Page 24 and 25. Again, this is in the Shangpa tradition. And you have in the center Mahakala. Mahakala actually is a generic term for a lot of mahakalas. There is the Two-armed Mahakala, Bernakchen that’s the Black Coat; there’s the Four-armed Mahakala which is the principal protector in the Trikung and Drukpa Kagyu, I believe, and also in the Sakya. Then there’s the Tent Mahakala in the Sakya tradition. This is the Six-armed Mahakala.
Student: What do all these mahakalas have in common?
Ken: Well Mahakala… Maha means great, kala means black. So Great Black One. That’s what they have in common. They’re big and they’re black. And Kali is the feminine. Okay. So. Close your eyes.
In front of you, you see Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of wealth in the Indian tradition, squashed flat on his face. And you notice that there are two huge feet and there must be tremendous weight because Ganesh is completely crushed. He’s vomiting jewels uncontrollably.
And you look at these feet and they’re misshapen and distorted—they’re big. And you notice that around the anklet there’s jingling bells that are used in Indian temple dancing and snakes instead of anklets. And your eyes drift up and you see that there’s this tiger skin, this kind of skirt. And your eyes drift up and you see this girdle of bone ornaments. And then you notice dripping heads, severed heads, and they’re all dripping with blood. And you’re on the ground, remember, looking up at this because this is a big guy.
And there’s a skull cup and it’s filled and overflowing with blood. And right above it you see there’s another hand that’s holding this chop—you’ve only seen is butchers using that. It’s got a hook. And you hear this damaru hand drum violently rattling. And a trident in another arm. And a noose in another arm and his big black torso protruding belly.
And you see this face, huge bulbous eyes, three of them. Eyebrows they look—red hair flaring up—they look like they’re on fire. Big bloodshot eyes and the mouth open grimacing, contorted with fury with big canine fangs dripping down. Skull crown on his head and red hair flying up like flames and the whole thing is all surrounded by fire. How are you feeling about now?
Student: Really scared.
Ken: Good, you just invoked the protector. Want to hang out with this guy?
Student: Doesn’t sound very inviting.
Ken: This is what you are summoning. Now, how prepared is this guy to deal with some intractable habitual tendency in you? Is he up to the job?
Student: Probably too much so. [laughter].
Ken: That’s your problem. You don’t really want to invite this guy in.
Ken: No! That’s why you’re having a problem. Gets worse.
Okay. On his left there’s this really very strange colored mule sort of a bizarre reddish-brown.
Ken. Nah, bizarre reddish-brown.
Student: Did you say mule?
Ken: Yeah, think, pretty sure that’s what she [Shri Devi] rides. And there’s this figure who is equally as large as this massive black person you’re not terribly anxious to hang out with. But this large female, large figure on this mule is the distortion of everything you consider feminine.
Student: Everything you consider what?
Ken: Feminine. She is huge, she’s totally black. She has hanging breasts that are all withered. She has all of these sorcery implements. You know, the dice which determine your fate. She just throws them when she wishes. She has a stick and your number’s marked on this stick which she holds.
Student: And she’s pissed off.
Ken: Yeah. And she’s got her saddlebag, this bag, and it’s full of every kind of pestilence you know. But it gets worse, because in front of them there’s this completely mad guy, Kshetrapala, whose only function in life is to cause as much misery as he can to everything. He rides a rabid bear.
Student: Where is the bear?
Ken: He’s in the bottom left of the picture.
Student: Oh left, what’s he called, Ken?
Student: Like a hound or something.
Ken: That’s a bear. It’s a rabid bear.
Student: Oh, wow.
Ken: Bears and dogs are related remember. And then you have Jinamitra with the red. He’s similarly noxious, and then Takkiraja at the back. And then you have ??Du Gon Trakshe. Du Gon Trakshe means demon king. Here he is, he rides a black horse with white forelocks. Which is an age-old nightmare. He’s clothed in black silk. Carries a banner and spear.
And around them is everybody who thinks he’s anything in the nightmare, or she.
How are you feeling?
Guy: I’m wondering why I came.
Ken: Well that’s the central question, isn’t it?
Guy: Yes. No.
Student: Shock and awe.
Ken: Nah, shock and awe’s got nothing on this.
Student: So in terms of practice, I invite somebody like this?
Ken: It’s worse than that. You remember this morning when Anita was asking me, “How do I know?” And I said, “You already know.” He’s already in you. He always has been in you. And he knows what needs to be done. Are you going to let him do it? Get it?
Student: Yeah, it won’t be easy.
Ken: It’s very easy for him. And you know what happens if you don’t let him do it?
Student: He’ll cause havoc in other ways.
Ken: Yes. That’s right. So he’s not really particularly interested in your welfare. He’s only interested in you being awake. And so is she. And she’s much worse. Compared to her, he’s a pussycat. Feminine energy goes much deeper into this. Questions? Deborah.
Deborah: What is he good at then?
Ken: The possibility of your being awake. He can be very inconvenient at that point. Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: The way you describe him, the way you just went through it, it doesn’t seem like he needs feeding.
Elizabeth: It doesn’t seem like he needs feeding.
Ken: Oh—he needs feeding. Oh yeah. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Student: You want him on your side.
Ken: Actually, you want to be on his side.
Student: But you feed him then, to join with him somehow?
Ken: We’ll get to the feeding in a moment.
Student: Aren’t these also called spiritual warriors?
Student: Yeah, the dakinis and…
Ken: Oh yeah, somebody inevitably will have translated them that way.
Student 2: Okay.
Ken: Now, we have these intractable, intransigent, devious, ruthless, parasitical patterns. Do you know of which I speak? And sometimes it feels like that’s it. That’s what we are. There’s nothing more than that. But what the whole protector thing is about is there’s also this aspect of awakening mind which can deal with the worst, absolutely the worst of those patterns, and will do whatever is necessary to deal with them.
Six-armed Mahakala has a very interesting origin: an expression of Chenrezi, unambiguous one. That’s his origin. When Chenrezi fell into despair and blew his bodhisattva vow and his head burst into a thousand pieces, that’s when he took form as the 1000-armed Chenrezi. But at the same time, a black hung formed in his heart and out of that black Hung rose the Six-armed Mahakala.
So this is a direct expression of pristine awareness. And that’s ultimately one whole class of protectors. Direct expressions of the natural knowing that is our human heritage—Buddhahood—whatever you want to call it. But it’s an expression in the form which is going to take care of the most intransigent and intractable and devious and ruthless pattern.
But along with that, you know when you have the big guy on the block? What happens to all the would-be hoodlums?
Student: When the big guy goes the little hoodlums move up.
Ken: Yeah but the big guy isn’t going anywhere.
Student: They fall in line.
Ken: They fall in-line pretty quickly. That’s what oath-bound means.
Student: Oath what?
Ken: The oath-bound. These are your natural abilities which for a very long time, probably for most of our existence, have been serving habituated patterned existence. But now the big guy’s on the block. They no longer serve pattern-based existence. They use all of that deviousness, all of that terror, all of that power, all of that might to serve awakening. And they’re really bad news.
Student: How do you recommend working with this, you know, as part of regular practice?
Ken: Well, if people want to do this, they’re going to take up a Vajrayana practice. That’s a discussion we’ll have individually. It’s not a light business. So, what do you feed them? All the richness of the world and everything in it. Just the first thing: jewelry, gold, you know, Fort Knox, whatever, silver, platinum.
Student: Assuming you have all that to give.
Ken: You do. That’s what you’re doing right here. Just imagine it. No limit to your imagination. Good, so you just imagine it all. Beautiful clothes, silk, satin, whatever. You know, Ferrari, BMW, perfume, whatever. I know a few women who are really attached to their BMWs. All of it. Music, art, sculpture, food, finest foods prepared by the finest chefs, served by the finest waiters and waitresses. You just let your imagination run wild—I mean, you just go with it.
Treasures from fearful charnel grounds where evil forces were destroyed or spread about. Now that changes the picture a little, doesn’t it? Now if you’re one of these big black monsters are you satisfied with everything beautiful?
Student: No. You want more.
Ken: You want more. You want to taste other people’s terror and fear, horror. You want to taste all that. You can use it. You know how to work with it. So you feed that to them, too. Getting the picture here? Didn’t I explain this to you? You’ve been doing protector chants for two decades.
Student: Well I know, but never quite so in your face.
The power of this contemplative’s devotion magnifies the commitment offerings enjoyed in the great mysteries. So your devotion here just magnifies everything.
With ravens that soar like garudas
Fleet horses and majestic yaks
Graceful sheep and fierce dogs
The thirteen-fold black offerings enrich these gifts
So, these are thirteen black ravens, thirteen black dogs, thirteen black horses, thirteen black yaks, thirteen black lions, thirteen. You know the list goes on and on and on. This beginning to sound like a nightmare? That’s what you’re feeding them, your nightmare.
Student: Is there any symbolism with the number….
Ken: I don’t think we need to say much about thirteen.
Student: So there is?
Ken: Always been a number that’s distrusted, right?
Student: In your culture even?
Ken: Well, this culture, certainly in our culture. For a long time there were lots of buildings built and there was no thirteenth floor. That’s a pretty strong statement.
Student: Oh, thirteen is a perfectly fine number.
Ken: No, it’s a very obnoxious number. You know why? What’s the number immediately below it? Why is twelve a good number? You’ve got to think about ancient societies here with very limited mathematical ability.
Twelve can be divided into whole numbers. You can have half, a third, quarter and a sixth. So it’s a very easy number to make fractions out of without ever having to deal with a fraction. And early societies couldn’t deal with fractions. That’s why their number systems were based on twelve. Babylonian: twelve and three hundred and sixty. That’s why we still have three hundred and sixty degrees and sixty minutes. It’s all twelve-based so people divided into fractions. So, thirteen is the opposite, it can’t be divided into anything, it’s a prime number. Same as seven.
Magic arrows adorned with silks and mirrors, knifed hearts packed with soul stones and spells. These are very old black-magic sorcerer items.
Student: Night hearts?
Ken: Night hearts, that’s what it says, isn’t it?
Student: What’s a soul stone?
Ken: Stones that are used to extract the soul from another person. This is, I said earlier, this goes back far in our culture. This is how you have power.
Student: Are soul stones lodestones?
Ken: No, they’re stones which have been charged through sorcery.
Seas of medicine-juice and blood, these are two traditional offerings.
Mountains of sacrificial offerings, those are the tormas and power offerings. And note the last one,
And especially, mind itself, utter simplicity. Single-minded confidence and devotion in the guru and the lord, inseparable.
So you’re moving through four layers of offerings here. There’s the outer ones. They’re the beautiful. Then there’s the inner ones. These are your nightmares. And you’re working with stronger and stronger forces in your own mind. And then there’s the secret ones. It’s all black-magic stuff, you know which you don’t want to talk about and nobody ever does. And then there’s your own mind nature. You offer all of them.
In the guru and the lord, inseparable, lord of pristine awareness, you see directly below Mahakala there’s a white six-armed figure. That’s the White Mahakala. Now whereas the Black Mahakala is totally terrifying, the White Mahakala is so over-the-top in terms of wealth. He doesn’t stomp on one Ganesh, he stomps on two.
Student: How does Ganesh fit into this?
Ken: Oh, he’s the wealth deity.
Student: But he’s Hindu.
Ken: Yeah I know, Buddhism is stronger than Hinduism. Stomp.
Student: My guy can beat up your guy.
Ken: Yeah, that’s exactly what’s going on. But it took Hindu deities as symbols of obstacles and problems and took them over. It’s an age-old trick. All spiritual traditions, they borrow stuff from other traditions to beat up on. Happens all the time.
Anyway there are actually many different forms of Mahakala depending on what you want to happen. Yellow, green, red and so forth. And then you get Lady Glorious Goddess, that’s Palden Lhamo on the lower-right. Then Malefactor and Death Lord, Demon Lord, seventy-five oath-bound protectors. So this is whom you’re offering, this is whom you’re connecting with. And you tell them,
Protect me from threats now, later and in intermediate states
Increase stores of food, wealth, and dharma
Make the understanding and practice of the teachings spread
Set all beings free in full awakening
Quite unambiguous. This is one part of Mahakala ritual. Yeah?
Student: Have you been to the Mahakala shrine in Calcutta?
Ken: The Kali Shrine?
Student: They sacrifice a live dove every day.
Ken: That’s a heavy place.
Student: Yes, very. Right next door is a military base.
Ken: I mean, it’s always crowded with pilgrims.
Ken: I remember being there, just crammed in this line. I went after Kalu Rinpoche’s funeral, because I had never been there. We were staying in Calcutta. There were about three or four of us from Los Angeles. And one was a woman who was a student of Kalu Rinpoche’s. So she and I went to the shrine. This is a very strong independent woman. And as we went through this, and we got through this and there was this crowd. And we came in to the shrine, she was grabbing my arm quite powerfully. It’s intimidating. Because there are very, very old, powerful forces there.
Okay. So this is working very, very deeply internally. And you don’t do this a lot. If you do this a lot, you get quite seriously disturbed. Seriously disturbed.
Protector practice is primarily a balancing. As we talked about this morning, we do this at the end of the day. And yeah, it arouses a certain amount of anxiety but also it’s a kind of releasing. Because you’re actually working. All the time you’re working with a guru, or working with the yidam, these forces are developing energies. So you acknowledge them through this. And that’s how things are kept in balance. And that’s why protector practice is always a part of any intensive Vajrayana practice. Keeps things in balance.
I remember Lama Karma Thinley, who was our retreat director, coming in at a certain point. Lama Karma Thinley loved to do mahamudra practice. That’s what he did. He was really very good. And he would just sit, all day, all night. Sometimes he’d go to sleep. Then he would just wake up and continue meditating. He wasn’t very good about a lot of technical aspects. He’s not a very learned person. But when he talked about nature of mind, he was very clear. Everything was exactly how it was. It was very, very good. I remember he came in, and I was doing something in the shrine, wanted to talk. And he said, “I really should offer a few more tormas to Mahakala. But I’m really lazy. But I know I should!” But he could feel there was a tension there, you know, an imbalance. So, it’s important….
Student: Balancing between…
Ken: Well, when you’re moving into deep awakening, these dark forces awaken, and so you feed them. You acknowledge them. You don’t ignore them.
Student: Is mahamudra a companion, you know, coupled with Vajrayana practice as a….
Student: …emptiness to form?
Ken: Yeah. Essentially. Yeah.
So, now that’s why I was saying, just for familiarization purposes, you do this no more than once every half hour. And as many of you know from your interviews, when you’ve had a certain point, you don’t need to do it. And you spend the resting of the time in open awareness using guru and yidam practice. Going from here, you know, once a day is enough. If you choose to do this.
Now, I want to talk a little more generally.
When I was preparing for this retreat, it struck me that there may be a connection between the three roots—which are guru, deity and protector—and the three marks of existence. Now, the first one is quite obvious. The yidam, or the deity, is connected with non-self.
As we discussed yesterday, we have all of these different identities, senses of self, each one associated with a whole set of reactive patterns or personality. And one way of looking at yidam practice, is adopting one identity and approaching everything in life from that. And some of you had some interesting experiences doing that. But as we discussed, it’s a step towards non-self.
Rinpoche was once asked, “Why would you practice Vajrayana?” He said, “Once there was a very rich man. Very, very rich. And he went to his teacher and said, ”I’d really like to practice. I’d like to wake up. To be free of these habitual reactions, all of this greed and power and stuff.“ His teacher said, ”Good. I’m glad you’ve come to this intention.“
And the rich man said, ”But I don’t know what to do. I have plenty of wealth, I could just go off into retreat. But I don’t think that’s going to work. And I have so much wealth I could fund temples, and help the poor, but it’s not going to do very much either. I mean it would do a lot of good, but I don’t think it’s going to. I’ll just get attached to that instead.“ And his teacher said, ”Yes, you’re right. This is quite perceptive on your part.“ And the rich man said, ”So what do I do?“ And his teacher said, ”I want you to convert all your wealth into white stones.“
Well, the rich man thought this was kind of strange. But when his teacher didn’t give him any further explanation, he just said, ”Convert all your wealth into white stones.“
So he sold a business here and he sold a business there. And he bought a quarry and mined white stones. And when that quarry was finished he got another one. And he just had to buy quarries all over the world. But gradually, after a great deal of effort, all he had was this gigantic pile of white stones. All of his wealth was exhausted. And he had just this mountainous pile of white stones!
So he went to his teacher and he said. ”Okay, I’m done. Do you want to see this pile of white stones?“ The teacher said, ”No. Who needs white stones?“ That’s yidam.
Guru practice. This is about suffering. The cause of our suffering, when you get right down to it, is that we don’t get what we want, and we do get what we don’t want. So we have all of these longings in us. ”I want this. I want that.“ And as many of you experience when you worked with the longing form of faith, all of those other longings said, ”Oh, longing? Yeah,“ and they jumped on board.
Now, the instructions I’ve given you here is, you don’t try to end those longings, you follow them. You follow them completely. So you want your guru to be the father or mother you never had. Do you get this?
Ken: You want your guru to be the lover you never had. Do you get this?
Ken: You want your guru to take care of you the way you always wanted to be taken care of. Do you get that?
So when you really go into all of these longings, you come to the end of them. And the end being, this is never going to happen. Yes?
Student: Is that like the Rolling Stones song?
Ken: You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Yes that’s right.
Student: I can’t get no satisfaction, either.
Ken: Ah, poor Mick Jagger. Still doing the same thing now, thirty years later. Forty years later!
So the guru is about suffering.
That leaves the protector. Well, we know from our discussion this morning, that the ancient roots of the protector were about survival. But, are you going to survive this experience we call life?
Student: Mmm hmm.
Ken: Is survival a worthwhile goal to aim for?
Student: Waste of time.
Ken: If you open up this protector energy in you, are you going to survive?
Ken: No. So the protector is all about that. Coming to understand and know, directly, from your own experience. You can’t survive this.
Trungpa’s immortal phrase,
The problem with a lot of you is you want to be present at your own funeral. You can’t wake up and have a sense of self at the same time. It’s just not possible. You have to die.
Ken: Okay. Let’s do the chants. Is there any questions? We have time for a couple of them.
Student: I think you’ve already answered them.
Ken: Okay. Julia?
Julia: Is the instruction for practice tonight that we work with Mahakala or that we continue to work…
Ken: No do….
Julia: …with dakinis?
Ken: Yes, that’s fine. It’s all the same energy. So just continue with the practice. And as I say, when you go through this process, opening the mind by joining with the guru, manifesting with the yidam, invoking protectors to take care of everything that prevents you from being awake. You may experience something.
You rest right in that experience. Don’t try to understand it. Don’t try to analyze it. Don’t try to hold onto it. Just rest. If it fades, or you’re distracted, or whatever, then for the rest of that period of meditation, either go back to invoking the guru, or being the yidam, or resting in open awareness. Just resting. Either of those three. Then do the same process the next half hour. You only do this once. I don’t want you doing it too many times.
Student: I have a question.
Student: How does the guru relationship differ from transference?
Ken: It’s quite different. Transference, of course, arises. So you may see the guru as your father, your lover, your mother, or whomever. Guru doesn’t particularly cooperate with that. In fact, he or she doesn’t cooperate much at all. And so, because the guru doesn’t cooperate—and the guru may do this in a lot of different ways—you become more and more aware of it in yourself. Now, if you’re in denial about it, it begins to manifest more and more strongly until you can’t miss it. Some people are remarkably obstinate about this stuff.
Student: What stuff?
Ken: The transference. Whatever you are projecting onto the guru. Then you have a decision point. Are you going to own it as your own projection? Which feels like you’re letting go, of what you’ve always wanted most in your life. Or are you going to hold onto it? If you hold onto it, your spiritual practice stops.
Student: I think that happens in psychiatry too, though. I mean, it’s not spiritual but you come to realize….
Ken: Yes, you do. But it’s really at a different level of depth because of your own practice of meditation, and all the energy that’s coming from that. The psychiatrist doing psychoanalysis, where this comes up, you know, they don’t usually do very much. Right? They listen a lot. Guru tends to take a more active role.
So, you have the famous stories of Naropa. Naropa and Tilopa go for a walk and come to the edge of a cliff. And Tilopa goes, ”You know, if I really had a faithful student, he’d jump off this cliff!” And Naropa jumps off!
And that’s quite dramatic. But in many cases, the guru, the teacher will provoke that. Draw it out. So you really have to see it. Okay.
Chris: Just along those lines, the fundamental difference, though, is the awakening mind. And that is a completely different dynamic.
Ken: Awakening mind on the part of the analyst?
Chris: With guru practice, it’s awakening mind. In transference, it’s dealing actually with patterns. So it’s not the goal, awakening…
Ken: Yes. The goal is different.
Chris: It’s a completely different goal.
Ken: Yes. And that’s a very good point, Chris. Thank you. In most psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, the goal is the assuaging of pain. In the spiritual work, it’s waking up. And there’s a real difference between the two.
Lets do the evening chants.
|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.|