The fire reaction comes out of a feeling of isolation and a fear of being alone. Typical fire reactions take one of two forms of expression: challenge, intimidate or charm…seduce. The common feature of these two apparently opposite reactions is they both involve consuming.
We find this reflected in our language. “He was consumed by anger” or “consumed by desire.” We also have “consuming passion.” Some time ago a friend of mine was very puzzled by a comment his wife made. It’s a family of four, the children are both grown and have their own careers, it’s a very close family. And doesn’t matter where they are, they make a point of getting together one weekend a month. They spend a weekend together. And the daughter, who is the older of the two children, called up one weekend and said, “I’m really not going to make it, I’ve just been killed at work, I just need to rest and don’t want to fly.” And the father, who’s closer to the daughter, said, “Okay, I understand.”
That Saturday evening the mother said, “I think she’s pregnant.” The father and the son were just like, “What!? No way! Ridiculous!” But everybody got very, very agitated, disturbed over dinner by this notion. So the next day the father calls the daughter and says, “Are you pregnant? ” [Laughter] The daughter says, “Dad, get real, no, I’m just tired.” “Oh, okay.” Your mother thought that something must be wrong that’s what she suggested so I thought I’d just check. Fine.
And my friend explained this to me and said, “What was going on?” I said this is a wonderful example of a fire reaction. Your wife was feeling a bit alone, because the family wasn’t all together. So she threw out a comment which made the whole situation extremely intense, so she wouldn’t have to feel her loneliness. Operates quite unconsciously.
When people get angry and lose their temper, it’s always because they’re feeling completely alone at that point. Not only are they feeling completely alone, they’re usually feeling rejected and they are also feeling weaker than what they’re opposing. I tried that one out with a group of CEOs once. They really didn’t like it. But by the end of our discussion they were beginning to say “Oh, yeah.” We never get angry at something we feel stronger than. We only get angry at something we feel weaker than. It’s the old bullfrog approach. You know, we puff ourselves up, try to threaten or intimidate. But that intensity of feeling masks, obscures, distracts—whatever word you want to use—from the feeling of aloneness or rejection.
The other way we can go with that of course is to consume the other person. Seducing them, charming them, doing whatever. So that’s how it manifests as desire. And of course that takes care of the loneliness in another way. That’s why a lot of people, as soon as they end a relationship, they bounce into another one. It’s also why a lot of people fall in love at retreats. They’re sitting all alone and they just get totally consumed by the pattern of the shirt of the person who’s sitting in front of them. [Quiet laughter] Next thing you know they’re falling in love. This is an extremely common phenomenon. Whether it’s a good way to meet people—there aren’t enough statistics out. [Quiet laughter]
So fire is very direct. It just goes. And it consumes experience. So that there’s nothing left. Now this can work for us and it can work against us. Many years ago I had an interaction with a person who at that time was a friend. But the interaction was so searing that I literally felt charred afterwards. And it took me a very, very long time to come to the understanding that this person deals with or is unable to deal with intense feelings of loneliness and rejection, which is why he tends to be very challenging and intimidating in relationships, so you end up feeling consumed by him, because there’s such neediness there.
So what I’m trying to do here is to describe some ways that fire arises so you can actually recognize it.
There are other ways of course.
I want to backtrack for a moment. One of the ways that the fire reaction, or the fire process, is very helpful for us is in meditation, where we experience everything completely. As Suzuki Roshi writes in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, We experience things so completely that there is absolutely nothing left. That’s how we come to know the empty nature of experience.
And I’m going to return here to a theme which I’ve mentioned before, a theme I’m plugging these days, and that is to find the knowing, the clarity, the emptiness within experience. Don’t try to bring them to experience. So when you experience an emotion completely, then you know what it is. And among the aspects of an emotion is that it is empty by nature. It’s something which simply comes and goes. It isn’t substantial. And you can only know that by experiencing it completely.
Now another way that fire manifests—it’s where people are passionate, it’s where they become energized. I remember having a conversation many, many years ago, it was back in the 80’s I think, with a woman, because I was uncertain what direction I was going to go with teaching in L.A. And we were sitting over lunch and we were talking about this and about that and about this and that. And suddenly she said, “That’s what you should do.” And I said “Why?” Said, “Because when you started talking about that, that’s when you lit up.“ That’s something you can just observe, possibly in yourselves but certainly in people you’re conversing with. Where do they light up? That’s where the energy is. What makes them wake up and there’s really palpable shifts in conversation when you hit those areas in a person. That’s another form of fire.
So fire has a lot to do with passion and creativity, where you’re willing just to pour your energy in. So I hope this gives you some kind of feeling for it.
Now, the problematic side of that is that pouring that energy into something can consume you, and can consume others, can consume everything. And when it slips into just a manifestation of reaction then it creates suffering for ourselves and everyone around us. And as I said at the beginning, that particular reactive process is based entirely on avoiding the fear of being alone.
Now another principle which I find quite fascinating, I suppose this is both Taoist and Buddhist, is that everything contains its opposite and this is wonderfully illustrated by fire.
As I’ve said that fire is based on a sense of feeling alone. Well there’s only one way that you can feel alone and that’s to be intensely aware of everything around you. You follow? If you’re just self-involved, you don’t feel alone. It’s only when you’re aware of everything around you and you feel no connection with everything around you that you feel alone. So in this feeling of aloneness, there is already an awareness of everything. But we aren’t usually paying any attention to that part when we’re feeling alone. We’re only feeling there’s no one here.
You find the same principle in other areas. Just to give you one other illustration: How many of you know a person who tends to be a bully?
Student: To be what?
Ken: A bully.
Student: A bully.
Ken: What’s a bully looking for?
Ken: Response is one [unclear] but at a little deeper level? Yes?
Ken: Connection. Exactly. Bully’s looking for connection. Why he keeps pushing. It’s actually a fire thing. Keeps pushing, keeps making the situation more intense, what he or she wants is someone to push back. Then they know they’re not alone.
I’ve come across this several times there’s certain people they don’t feel like there’s any connection until you push back, emotionally or physically in one way or another. Then they relax and they’re happy, they know you’re there.
Rather extreme case of this in a coaching situation is an executive I was working with supervised as a film production. And she was complaining that the producer on a particular film wasn’t doing her job and that she didn’t start to do her job until there was a crisis. I said well then it’s very simple how to manage her. ”What do you mean?“ I said, “Whenever she calls you up, start screaming at her.“ [Laughter] She said, ”But that’s not how I do business.“ I said, ”I know it’s not how you do business, but it’s how you need to do business with this one person.“ And she said, “Well what good will that do?” “Then she’ll have a crisis and she’ll do her job. So just start screaming at her.” She tried it—it worked. [Laughter] She just made things really intense for her and everybody was happy.
A very important point here. At some level, most of us believe that people operate rationally. No I’m serious, you laugh, but at some level we believe that. And that if we just provide good reasons people will respond in an appropriate way. Is this true?
Ken: No, it’s absolutely not true. But we are really stuck on this belief aren’t we? There are whole theories of economics based on it. Fact the majority of economic theory is based on it. It’s absolutely not true. So you may think this was an absurd suggestion, but it’s actually dealing with what actually is, you know, creating artificial crises to manage. But that was the rational process in this case. Reason wasn’t going to work.
Okay. Are you getting a feeling for how fire works? Yes?
Ken: I mentioned two or three of them.
Student: Okay, so….
Ken: Passion, creativity, sense of aloneness. Fire reaction intimidates, threatens, make everything more intense so that you don’t feel the aloneness. You consume experience, consume other people, consume yourself. Yes?
Student: Ken you say that actually there’s some good part of [unclear] fire—intensity, passion.
Student; But I may have been a little out of it…I was earth and water but I don’t remember you making that kind of statement that there’s something good about the aspects of the earth dakini or there’s something good about the aspects of the water—
Ken: Oh I think I did.
Student: Maybe I just missed it.
Ken: Yeah. Earth positive expressions or the responsive expressions of earth are nurturing, support, firmness.
Ken: So, you know, we say, “He’s a really solid person I can depend on him.”
Ken: Or “She just makes everything so nice and orderly,” provides a structure. That’s all earth stuff. Now as with anything, when there’s too much structure you end up imprisoned. Too much nurturing you never grow up. And so forth. So there is always a balance here.
With water—water allows you to flow, to move with situations. But that very same ability also creates the possibility of being swept away or carried away. You follow? Yep. So we look at the actual manifestations and what you’re looking for is whether they’re in balance or not. When they’re not in balance that’s when you get into the reactive aspects of them. And then they become very problematic. They just make things more and more difficult.
Student: But no one person…I mean it depends on the situation whether you might react.
Ken: Exactly and that’s a very good point. All of us have all five elements and which element arises depends on the situation, and what happens in us, and so forth. Some people are more prone to certain elements, or utilize some elements more than others. So you get artistic types typically will manifest a lot of fire, which can make them very difficult to interact with sometimes—everything has to be really intense. Other people are very watery, they’re very easy to get along with, but you can never be clear about what they’re really thinking, and so forth. Okay. But everybody has all five elements, they aren’t personality types.
What I typically find is that most people have a primary relationship with one element, a secondary relationship with another, and often not a very good relationship with the others, which limits their range of responses.
I remember a friend and I were doing a program on power actually, which also incorporates work on the elements, for twenty-five women down in Orange County, just south of Los Angeles, which is a very conservative part of the country. And one of my students at that time was a federal agent and she was just a kick, and I’m still in touch with her she’s in Washington now. But just straight from the hip, and just really down to earth, straightforward person.
And so during this workshop, we asked people, “What are you willing to kill or die for?” No, no sorry that’s another conversation, getting things mixed up. One person asked about the elements. “What would earth look like in a conversation?” So I turned to this student of mine who’s this federal agent and said, “Could you demonstrate earth in a conversation please.” And she sort of looked at me like, “No.” [Laughter] And the other woman was like, “You’re not allowed to do that.” [Laughter] It was like…it was perfect. Okay.
We’re going to be working with all of this, this afternoon to give you a bit more of a flavor of it. Okay. Any other questions about fire before we go into the reaction, transformation process? Yes?
Student: Two people relate to the fire element primarily and are together can they…is it just totally disastrous? [Laughter] Or more balanced?
Ken: Well it can be disastrous, and it can also be quite extraordinary. You get two artists who ignite each other and you get extraordinary things coming out of it. But you equally can get two people who’ll completely consume each other in their passion—and that can be both attractionate passion or aversive passion. So you have to look at what’s happening in each thing. You can’t say well if these two go together it’s always a problem or if this goes with this then it’s always going to work out. It’s more complex than that, you can’t use a formula and there aren’t rules here. There are certain combinations which are more likely to be difficult than others. One wonderful example is a fire person or a person who’s doing fire interacting with a person who’s doing water.
The fire person pushes, and the water person just backs up. And the fire person pushes more, and the water person backs up. And they just like don’t get along at all. Because the one’s trying to make everything to just flow nicely and the other’s looking for something they can eat—it’s right there. So you get into that kind of dynamic it can be quite entertaining. You can also see it in how people move, and we’ll do that this afternoon as well.
Okay, let’s turn to the process. We’ll do this the same way we did this yesterday. We’ll go through it as a meditation, talk you through it, then go through it step-by-step so everybody’s clear about each point.
A little bit yeah. Just shut these fluorescent lights off that’s all. That will be…no it will be one of those switches. Yeah, that’s fine.
So as we’ve done before just take few moments to sit, let mind and body settle.
And then as we’ve done before imagine that your body and everything we experience is like a dream, like a rainbow. Appears vividly, but there’s no substantiality, solidity to it. Simply vivid appearance.
And then fire dakini appears in front of you.
She is an intensely passionate woman. And that passion, that fiery energy, you can see in her face, in the way that she holds her body. She’s clothed in reds that swirl and flash around her like the flames of a fire. There is an intensity of a different sort here. Fiery, passionate, creative, anything’s possible. Radiates an intense warmth. And you observe. What arises in you when you take her presence in?
There could be a whole range of reactions. From desire to intimidation, to awe, to fear. And you see that she’s looking right at you. And you look in return in her eyes.
Now you really feel the passion and intensity she brings. What is it like to be present with that? What comes up in you?
Ken: And again you make a gesture or give some indication that you intend to engage the transformation of the fire reaction. And she steps forward, approaches you, raises her left hand in which she holds a flask made of ruby, brilliantly deep red. And this flask is filled with liquid light which she pours over the top of your head, and this light enters your head through the crown, comes down the center of your body, down through your head and throat down into your heart, which is the fire center.
And as it comes into the fire center, you feel all the ways as you try to consume experience, consume other people, consume food, consume a book, movie, or work of art, and the ways you are consumed by your work, by other people’s energy, all of that. That consuming quality of experience.
And as the elixir of liquid light accumulates in your heart, you become aware that under that consuming there’s a feeling of aloneness or isolation. That’s why we let ourselves be consumed by our work. That’s why we can’t get enough of some people or some things. So just touch that loneliness. Or isolation. And when you do, you get a hint of fear. Of being totally alone. As if you were suddenly transported to a featureless desert, where there’s nothing except the line of the horizon. And you look in every direction and you can see nothing which is at all different or distinguishable. In that fear you look around for anything which makes anything a little different—maybe you notice a rock that’s unusual shape or color, and now you seize on it as something you can experience, and you find yourself being consumed by this experience. So much so that you are burnt to ash. You can’t get enough. You need more.
So you cycle around again. Feeling the aloneness and the fear of isolation or rejection. Grasping at any particular. And consuming whatever you can find to experience.
And as you rest in those reactions, light shines from your heart, liquid awareness starts to radiate light, and all of the components of this reaction chain become more and more vivid until they too become light.
And you rest in that light. And you notice a shift has taken place. Where there was that feeling of aloneness and that fear of isolation, now there’s just a knowing. An immediate and direct knowing. A knowing that there is no separation and there is nothing to be separated. And that knowing finds expression as a symbol, the deep red flower, lotus or a rose, in your heart.
And now when you look at your experience, you find you can know all the particulars of everything you experience, all the things which distinguish one thing from another, the level of detail of which you can be aware is truly extraordinary. What a fascinating and interesting world.
Now again light shines from your heart, and invites fire dakinis from every corner of the world. They throng above and around you, each of them holding a ruby flask, pouring their liquid awareness into you, so your whole body becomes full of light. Then all the fire dakinis themselves dissolve into light and dissolve into you. And you rest in that knowing.
Then when you are ready, form the intention to be here in this room again, and you come here, with the knowing and the light. In you.
Naturally the emotion that’s connected with fire or one of the emotions that’s connected with fire is desire, because you are drawn to these particulars. It often manifests as anger, as we described earlier.
So how was this for you? Can you connect with it? Martha, what do you have to say about that?
Martha: Just that that’s a really easy one to…that’s a really easy one to get at.
Ken: For you. Yeah, may not be for everybody. Okay. Other comments.
Ken: How is it fascinating Randy?
Randy: Well the whole process is fascinating because unlike the other two I actually—
Randy: Unlike the other two practices I actually experienced physical heat but also at the tail end of it when I opened my eyes everything was fascinating but the fine and subtle—very defamiliarized distinction between everything was absolutely fascinating.
Ken: Okay, so you experience everything more vividly.
Ken: Okay. Don’t forget we’re the second day into the retreat now. Yesterday was the first day so you may find going back and doing the earth and water will have a richer quality today. But we’ll see.
Any other comments.
Ken: Exhausting? What did you find exhausting Charlie?
Charlie: Being consumed is exhausting.
Ken: Not to mention consuming?
Charlie: That too.
Ken: What’s exhausting about being consumed? After all you’re just sitting there and you’re being eaten up.
Charlie: Yeah it’s…very interesting question…well there’s a sense of, it’s not enough.
Ken: Needs to be more does it? So here you’re being completely consumed and it’s not enough. Okay, anybody relate to that?
Student: I think looking into the eyes of this dakini was easier for me to come to right away and to feel a deep connection, and to rest in the fire was easy, however I want to look at the opposite side of that, what you were talking about before which was the opposite side is the aloneness.
Ken: Yes, that’s right.
Student: So how do you get to that?
Ken: Can you rest in the aloneness?
Student: Not as easily.
Ken: What’s the difference?
Student: I think when you rest in fire it seems limitless. When you rest in aloneness you rest in emptiness.
Ken: That may be. But isn’t emptiness limitless? So again, what’s the difference?
Student: Haven’t gotten there.
Ken: Okay. What’s it like being in the desert?
Student: Hot and dry.
Student: Hot and dry.
Ken: And there’s nothing…well don’t have to be hot and dry can be just, you know, just featureless, nothing.
Student: Sort of desperate.
Ken: Yes. Keep going. Desperate. What else? There you are completely alone, and there’s a feeling of desperateness. That remind you of anything?
Student: Well then you want to reach out for something to massage that feeling of desperateness.
Ken: But let’s go with the desperateness itself.
Student: To what…[unclear]
Ken: What about it? Would it be fair to say that you are consumed by desperation?
Student: Oh, yeah. Probably
Ken: So what’s the difference between the desert and the fire?
Student: Probably nothing. I don’t experience the fire as much as the other side of it but… [unclear] other side of coin.
Ken: Yeah. Martha?
Martha: I just thought as an end product I kind of looked at it and like, “Whoa, look what you did.” Like just created this sort of scorched….
Ken: That’s right, yeah.
Martha: Just created that whole scorched earth thing.
Ken: Right. Yes?
Student: If found that in the desert I was disturbed because there was nothing to distract me.
Ken: But both the fire and the desert are extremely intense experiences aren’t they? And that’s what they both are: are experiences. Scott?
Scott: Well the fire has incredible energy but [unclear].
Ken: They’re the two poles, one is form, one is emptiness. When the fire is full, where can it go? Nowhere. It has to go out. When desert is completely empty, where does it go? Only one way it can go. Become full. What I’m pointing out here, these are two poles. The two poles, as I think I’ve mentioned before, are two expressions of the same principle. It’s a very, very useful way to learn how to relate to experience. Because ordinarily we get caught up in thinking well there’s this and there’s that, and they’re opposites.
But when you start to understand that they’re two expressions of the same principle, then there’s a lot more fluidity, flow, and much less polarization. Because we can see how we can move from one to the other, they’re two expressions of the same principle. Okay?
Okay, so let’s go through this point by point. Fire dakini in terms of the seasons is connected with Spring. Everything is full of energy and growing. As before when you’re doing the practice, feel the actual reactions in you as you engage, form a connection, with the passionate intensity of the fire dakini.
Many people are intimidated by fire. Because it is so direct and can move so quickly.
But it is, in the end, simply movement in that way. Movement of energy. Too much fire, and you get burned, not enough fire, you freeze.
The first part of the fire reaction often manifests as wanting more and what we’re actually, nine times out of ten, looking for is more connection. We want to experience things more fully. And that there’s not enough here, which triggers that feeling of aloneness. Often connected with a sense of rejection. And you’d rather have any kind of intense reaction, rather than just something flat and neutral. And underneath all that is this fear of being alone.
My own experience: there’s nothing which makes one feel alone as much as not being understood. You know you explain something to somebody about which you value or hold deeply, and they look at you go and they go, “Huh?” Or they play it back to you and it’s clear from the way they play it back to you that they don’t understand at all. Right at that moment you feel really alone. What do you do there? Well, nine times out of ten we do one of two things. We either get really upset, or we start trying to pull them into our world, so that we will feel understood. So it’s either again anger or desire. But you may be able to connect through this, through that experience of not feeling understood.
Anybody have that? No, okay. Want to check. Okay.
Student: Sometimes that happens when I’ve tried, particularly with my husband, like to explain something and he’ll say, “Oh god you better hurry there’s so much bullshit in my life.” [Laughter] [unclear] it’s just absolute craziness and—
Ken: What do you experience right there?
Student: Oh, I just go back real deep into me. I just hide, I just—
Ken: You’re in the desert right there.
Student: Yeah, I always feel the desert.
Ken: Yeah. Yes?
Student: When that happens when you try to explain something and the person doesn’t get it, is that what you mean by slowing it down? And when things happen quickly that’s when you should really try to feel what you’re feeling, become aware of [unclear]?
Ken: Yes. Because those reactions take place extremely quickly and you can end up saying or doing something which may be problematic. But if you become familiar with this, and the person says, “You know I don’t get it at all” and you’re familiar with that feeling of lonely, you’re just like “Oh, I know where I am right now.“ [Laughter] I understand…you remember.
Buddhism is not going to solve any of your problems in life. [Laughter] And do not approach Buddhism as if it’s going to solve any of your problems. You’re going to be terribly disappointed. [Laughter] Right Bill? [Laughter] Bill and I have both done 3-year retreats and it didn’t solve a thing, did it?
Bill: You become very or aware of your problem.
Student: Short retreats are better than, right? How about a weekend?
Ken: All Buddhism is going to do is help you experience what is actually there. Strip away all of the illusions and projections and ways you dress it up as something different. It doesn’t solve a damn thing.
But now let’s take a look at this experience, so you’ve said something to someone that you feel very close to, and they go, ”That doesn’t make any sense at all.“ Now you have an experience of being completely alone. That’s a pretty interesting experience. What’s that like?
And as I’ve said several times in the course of our talks, by knowing your own experience completely, you know what it is. And so there’s the experience of being alone, and then before that includes an experience of everything around you, because otherwise you wouldn’t feel alone. And you know it to be simply an experience. In this case it’s a feeling, it’s not a fact because the other person’s right there in front of you. But it is a feeling. And knowing things in this way prevents us from being confused.
Ordinarily, we take the feelings that arise as facts. But they aren’t. They’re just feelings.
Student: Doesn’t it also depend on your expectations? If you’re speaking to a child and teaching them something you don’t expect them to understand right away. On the other hand if you’re speaking to a close friend that you know has the intellectual capacity to grab it if you just said it right.
Student: Isn’t there a difference?
Ken: Of course those are different situations and so you come in with different expectations. But even when you’re teaching a child something, the loneliness still arises, but you, because of the relationship there, you don’t take it seriously or not that’s just part of the process. But it actually arises, I mean you talk to the child and they say, ”I don’t understand at all.“ Exactly the same experience arises. But you tolerate it there. Whereas with your friend you don’t tolerate it because you have a different kind of expectation on them, on the relationship. And it’s those kinds of expectations, those are our projections. We want it to be that way. What if we just related to both experiences in just the same way. Just as something that arose. It might make things go a bit more smoothly sometimes. You follow?
Student: I’m fine.
Okay, so returning to this: one of the things that has come up in the interviews a few times is people finding that some of these experiences are so strong they can’t take them in. This is an important point. Maybe you can only touch one-tenth of the loneliness, maybe you can only touch one-hundredth of the loneliness. Maybe when you’re looking at the dakini in front of you, you can only take in one-tenth of it. That’s fine. You work with what you have the capacity to experience without and not get lost in the experience. By doing this over and over again you increase your capacity to increase more and more. But it’s much better to experience what you can completely rather than trying to experience more than you have the capacity, because then you just get flooded, and you either numb out as some people do, or you get distracted, or you go to sleep, or whatever. None of these are particularly helpful.
So, learning how to, in the practice, open to the extent that you can open to the experience and take it in that’s very important. Another principle that I often talk about here is you have to work at the edge. That’s where growth takes place. If you work beyond your capacity then you just get flooded, and you get lost, and you’re in chaos. And that doesn’t help. If you don’t work at the edge, you work in your comfort zone, you’re not actually developing anything. Nothing’s changing. So you need to come to the edge of your ability and work there and that’s how you grow and develop. Does this make sense to you? Okay.
We react to that lonelines or aloneness, by seizing on anything and it becomes something which consumes us. And as Jeremy said earlier, being consumed is exhausting. Anybody besides Jeremy know that experience? Yes. Want to say a word about it Cindy?
Cindy: Well he said it so well [laughter] consuming and then feeling like it’s not enough.
Cindy: You know that kind of that’s…there’s a piece [unclear] it’s kind of a struggle of resisting but not being able to resist the consumption. I don’t know even know that I’m describe…that’s the best I can do to describe it.
Ken: Okay, so there’s kind of an internal conflict going on there. You want to be consumed because you want that intensity of experience, but at the same time you don’t want to be consumed because there’s going to be nothing left of you.
Cindy: I think that’s a great way of describing it. [Laughter] Thank you.
Ken: You’re welcome. I don’t know what I’m talking about. [Laughter]
Ken: You know, from the Buddhist point of view, it doesn’t matter which way you go, as long as you don’t go in both. Teacher—
Student: Don’t go?
Ken: Don’t go in both.
Student: Don’t go in both of what?
Student: In both—
Ken: What I’m talking about here is if you’re going to go in one direction, go completely in that direction. I was having a conversation with a teacher in Nepal many years ago and he was very, very kind to me. We spent about two hours together, and it was very helpful on a number of fronts. At one point in our conversation he said, “Ken, you have a problem.” And this was the first time we met. The only time we met actually. He said, “You have a problem.” I said, “I have many problems, which one do you mean?” [Laughter] He said, “You’re a little bit proud.” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “You either have to be completely proud, or not proud at all. But a little bit of pride, that’s a problem.” [Laughter]
Student: So which are you? [Laughter]
Ken: I still have a problem! [Laughter]
Student: So do you mean that you either go to the consuming or you go to the other side—the loneliness the desperateness? I mean—
Ken: In either case you be completely in the experience. It’s not so much going in the direction of the consuming. But one thing is if you’re alone, experience that loneliness completely. Okay. And if you experience that loneliness completely you are aware of everything, the totality of your experience. Okay.
Then the other direction to go is to go into that one experience and experience it completely so that there’s no you left. And you end up in the same place. There are two different routes. There’s a Chinese poem, I can’t remember who it’s by, it says, I’ll just paraphrase, “I go into the mountains and I sit and I look at the mountain until there is only the mountain.” You follow?
You know Ato Rinpoche used to have his students go and practice by a water fall until there was just the sound of the waterfall. And that’s how you’re letting go of any sense of independent self.
And in all of this, I mean just what Cindy was talking about, there’s an effort to preserve a sense of self apart from experience. And in the knowing that comes—for instance Randy you described when we finished the exercise this morning, that there was a different kind of knowing for you. Do you recall? How conscious were you of yourself in that knowing?
Randy: Well I was conscious of my hands on my knees and even of my hair….
Ken: Well all these…yeah, but of “I”?
Randy: Yeah [unclear].
Ken: Yeah, right, And in that knowing, where there’s just knowing, there is no sense of I. For instance another way you can get at this. You’ve all seen somebody maybe for the first time, looked at them, and you knew something about them. It didn’t come through any rational process, you just knew. How much “I” is there in that knowing? Okay. That’s what the fire transforms into, that kind of knowing, just right there. You with me? Good. Okay.
So in being completely in the experience, not holding on to anything, any sense of self apart from the experience, that’s what the fire transforms into when we allow all of that light to radiate and illuminate the experience, the fire reaction. That’s symbolic of moving right into the experience of just knowing.
And there’s an intensity in that knowing, which is what the red rose or the red lotus symbolizes. And that knowing is very precise and detailed. Knows all the particulars. And there is no sense of separation in that knowing. Because that’s the quality of aloneness, you experience everything but you feel separate from it. And if you drop that sense of separation, then there’s just the knowing. You with me? Okay. Martha?
This takes care of an awful lot of problems. I said earlier that Buddhism doesn’t solve problems. The problems are solved, it’s kind of a side-effect.
You’re looking suspicious.
Student: Ah, I think [unclear].
Ken: No, no, it’s Martha [unclear].
Student: I think I was thinking….
Student: I was thinking about how this practice can also be sort of an isolating practice. And that where I find that it becomes really difficult is when it does feel passionless.
Student: Passionless, yes. So I was just thinking of my personal experience of when meditation gets really difficult. Is when it feels sort of lacking joy and color. It becomes very difficult to [unclear] myself.
Ken: I agree. What causes meditation to lack joy and color?
Student: I was just thinking about it right now [unclear].
Ken: Well I’ll tell you one thing that causes meditation to lack joy and color. It’s when we’re waiting for something to happen. Or we’re waiting for something to change. You know instead of experiencing exactly what is arising right now. I see you’re shaking your head. That’s just my contribution, what’s your contribution?
Student: I don’t know [laughter] yet I’ll tell you later today.
Student: Later today I’ll answer you.
Ken: Later, today, okay.
Student: Can it become boring?
Student: Can that aspect….
Ken: …of meditation become boring?
Student: No not meditation. Can it get to a state where you’re in that passionless place and you’re not necessarily waiting for something to happen, but you’re just in that space and so you’re not overreacting or you’re not reacting, you’re kind of resting in experience. Can that become boring?
Ken: Well there may be some confusion here. I’m…my own experience is that as one becomes more and more capable of resting—of being deeply in what one’s experience, then there is more color, more joy, more passion. It isn’t, I know you’ll see some translations says the dharma is free of passion. It actually means the dharma is free of trying to own or a desire that seeks to own experience. It doesn’t mean that it’s free of creative, vibrant energy.
And we work at letting go of distraction so that we can experience things more completely. The subject of boredom arises when we are more preoccupied with how we are feeling than with what we are experiencing.
Student: Not boring?
Ken: No that’s with [unclear]. You dont’ find meditation boring. Many other things but not boring.
Student: Could you say that again please?
Ken: Okay. Boredom arises when we are more preoccupied with how we are feeling then with what we are experiencing. So there is an imbalance there. You know you can just rest with the breath. In fact this may be a good example to use. There we are resting with the breath. Think, “This is boring. There’s nothing going on.” That, in a certain sense, is like the featureless desert. But we’re preoccupied with how we are feeling in the meditation rather than with actually experiencing, being in the experience of breathing. There’s something in us that is looking for entertainment, looking for stimulation.
Student: I’m not so much talking about the meditation aspect, as I’m talking about just day to day living, when you are always with that awareness of experiencing and breathing into experience.
Ken: Does that become boring?
Student: After a while [unclear] but yeah I’ve said, “Oh, is that all there…?” I mean you know I kind of wonder well what’s going to happen next. You know like I kind of get into—
Ken: Well but that’s exactly the same thing. Because you’re preoccupied with how you are feeling rather than with what you are experiencing.
Student: Okay, okay got it.
Ken: Sorry I didn’t notice the time slipping by. Everybody clear about the meditation before we close—the fire dakini? Okay, let’s close here then and we will—who’s on the gong? Guy?
Student: Guy was on the gong.
Ken: Yeah, Okay, so we’ll take a ten minute break and we’ll start the meditation….
|This 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.|