienced yourself and the world as the expression of Awakened Compassion? What would it be like to live that way?


Nick: You mentioned this to me when we had talked prior to the retreat. This was something I could try. And my experience with it was that a lot of the, how to put it? [Pause] A lot of the need for attainment of something kind of goes away.

Ken: Yeah.

Nick: Yeah. Because you’re already Awakened Compassion—you’re not developing compassion.

Ken: Yeah, you are Compassion, yeah. What’s it like interacting with others? [Laughter]

Nick: I never got very far with it. It was too, like you said very fragmented so.

Ken: Yeah. It gets pretty intense, pretty quickly. Okay. That’s vajrayana practice. Is going about your life that way. It doesn’t mean seeing everybody with white bodies, and four-arms, and one head, things like that.

Nick: I have another question while I got the mic.

Ken: Yeah.

Nick: About the previous stanza actually I’m sorry.

Ken: Okay.

Nick: Does this have any connection, the one about Anuyoga, to the one on the next page about one, two…the one about some people cut off the ebb and flow of thoughts and feelings, etc. And in that last line there Big problems develop when you misdirect energy into the life channel. What is? Is that a similar?

Ken: Yeah.

They are worn out from pushing a forced practice.

Big problems develop when you misdirect energy into the life channel.

When you’re working with energy transformation techniques—if you try to force things, you’ll generally get quite ill physically and emotionally, and mentally, quite unbalanced. So what you’re doing in energy transformation techniques at this level is creating the conditions so that the energy can move naturally. And if you try to force it then you get into problems. Okay?

Section 34


Helen: Time for me to finish it up?

Ken: Yes.

Helen: Okay.

Section 35

Helen: We do some practices where we imagine or somehow allow the—

Ken: Sorry could you say that again.

Helen: We do various practices in Shambhala where we visualize say the warrior, or [unclear] king whatever, and how now that comes into a similar to what I think is happening here. But what I wanted to try to understand a little bit clearer was the whole business of being one-with something or where there is no duality or there is, I think, no barrier is that the meaning of that? And therefore you are shall I say connected. And…but does that…I don’t mean it any magical or mystical way but just in a, you know, a real way. Not quite identifying, that’s not the right word, but sort of very connected. But how different is that from being captured? Being sort of, you know, taken away or pulled in in someway that’s not with awareness?

Ken: Well I think you’ve touched on the key point. It depends whether there’s free attention available. You can, say, you were saying use the example of warrior. You can open to what that ever means to you. And that may bring a certain kind of power and presence to your actions. To be captured by it—one way to describe that would be that something in you just takes over and use[s] that warrior idea to justify doing whatever it does. And so a pattern just starts to run with it. That’s what I think being captured by it.

So, there isn’t any awareness in that.

Helen: Yeah.

Ken: So the one is to use it as a way of becoming more aware and more present, and the other is being taken over by something which is now going to use it to do whatever it wants. Okay?

Section 36


Mind itself has no head, hands, or regalia. [We know that.]

When you fall into the mistake in seeing what arises as a deity’s form

And hold mistaken ideas about sound as mantra [that is, should really be hearing everything as mantra. That isn’t what it means.]

You won’t see what is true through the path of great union!

Because now you’ve reified the deity practice, you’ve solidified it into something that you’re trying to make exist. Rather than, and it’s very much in a certain sense what Helen was talking about. Rather than using the principles here to move into a more awake relationship with our experience. And Nick was describing when just taking a little bit step into being Awakened Compassion you could see the potential there. But when it actually comes to living and interacting with other people, regarding everything as Awakened Compassion then it becomes really, really demanding because you can’t treat anything as an enemy. You can’t treat anything as an enemy. And you’re very, very open and highly responsive to everything that arises, you know. That’s essentially what we’re aiming to cultivate through the practice, but just to step straight into a little bit challenging. You follow? All right. Okay.

Section 37

All right any final comments or questions? All right we’ll close here. Do a short period of meditation. Last night I went over the…

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.