Then and Now, Class 24

Section 1

Ken: Okay, last week we looked principally at…oh, sorry, this is 24? That right, Sandy? Class 24 in the Then and Now series…24, that’s a lot…and it’s April the first! This is not an April Fool’s. I don’t think so, anyway. 2008. Okay.

Last week, we talked about the letting go of the traces in us, when we’ve done something wrong, and we know we’ve done something wrong. And that came down to what are called the four forces in traditional Tibetan Buddhism: regret or remorse, reliance, remedy and resolution. Last week I asked you to consider: what happens in you, when you consider—or think of—good that you have done? What happens in your body? What do you feel? What are the stories that go through your head? So, let’s start there.

Steve, do you have mics for people? Who would like to start? Julia? You’re closest to Steve, so why not. Can we have the other mic over here? Thanks. Go ahead.

Section 2

Julia: Well, it’s a cocktail.

Ken: It’s a what?

Julia: A cocktail.

Ken: A cocktail. A martini or a whiskey sour?

Julia: It’s a fruit cocktail. With some snails in it. On the one hand there’s a clarity and a sense of balance, and then there are stories running also. Like, “Oh what a good person I am,” and then, “No, I’m not really a good person and I shouldn’t be thinking that I’m a good person.” And so there’s a sort of a discursive conversation going on at the same time. And on the other hand, there’s just a knowing, a knowing of having done something, that’s awake, or appropriate or…

Ken: What do you feel in your body?

Julia: Well, that…

Ken: When you go into a situation, you do the right thing; do something good. You think about it afterwards. What happens in your body?

Julia: It’s a sort of release.

Ken: Relaxation?

Julia: It’s a little more energetic than that, I would say.

Ken: Okay. Emotions?

Julia: In my experience, not a lot going on. It’s a sort of a sense of warmth.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Julia: But there aren’t any sort of emotions that I can actually specify, as this or that.

Ken: Okay. And then the stories start up.

Julia: Yes.

Ken: And the stories are undermining, shall we say. They’re the snails, are they?

Julia: Yes, they’re the snails.

Ken: Okay. Chuck.

Section 3

Chuck: I would say, the physical feeling and emotional, has a sort of a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Ken: A good warm and fuzzy feeling.

Chuck: Yeah.

Ken: Okay.

Chuck: Uh-huh. And I don’t have that many stories, because it seems like when I get stories then there’s always a backlash and things start to unravel.

Ken: Okay.

Chuck: So. I try to keep away from the stories.

Ken: All right. Alex.

Section 4

Alex: I would say that sometimes if I’m, you know, involved in some sort of action, or activity, I might not know—or be able to know, at that time, or until sometime later—whether those particular actions were sort of good or not good. I think that—

Ken: Suppose sometime later you find that the action was good. What do you experience then?

Alex: I would say that a good action would be an action that leads to more possibilities in the future.

Ken: Right. But how do you feel when you found out that you did something good?

Alex: I feel some sort of relief, feel better, happy.

Ken: Okay. Cara.

Section 5

Cara: I feel good about it.

Ken: That’s it?

Cara: Well, I guess I don’t know, because I have a funny story about that from today, but—do you mean, like, if I help an old lady across the street, or do you mean if I make something that’s really pretty and the world gets to share in it?

Ken: Your choice.

Cara: Well, I was telling my friend today that, on a general basis, I’m not a very cocky person; like I don’t tend to brag about, you know, things or places or whatever. But there’s something about being in a kitchen that just brings out the braggart in everybody. And I—especially—find that I can sometimes get caught up in that. But then I take that to “who am I trying to be,” and “who is really experiencing this” level, and try not to get—

Ken: So when you make a brilliantly beautiful and delicious pastry, what do you feel?

Cara: I feel pretty awesome! And then, when other people are like, “Oh my God, you should move to China and sell this!” I feel pretty awesome, like.

Ken: Okay. All right. Randye.

Section 6

Randye: Like Julia, I tend to minimize myself a little bit, but I do it in a roundabout way, because what I do is minimize the deed.

Ken: You what?

Randye: I minimize the deed. “Oh, it wasn’t so much…”

Ken: Ah. Okay.

Randye: “…it wasn’t that big a deal.” And I realize that part of the process of that is to ward off feeling bad about myself. Because I define myself as a person who does nice things for other people. And therefore if I don’t, I’m not a good person, and that ties in with the minimization.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Randye: The emotion is a little bit of embarrassment, but also feeling okay, feeling good.

Ken: And your body?

Randye: Almost a shrinking, a feeling small in my body.

Ken: So doing good…you shrink away from that.

Randye: Not the doing good, the taking credit for it.

Ken: Feeling it.

Randye: Feeling it.

Ken: Yep. There’s an inhibition there. Okay. Pat?

Section 7

Pat: Well, actually when I heard the assignment on the podcast, I only thought of doing something good. I didn’t think of when I do things because I don’t want approval; I only—which I do a lot—I only thought of just doing something good—more in a pure way—when things really feel good because you’ve just done them. And, so, I forgot about all those other things that I do for approval, which I really make a distinction between the two.

The stuff that’s more ego, and what will they think, you know. “Won’t they think I’m great?” And I’ve really gotten in touch with that part lately, and how much pain that causes me. And how much suffering comes out of that. So I’ve tried to stop doing that.

But the other part—which tends to be very visible—I have such a sense of well-being from it, and I feel so grounded, and it comes from such a place of, I can’t explain it, it’s a, there’s no question there’s no—

Ken: Full of certainty.

Pat: Yeah. It’s very solid. It’s very grounded. And because of that, it’s effortless. That isn’t to say there’s a lot of work, but it’s an effortless kind of effort.

Ken: Things flow.

Pat: Yeah. It’s just the way. And therefore you can be very generous, and very compassionate in the way that you do it.

Ken: Okay. Elena.

Section 8

Elena: Well, I wish I would feel that! No, I don’t, I can’t feel good about that. I don’t know, I just…anything I can think about that I’ve done, in a good way, or in a right way, I don’t know, either way. I feel bad at any level. No, seriously. Like, you know, I can’t accept almost that I did something good. There’s always something wrong about it. And at any level—like at a physical level—lots of stories, overwhelmed by stories.

Ken: Okay. Okay, Steve.

Section 9

Steve: Juxtaposing this with thinking about doing something bad…

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Steve: …which I came to feel is usually some sort of cut-off, or distraction, and there was definitely some sort of sadness, and more a present feeling where there’s some sort of an awareness of a sort of human condition—compassionate feeling but it had a sadness in it.

Ken: Okay.

Steve: That’s what I came up with.

Ken: What about when you thought of somebody else doing good. What did you feel then? Elena, we can start with you.

Section 10

Elena: Well, the first thing I feel at any level, is some sort of jealousy but it changes…

Ken: So you feel bad about yourself doing good, and jealous if others do good. Rough world!

Elaine: I know, I must be a very bad person! But then, it always goes back to me somehow, like I feel jealous because I can’t do that in…

Ken: Or you feel you can’t. Yeah.

Elena: …some way, you know. So it always goes back to the other thing anyway. So I feel trapped into the first thing, you know, the first thing, so…

Ken: Okay. Pat?

Section 11

Pat: Yeah, I guess a little of that. I mean, I think I always feel frustrated by feeling powerless over not, maybe, being able to do more when I see people doing a lot of things for others, and not having the power or the resources. But I don’t know…somehow I couldn’t relate to that, of what I felt about other people doing good. I couldn’t, like, touch that, for some reason.

Ken: Okay. Randye.

Section 12

Randye: I feel an unmitigated warm, fuzzy feeling towards that person. And you know, the thought that this is such a wonderful person who’s doing all these wonderful things, and I feel gratitude that that person is a part of my life. And I wondered at that point, that by contrast if maybe to balance my own self minimization, I was expanding, you know, making more expansive the contribution of others.

Ken: Okay.

Randye: But it’s just purely a good feeling.

Ken: All right.

Section 13

Cara: I feel bad because Randye is good! And I’m not good! [Laughter]

Student: [Unclear]

Cara: I think up until recently it would totally depend on my relationship to the person. If I liked them and they did good, then it’s all like high fives and cartwheels. And if I didn’t like them and they did good, then it was all jealousy and like laser stares, but…you know, I can’t make faces on a podcast.

But I would say that the more that I’ve developed my own sense of self-efficacy, and self-esteem and all that jazz, that regardless of how I might feel about a person, or about how they behave, when they are successful, or when they do things that come from a place of compassion, or you know, a more enlightened sensibility then I’m just happy to be present…

Ken: Okay.

Cara: …in that.

Ken: Okay. You don’t want to touch that microphone right now! Come on, Julia! [Laughter]

Section 14

Julia: Well, I can do what Randye does for about a second, then the stories start about what a bad person I am, and I ought to be doing more, and why am I so selfish, and why aren’t I out doing x, y, and z in the world? The whole concatenation—

Ken: The whole titan thing comes up.

Julia: Completely.

Ken: Okay.

Julia: Well I, you know…I find a wonderful, sort of self-bashing dynamic sets up.

Ken: Yeah. All right. Chuck.

Section 15

Chuck: I think I can see, in different situations, all of these occurring, you know, being jealous, or being—when somebody does something nice—spontaneous, having a good feeling, and saying, “Hey, that’s great!” So, I think there’s—it depends on the situation—I think all those things can come up.

Ken: Okay.

Section 16

Alex: When I think about somebody else doing something good, then I feel, maybe I feel myself, that I am helped by that. That their actions may be sort of helpful for other people.

Ken: Steve.

Section 17

Steve: There was, in both of these, whether it was towards me or someone else—I’m trying to articulate it—but somehow, it kept putting me in touch with how many people are suffering. With how much suffering there is in the world. And that an act of kindness and goodness is a beautiful warm moment in the midst of how many people don’t have that.

Ken: Mmm-hmm.

Steve: Don’t get to feel that. And I felt that in both exercises.

Section 18

Ken: Well, a wide range of feelings, quite a mixture of feelings. The feeling or emotion we’re talking about here is joy. And, one of the ways of preparing, or generating goodness in us, is to take joy in the good works of others. And as several of you have noted, it can bring up jealousy. Now, it brings up jealousy because there’s a sense of deficiency in us. And, as Cara noted, when we feel good about ourselves, it’s much easier to feel good about others. And if we don’t feel good about others, it’s really because we don’t feel good about ourselves. And so, that’s a very, very important point.

Now, when it comes to generating bodhicitta, that’s awakening mind, it’s very important not to feel deficient. Otherwise you’re not going to be able to give rise to this great aspiration, this great intention.

So just as the traces of, to quote Eliot, things ill done and done to others’ harm weigh us down and disturb us, so an inability to take joy in the good works of others—if we aren’t able to do that, it means that we’re harboring a small-minded, deficient attitude about ourselves. And this is not a proper basis for generating the aspiration or the intention to help others.

I mean, if we fundamentally believe we aren’t able or can’t do good, and everyone else can do things like that, how can we give rise to such a good aspiration? And that’s why it’s part of the preparatory process, so that we can actually meet that sense of deficiency in ourselves.

Now, like everything else, that sense of deficiency is ultimately baseless. That’s one of the reasons why I asked you to look at this in terms of what you feel physically in your body, in terms of the emotions and also in terms of the stories.

I’m quite sure that any image of ourselves that is negative, such as “I can’t do this, or I’m less than others,” is a learned self-image. I really don’t think that we come into the world feeling that naturally. Quite specifically, it means that we either may have encountered a situation—but far more common, it’s because somebody else viewed us that way. Someone with whom we needed to maintain a connection, and so we absorbed that person’s way of viewing ourselves…of viewing us. It’s an internalized, learned self-image.

And if we go to our body, most of the time when we see other people doing good, our body understands that’s a good thing, and it feels good about that, and when we do good, our body understands that, and feels good about that. So, going to the body is a way of starting to cut through that internalized negative self-image.

Section 19

Now, if you turn to page 162, in Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation, you see we have rejoicing in virtues. Now, both Guenther and Konchog Gyaltsen, I believe, once again screwed up the translation here.

Guenther, which is on page 127, talks about, It has been so rooted from the time, and just completely misunderstood what’s going on here.

And Konchog Gyaltsen talks about whatever root virtues. I’d like you to cross out root virtues and put virtuous roots, which I think is a better translation.

Student: What page?

Ken: Page 162 in Konchog Gyaltsen. You see that section that’s indented: whatever root virtues were established by the limitless, countless, inconceivable Buddhas, etc., whatever virtuous roots.

Now, the reason I’m suggesting that—when you are talking about karma, one of the things that I suggested was that karma can be looked at as a process of evolution. And the metaphor for karma is of a plant growing and bearing fruit. So here, these aren’t root virtues in the sense of basic virtues. These are virtuous roots, in the sense of things which are going to grow into great results. And it just reads better that way.

The second thing when you go through this list: first it’s about all of the buddhas and the ten directions, and the three times, and whatever they did in the process of coming to awakening. And then the next indent is about whatever they did, the virtuous roots, in having come to awakening, in teaching the dharma. And then the third is the virtuous roots, from the time that they passed from this life, (that’s what the parinirvana means), until their particular cycle of teachings disappears, which is, like, usually several thousand years.

So, when you read this, the time span and the scale are huge! In, for instance, it is said that Jamgon Kongtrul the Great, who is one of the principal, most highly-regarded of the nineteenth century teachers, will be born as the thousandth buddha of this kalpa, of this particular time period, where Shakyamuni was the fourth buddha. So there’s a lot to go.

And that his aspiration for bodhicitta was to do as much to help sentient beings as all the 999 buddhas before him. In other words, this is all about thinking big. Not being limited to a particular time and locality. Now this, of course, is classical mythic thinking, and it’s very, very powerful.

We have a problem with mythic thinking, and I don’t know, I don’t think anybody knows what the answer is. In earlier cultures, before the advent of modernism, you could give rise to these aspirations and in some way, feel that it was actually going to unfold that way, but not get terribly trapped by the literalism.

With the advent of modernism, where we see these things from psychological and conditioned perspectives, and we have a very different sense of ourselves in time and space and the world and everything like that, and we interpret myths as symbols and see them as symbols, and not as things that are literally true. Then when we give rise to these aspirations, part of us knows that it’s just a way of thinking.

And yet part of us would also really like to be able to do that, to work on that scale. And when it comes to developing bodhicitta and awakening mind, it is really, really good to let yourself feel that you can really work on that scale.

In the Zen tradition, for instance, the vows of bodhicitta are Sentient beings are infinite in number, I vow to save them all. The reactive emotions are limitless; I vow to release them all. The ways of entering the dharma are infinite; I vow to enter them all. You know, the way of the Buddha is, or the ways of enlightenment are, unsurpassable—I vow to master them, or become them completely.

It’s a very, very powerful way of thinking, and so in this reflection, which is rejoicing in the virtues of others, you think of all of the wonderful things that people have done throughout time and space and history—planting these virtuous roots, and all of the goodness that comes out of that. And you just take joy in all of this. Not with the idea that I should be able, you know—I’m deficient because I haven’t done all that yet, which is somewhat the story that goes on in many of us—but rather the opposite, that these are all wonderful things. May I be able to do them in the future, too. And so they become a source of inspiration and motivation, rather than a source of jealousy.

Section 20

Now, so rejoicing in the virtues of others is very explicitly a way of counteracting jealousy. Now one of the things you can do to start practicing this is, in your daily life, whenever you see somebody doing good, intentionally take joy in that.

And as some of you have noted in your comments, you’ll only be able to do that sincerely—not artificially—if you feel good about yourself. So, whenever you feel bad about yourself, open to that experience, not as a fact, but as a story. So you get used to regarding any feeling of being bad about yourself as a story.

Now that’s not going to work through it completely, but it’s going to be a very good start. Because through doing this, you will diminish the extent to which you’re identifying with that negative self-image.

And I am not saying replace it with a positive self-image, but in that open space, just see what’s there. And you will see, over time, that there is actually no basis for being jealous of others; that if they do good, that’s good.

Section 21

And so, it goes through all of these lists, and this is all really mythic stuff, you know:

whatever root virtues were established from the time they
        passed into parinirvana until the dharma teachings disappear;
whatever virtuous roots were established in between manifestations
        of all the bodhisattvas;

Just whatever good all these spiritual figures have done. It finally comes down to whatever virtuous roots were established by ordinary beings.

Now, when you start doing this it may feel a little artificial, but as you practice it, it becomes more and more familiar. So it can build its own momentum.

Section 22

Then the next section of preparation is requesting the wheel of dharma to be turned. This is a formal phrase for asking for teachings.

Now, strictly speaking, one should never teach unless asked.

When we were preparing for the three-year retreat in France, we were all busy building the retreat. One day Gyaltsen Rinpoche’s secretary came and talked to us and said, “When are you going to get around to asking Rinpoche for the empowerments?”

We didn’t realize—oh, that we had to ask for that formally. We were just waiting for him to give them to us.

Now this may seem a silly piece of formal ritual, but it really underlies something that’s very, very important. Unlike many religions, Buddhism is not a proselytizing religion, though there are a few sects which try to convert people. But, that’s really not the mainstream.

One of the—I don’t want to use the word precepts—one of the principles in Vajrayana, is not to teach to someone who isn’t interested. And so out of that comes this notion of formally requesting teachings. That way, the teacher knows that they’re teaching to someone who is interested. And there’s fertile ground here.

And it also means when you ask for teaching, you are expressing your interest. And so you are less likely to take the availability of teaching—the availability of guidance—for granted. Which is something, that when we’re hanging around in Buddhist circles, “Well, it’s always going to be there; it’s cool, we don’t have to worry about it.” But it’s not.

Learning has to start from our own interest, and in a certain sense this is saying, take responsibility for your own practice. And one of the ways you take responsibility is to ask for guidance and teaching, and not just assume it’s going to be given to you, which is essentially a passive role.

And then the next one, beseeching teachers, buddhas, not to take parinirvana.

The idea here is that you know, well, everything dies, everybody dies, even buddhas don’t hang around in the world forever. Getting enlightened doesn’t stop you from dying.

Now, there’s a heavy mythic element in here, in that somehow the buddhas are just manifesting life and death and so forth, and so they can pop off into their parinirvana any time. So you pray to them not to leave the world.

This is a very elaborate way of relating to the theme of impermanence. Things aren’t going to be around all the time. And so, by making this request, you’re actually reminding yourself that you’re not always going to have this relationship with your teacher. It’s something, it’s going to go the way of all relationships, that is, one day it’s going to be over. It will come to an end.

So even though it’s put into this very formal language, of asking the teachers not to disappear and go off, it really is a way of reminding ourselves that all things pass, and we need to make use of the opportunities that are available to us. Yep. Okay.

And then the last one, dedication, again I would suggest you translate this as virtuous roots, not root virtues. This is to counteract the tendency to form a self-image about doing good. You know, “I’m a good practitioner.”

Rinpoche, on this, used to say that when we do good, we dedicate it to the welfare of others immediately, before any of three emotions can arise: pride, anger and, uh, I actually can’t remember the third one…I think it’s desire.

One is, if we do good and then we think, “Oh, what a good person I am,” now we’ve corrupted the good. And if we do good and then get angry at somebody, we’ve basically annihilated the good.

And then if we do good and we think, “I need to do more of that to make myself better!” It’s kind of a greedy attitude. So, in the Tibetan tradition, as soon as we’ve done any virtuous acts—and we do this when we gather here—we dedicate the virtue at the end, before any of those emotions can creep in and corrupt the process.

And Rinpoche used to say, it’s like taking a teaspoon of water, that’s the virtue that we’ve done, and if you just leave it, you know, the sun shines and it just evaporates and it’s gone. But if you take it and pour it into the sea, then it lasts forever.

It’s also very much in keeping with the whole Mahayana framework. In that, we’re entering into this extremely large, multifaceted, infinite universe, which spans all space and time. And so we want to plant seeds which are going to span all space and time. So everything is dedicated to the welfare of all beings. It’s a way of encouraging this attitude in this, not to think small at all, but to think consistently in terms of the totality of our experience.

Now, one of the things that I’ve said that I would do, and several people who’ve been listening to the podcasts have requested, is to go over the prayers that we do, before and after the teaching periods here. Could I borrow a copy of the prayers from somebody?

Thank you, Cara.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken; Yeah, parinirvana.

Student: [Unclear]

Ken: Oh, Thank you. Okay.

Section 23

In the Tibetan tradition, we almost always start with some form of lineage prayer. Usually, the prayer reflects that teacher’s particular lineage.

In the Gelugpa tradition it would be like Je Tsongkhapa; in the Kagyu tradition it would be Vajradhara, and then coming through Gampopa to the Karmapas, often with Tilo, [Tilopa] Naro [Naropa], and Marpa.

In the Nyingmas, usually centered on Guru Rinpoche, Guru Padmasambhava, and so forth.

Here I’ve chosen a generic lineage, and that’s the lineage of the Perfection of Wisdom. The actual prayer was written by a woman in the twelfth century, whose name is Machik Labdron, who was very much a devotee of the Perfection of Wisdom.

As a young woman, she learned to read, and she just read Perfection of Wisdom sutras in the homes of the rich to earn money, for hours and hours and hours, and just absorbed the stuff very deeply.

So, Perfection of Wisdom, and the Perfection of Wisdom is regarded as the mother of buddhas. Buddhas are born from the Perfection of Wisdom. And then it goes through what are called the four thoughts which turn the mind to the dharma, four motivations.

The difficulty of obtaining the precious human form, which we went through earlier in our study of Jewel Ornament. And so, Give me the energy to realize its potential, and then impermanence, The ultimate foe, the Lord of Death.. And here the prayer is to live a life of no regret, so that when we die, we regret nothing.

And then the third is karma. The laws of the way things are is a way of describing karma, and the key to being free of generating karmic traits, which are going to cause suffering in the future, is to live without shame.

And the next stanza is about the six realms. The realms projected by the emotional states: things like anger, and pride and jealousy and so forth. So one, it says, not to take birth in these states. This means not to succumb or fall into those ways of experiencing the world, and thus be free of those emotions.

And then the next stanza is about where we go for refuge, the three jewels, and that’s covered in the talk on refuge, which was two—three or four weeks ago, probably.

And then the next one is about opening to loving kindness and compassion for all sentient beings.

And finally the last stanza is about knowing the nature of mind.

And then…Steve?

Steve: What about the [unclear]?

Ken: The four thoughts are—

Steve: Three…

Ken: Well the fourth one is the shortcomings of samsara. Which is the six realms. Okay?

And then we take refuge, and generate awakening mind. And that’s the Until I awaken, I take refuge in buddha, dharma and the supreme assembly. Supreme assembly refers to the sangha of bodhisattvas.

And then, Through the goodness of generosity and other virtues—that means the six perfections, which we’ll be coming to shortly in our study of Jewel OrnamentMay I awaken fully in order to help all beings.

These four lines were written by Atisha in the eleventh century, and because they so beautifully and succinctly cover refuge and bodhicitta, these two sentiments, they’re used in virtually all of the Tibetan traditions.

We say them three times, so that we have time to reflect and absorb, and really feel the meaning in them. In the Tibetan tradition, we have what are called the three seals. There’s a seal of preparation, in which one takes refuge and engenders bodhicitta. Then there’s the seal of the main practice, which one does without conceptualization, and then there’s the seal of dedication, which we’ll be getting to in a moment. But this is the framework, in which all practice in the Tibetan tradition took place.

In order to remind ourselves that our orientation is for all sentient beings, we cultivate the four immeasurables, which we find in the next verse. May all beings enjoy happiness and the seeds of happiness is the immeasurable of loving-kindness.

May they be free from suffering and the seeds of suffering is the immeasurable of compassion.

May they not be separate from true happiness, free of suffering is the immeasurable of joy. And, May they rest in great equanimity, free from preference and prejudice is, of course, equanimity.

Section 24

Then at the end of our teaching periods, meditation periods, we do the dedication prayers.

Again, in the Tibetan tradition, the conclusion of practice actually had three kinds of prayers: one was dedication, second was aspiration, and the third were prayers for good fortune for all. And we have these in very concise form here.

We have three dedication prayers. The first is to use this goodness to overcome unwholesomeness, that is, the enemy—wrong action. And so, through that, freeing all beings from the vicissitudes of samsara.

The second is a verse from the Shangpa tradition, which I like as a way of dedicating merit because it’s dedicating it free from any conceptual mind, to dedicate it in the realm of totality.

I do not cling in any way
To the virtue and goodness I have generated.
In order that all beings may benefit from it
I dedicate it in the realm of totality.

Which means to say that I have no sense of having done virtue, or of there being virtue; I’m just free from any conceptual mind. So, a total openness.

And the third verse here is a traditional one:

This virtue and all virtues gathered in the three times
I dedicate as all buddhas do
To supreme non-residing awakening.
May I attain the state of union in this life.

This term non-residing awakening, refers to—it doesn’t reside in samsara, that is, in confusion, and it also doesn’t reside in the quietude of nirvana. This isn’t the nirvana the way that’s understood in the Theravadan tradition, but in the Mahayana tradition.

One form of nirvana was kind of a place to become free of samsara, but you weren’t really working for the welfare of others. So, it’s just a really nice way to hang out indefinitely. But the term non-residing awakening means you’re not resting in confusion, you’re not resting in that kind of passive expression of wisdom. You aren’t resting anywhere; you’re fully engaged in life itself.

Then, aspiration, we just use one prayer here, and this is the aspiration for bodhicitta, or awakening mind.

And then finally, good fortune prayers, there are many, many forms that these can take. These are ones that I came across which I liked. The first one is based in the Vajrayana: The energy of the lineage teachers or gurus uses the metaphor of clouds gathering in the sky.

Out of that, a pouring down of abilities into us, which is the abilities that come through practicing deity meditation, coming down like rain, and then through that, activating the awareness, which takes symbolic expression, in the dakinis and protectors.

There’s awareness, which knows exactly what to do. It doesn’t depend on deduction or inference. There’s just that very, very, direct knowing that’s at the very heart of all of us.

The two aims here—Good fortune: may the two aims come about naturally. The two aims are the aim for ourself, which is freedom from samsara, and the aim for others, is that the welfare of others be taken care of so that they are also free from samsara. So the two aims refer to ourselves and others.

And then, the last verse, again, is the power of aspirations; the power of dependence and conditions, or interdependence; and the power of what is. It’s the power of being itself. May all these various forces, produce good for the world. And it’s a prayer that good fortune spread everywhere for all beings.

So this is the framework of prayers that we use at the beginning and end of the meditation sessions here. Okay.

Now we turn to the…yes, Chuck?

Section 25

Chuck: Are the prayers more of a learning tool than a praying to something?

Ken: Well, many of the prayers embody so much teaching, that when you read and memorize them it’s a way of just taking that stuff in. So, in that sense, yes, they are a learning tool and can be very useful as a learning tool and as a reminder. But also these are prayers, these are sentiments and attitudes that you’re forming.

And you can, in a certain sense, yes, you are praying to the teachers; you’re praying to the buddhas. Now, you can say, “Well, what am I praying to? They’re just reflections of my own mind.” But in that sense you’re praying to the awakened aspect of your own mind, even if you don’t know it. So that it actually communicates with you.

So, this is, you might say a conversation, a very deep conversation you’re having with the totality of your own experience. So that it leads you to relate to your own experience in a way which moves you towards awakening. You can look at it that way. Okay?

Chuck: Thanks.

Ken: All right. But many people find, because they have connections with a particular figure, or particular expression that they feel like they’re really praying…praying to Tara or to Guru Padmasambhava or to their teacher or something like that. And it allows all of their emotional energy to go into this. And that pouring of emotional energy into prayer, just opens one up hugely, so that things can actually come in.

So I find that sincere prayer takes you right into the depths of your heart. And when you pray that way, things can happen very, very quickly. Steve.

Section 26

Steve: Hi, before we get off the subject, I’ve wondered about the term prayer in Buddhist teachings as opposed to in many other religions. Obviously it’s the same word. Could you elaborate a little bit, because my instinct about it is, there is something different quality to it…in this.

Ken: Well. In Catholic contemplative work, there are several different kinds of prayer recognized. There’s petitionary prayer, where you’re asking for something. There’s ejaculatory prayer, which is just a spontaneous expression of feeling. And there’s contemplative prayer, which is what we would call meditation. And these are all different forms of prayer, and I think there are additional ones. Those are the ones that I’m familiar with.

There’s the centering prayer: Lord Jesus have mercy upon me, a sinner. Which is used very much as a mantra in Catholic contemplative practice. And these are all regarded as different forms of prayer. So, when we use the word prayer in the Catholic context, we’re really talking about meditation, in many different forms.

When we talk about prayer in Buddhist practice, we have very explicit meditation practices, but those can, and often do, include various forms of prayer, particularly in the Tibetan tradition. And the word prayer—there are two kinds of prayer, broadly speaking. One is…the Tibetan is gsol debs which means, literally, to ask for something. So again, it’s petitionary prayer.

And then the other is smon lam, which basically means aspiration, giving rise to big thoughts. So you’re aspiring to these wonderful things.

Now the lineage prayer at the beginning that we did, you know,

Perfection of Wisdom, mother of buddhas and union of refuges,
I pray to you from the bottom of my heart.

then you go through and you’re asking for various things. And you’re asking for these various spiritual qualities.

Now, going back to what Chuck said, just a few moments ago, are you praying to something? Well, yes you are, you’re praying to the Perfection of Wisdom. Whether you regard that as a goddess—because there is a Perfection of Wisdom who has four arms, etc., in the iconography—and feel a lot of faith in that, or you regard the Perfection of Wisdom as the wisdom aspect of your own mind…in a certain sense, it doesn’t make any difference. That you can relate to either of those, there’s an emotional element that goes into that, and in praying to the Perfection of Wisdom for these spiritual qualities, if you really let yourself feel how much you want that, and you open up emotionally to that, then it becomes very powerful. And for some people it’s more powerful as a symbol, for some people it’s more powerful as a god, or deity or goddess. That’s really up to the individual practitioner.

When you’re taking refuge and generating bodhicitta, strictly speaking, those aren’t prayers in the ways that I’ve just defined in those two kinds of prayers; these are repetition of sentiments. They’re ways of reminding yourself, and taking that very, very much to heart.

The four immeasurables, again, are sentiments that you’re seeking to engender in yourself.

When you get into prayers such as the Mahamudra prayer, which you’ll find a translation up on the website, and other things, these are the things, “may I do this, may I do this”—it’s a way of giving expression to your spiritual aspirations. [Aspirations for Mahamudra] And as you may recall that one of the two kinds of bodhicitta, awakening to what is apparently true, is the bodhicitta of aspiration and the bodhicitta of engagement, and bodhicitta of aspiration is all about saying, “May I do this, may I do this, may I do this,” and just being big and big.

Because when you think this way, then your mind actually becomes more open and becomes bigger, and allows you to open to the fullness of your experience. So these prayers are, when you take them to heart like this, very, very powerful methods of practice. That answer your question, Steve?

Steve: Yep.

Ken: Okay, Randye.

Section 27

Randye: You’re using the word aspiration, and I’ve never thought of these as intercessionary but rather a statement of intention and commitment, which is what we talked about a few weeks back, about taking refuge itself.

Ken: Yeah. The aspiration prayers are very much a statement of intention.

Randye: But not just as an aspiration, but as an immediate-this is what I’m striving towards. I intend to work towards this.

Ken: Mmmm-hmmm.

Randye: Is that—

Ken: Yes. Both of those.

Randye: Okay.

Ken: Yeah. But if you give rise to aspirations, then you give yourself something to move towards. Was it Browning who said, A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

Randye: I can aspire and sit there like a lump on a log and do nothing, or I can aspire and start moving in that direction. I think that’s the distinction I’m trying to make. That this is a statement of intention to move, to actually do something in the world.

Ken: It’s very much a statement of intention, but as Rinpoche used to say, When you can’t do something, aspire to do it. And it sets something in motion, so that it creates the conditions which can actually bring about the ability to do that.

Randye: To do that. Okay.

Ken: Okay.

Randye: Okay.

Ken: Okay. Alex.

Section 28

Alex: When the line says, The laws of the way things are work internally, I was wondering if you could say more about that? To me it seems that, you know, the way things are comes about both from, you know, internal sort of experience and also the external world.

Ken: The laws of the ways things are refers exactly to the workings of karma. Internally here, refers to in our experience. So, in this sense, what’s being referred to here, is that whatever we experience has been set in motion by our own actions. And that it’s internal in that sense.

So that, anything that happens to us—the way that we experience it—is the product of our own conditioning. And in this sense, it’s telling us that we are agents of our own experience. That is, we—through what we do—determine how we experience things.

Alex: Does this mean anything else other than that? Because it seems like, beyond just sort of a cause and effect of specific actions, there’s also a sense of, you know, in meditation practice, maybe it’s kind of a transformation…of…sort of our kind of mental and physical energy.

Ken: I think it means all of that. But it’s primarily referring to the actions that we do in body, speech, and mind. Shaping our experience.

Alex: Thank you.

Section 29

Ken: So now we’re going to turn to the actual ceremony. This has all being laying the groundwork. Don’t forget, this is the ceremony in the tradition of Shantideva. The actual vow is relatively short. On page 163 [Gyaltsen], you’ll see,

From the beginning to end
Of beginningless and endless samsara,
In order to perform limitless activities for the benefit of sentient beings,
In front of the lord of the world,
I cultivate bodhicitta.

In most of the ceremonies, the form that is used now is on the next page, on the top of page 164:

Just as the previous sugatas
Gave birth to an awakening mind
And just as they successfully dwelt
In the bodhisattva practices—
Likewise for the sake of all that live
Do I give birth to an awakening mind,
And likewise shall I too
Successfully follow the practices.

Now, that’s repeated three times. This is the awakening mind as aspiration. And you’re saying—what one is saying here, is that, just as all of the buddhas of the past have done, they gave rise to awakening mind. They engaged in these activities, so, this is what I intend to do. I am going to do this; it’s an aspiration or an intention one is forming. And one repeats it three times in the presence of one’s teacher, in order to take, for that aspiration to really take root in one’s heart. But that is the actual bodhisattva vow in this tradition.

And then, you see the conclusion is making offerings. This is basically a way of celebrating: and meditate on vast joy and happiness about the great accomplishment.

The point here is to celebrate what one has done.

Now, another exercise I could have given you, so we’ll just do this quickly here.

Section 30

What happens in you when somebody celebrates something that you’ve done? You know, that maybe you won a race, maybe you won a contest, maybe you just did something quite well. What happens in you when somebody celebrates that? Alex, we’ll start with you.

Section 31

Alex: What happens when somebody celebrates…?

Ken: Something that you’ve done.

Alex: I don’t know. Nobody celebrates anything I’ve done.

Ken: [Laughs] Okay. Chuck.

Section 32

Chuck: Well, you feel good about it. You know, like, if you’re playing basketball and you hit a basket, and somebody says, “Good job!” you feel good that you did something right.

Ken: Right. And what’s the effect on you going forward?

Chuck: You have energy to do it again.

Ken: Right. You get confidence?

Chuck: Yes.

Ken: Right. Okay. Steve. What happens to you?

Section 33

Steve: I wonder how much I can get paid for it? [Laughter] I think that what Chuck said is that it encourages or motivates, to continue on whatever path…

Ken: Okay.

Steve: …that you’ve embarked on.

Ken: Cara, what about you? Where is the other mic?

Cara: I don’t know. Steve’s hogging them.

Section 34

Cara: Umm…I don’t know!

Ken: That was a wonderful batch of cookies you just made! They were so goooood!

Cara: See, I knew it was going to come back to pastries. I’m so predictable.

Ken: Well, it just happens to be what you are engaged in these days.

Cara: Well, my final project last term was I made pâte sucrée with white chocolate and with a lemon-lime cardamom curd, with mixed berries and raspberry compote on top.

Ken: You didn’t bring any here!

Cara: No, I didn’t. I gave it to the nine-year-old that I spend most of my time with. And the look of joy on her face when she tasted it…because a child will not fake it for you.

Ken: So that look of joy was her celebration of it.

Cara: It was. Well, I felt like all of the love energy that I put into making it was, like, I felt, like, “Wow!” you know. This little person totally digs what I’m doing. And I’m doing it because I want her to dig it, and I want her to know that there’s love in it. So it feels like, you know, like there’s a real joy in it, because it’s something that I can give to people.

Ken: So you feel good about yourself and it has an effect on you. Doesn’t it?

Cara: It does. It makes me want to do more of it…

Ken: Okay.

Cara: …for others.

Ken: Right.

Section 35

Randye: It’s a different…little bit different feeling about—well, actually, for me, probably a lot different feeling—about doing good, versus doing good and having somebody recognize it.

Ken: Mmm-hmm. So you do good, and somebody, you know, maybe not somebody, maybe everybody in the universe, celebrates. What effect does that have on you?

Randye: It’s a real validation, and a motivation…

Ken: Mmm-hmm. Okay.

Randye: …to continue and do more.

Ken: Okay. Pat. You’ve had a few things celebrated that you’ve done.

Section 36

Pat: Well, I know, but I actually realize what people acknowledge about me is not necessarily what I feel good about. Like, I was on the news the night of the anniversary of the war, so all these people keep saying to me, “Oh, we saw you on the news! You know, there she is! Blah, blah, blah!”

And I was, like, so embarrassed, and all I could think about, and I kept saying to people. “Oh yeah, you know, aging chick protesting war.” Because that’s how I see it, you know. Rah, rah, rah.

Ken: If you let that go, what would you feel?

Pat: Aging chick, protesting the war!

Ken: Okay. Fine.

Pat: No, I just felt I did my job.

Ken: Okay.

Pat: So I did my job. And I was…I didn’t feel particularly…you know, it’s like I did my job.

Ken: Okay. Elena.

Section 37

Elena: Well, it’s kind of similar to what she said. Yeah, it is, but Cara, she made me think about something that I did like a year ago.

I made some french fries, like the way I make them; it’s sort of an Italian thing. And they were like, very good, I have to say. And these two kids that I was babysitting, they just got, like, completely insane. But I was happy about it, but also a little embarrassed.

And I will always feel that at the end, like there’s always a little embarrassment.

Ken: Okay, thank you.

Section 38

Ken: So, many of you have said that when somebody celebrates what you’ve done, it inspires you to do more. Okay? This is why we have the celebration here at the end. Because now you’ve given rise to this attitude to help others, and feel that the whole world is celebrating what you’ve done. It inspires you, it gives you confidence. It allows you to say, “Yeah, I’m really going to do this!” And it just pushes more momentum into that.

That’s the point of making these offerings and having this vast joy and happiness said about it. And then as we just referred to, ordinarily you would conclude the ceremony with doing the dedication.

Okay. Here we are at 9:30, so we should close here. What I would like you to do is read over the rest of the chapter for next week. There’s a ceremony in the tradition of Dharmakirti, which is a little different, in that it covers both aspiration awakening mind, and engagement or action awakening mind.

First is on page 164, and the second is on 167. And then, on 168, it goes through the benefits; we won’t spend a long time on that. It’s pretty straightforward.

And I want to spend a little bit of time on what causes one to lose this intention of awakening mind because that’s important. And we’ll be going into that in more detail in the next chapter, Chapter 10. Because it’s how you train in the aspiration of awakening mind. So that’s what we’ll be doing then. And in terms of homework, let’s see.

Section 39

In terms of practice. Yeah. It’s getting a little bit ahead, but one way in which one violates—or loses—the intention of awakening mind, is summarized in two things: succumbing to despair and rejecting a being.

Student: A what?

Ken: Rejecting a being. Saying, “I’ll never help that person ever again, no matter what.”

So, over the next week, I’d like you to look at, and keep track of, to what extent you fall into despair about being able to help others. And if and when, the attitude like “I’m never going to help that person”—a hardening in oneself, if that ever comes up. Yes, Randye?

Randye: Today is my ex-husband’s birthday [unclear]. No, I’m just kidding.

Ken: Okay. It’s your ex-husband’s birthday. Good place for practice. We’ll go into more detail about that next week. But that’s where I’d like to…because these are two really important attitudes, and I’d just like you to explore how frequently they come up, when you fall into them. And what effect it has on you. Okay?

Student: Where are those prayers, those bodhicitta prayers that you talked about? The aspirations? That you were talking about.

Ken: You mean the…oh, those were in there, in the prayers that we do in the end. You mean like the Mahamudra prayer and so forth? You’ll find—

Student: They’re not all in there, are they?

Ken: No, no. You’ll find a bunch up on the website. I mean, there are hundreds, thousands, of these in the Tibetan tradition.

Student: All right. But you put sort of your favorite up on the website?

Ken: I put ones that I’ve translated up on the website. There are many more but I just haven’t got around…

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.