Then and Now, Class 21

Section 1

This is class twenty-one, March 11, 2008.

Today we’re discussing awakening mind, which is kind of a big topic. So I left you with some homework from our last class which was about sitting with a set of twenty-two similes for awakening mind. How was this for you? Randye.

Randye: I got through three and a half.

Ken: That’s good. What was your experience?

Randye: The first three felt familiar in my body, the fourth one started to not touch…not reach anything that I could recognize, and after that I just got totally lost.

Ken: After that it was just words.

Randye: I mean there was nothing there; I couldn’t find any meaning in my body there.

Ken: So, earth, gold and moon you could relate to.

Section 2

Then I see Gampopa says, these three varieties are on the novices level. We need to discuss what novice means here.

One of the points of discussion, I’d like to say consternation—in the Tibetan tradition at least—is between the description of the five paths which are referenced here in this section, and you see the traditional descriptions that you find in the sutras and in the commentaries, versus what people actually experience.

This shows up particularly in some of the mahamudra commentaries, where the stages as described in mahamudra, correspond to the stages described in the five paths, except for one small difference. As we’ll see later on, when you attain the first level of bodhisattva-hood, you can enter a hundred absorptions at will, and you can see a hundred buddhas and go to a hundred pure lands; on the second level and then it’s a thousand and so forth. And people didn’t experience going to a hundred pure lands.

So while these things correspond, why aren’t these attainments, abilities arising like this? Well, one way to look at this is, it’s a difference between a mythic description and a literal description. So when they say novice, one should see this.

It’s good to keep in mind perhaps, that they’re talking mythically here, so that the abilities described are greatly enhanced and elaborated. You just feel like you’re nobody.

Now, why is it expressed in such elaborate language? That is an expression of peoples’ admiration and value that they placed on it. And it’s highly poetic. It’s probably helpful just to give a very brief overview of the five paths; I’ll just do it, if I can, in five sentences.

Section 3

The first path, which is called the path of preparation, or the path of accumulation, or whatever you want to call it—various translations—is about building the basic abilities, and in particular, building a capacity in attention.

The second path, which is called by various names as well: the path of union, the path of accommodation, is as you begin to see things. There’s a lot of adjustment that needs to take place in the system as you begin to see what’s possible. The path of seeing is where you have your first stable experience, or understanding of non-duality, of non-self and all of these things. It’s that initial seeing and a big deal is made out of it.

And then there comes the path of training, whereas now you know what the game is about, now you got work to bring it fully into all aspects of your experience. And that goes through the ten bodhisattva levels up until the path of no training, which is buddhahood.

Now, when you read this you think, “Oh.” And when they say that the establishment of stable awakening mind is equivalent to the first path, you go, “Oh, my god, how does anybody do this?” But if you read this as mythic description, then you say, “Okay, this is a high ideal to aspire to, but what actually happens is somewhat different.” That help?

Anybody else spend some time with this? “No answer came the stern reply.” Cara.

Section 4

Cara: I don’t know that I really absorbed it, so much as I kind of kept getting… number fifteen, possessing special clairvoyance, accompanied by great wisdom is like a great king who can benefit other sentient beings without any restriction. The special clairvoyance accompanied by great wisdom is what I found myself kind of tuning into.

Ken: What’s the metaphor there? It’s the one of the king?

Cara: Yes.

Ken: So you like that one.

Cara: I did.

Ken: You like to be able to know everything?

Cara: No.

Ken: No?

Cara: No. I mean, the clairvoyance, what I was really thinking that meant was more like an intuition.

Ken: A profound intuition.

Cara: Like a profound intuition.

Ken: That’s what I meant by knowing everything, but I understand.

Cara: But just because you can intuit things doesn’t mean that you know everything.

Ken: We’re saying the same thing in different words.

Cara: Okay.

Ken: Yes that would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Cara: Yes.

Ken: Okay. Chuck.

Section 5

Chuck: I started looking at the one about the ocean. First of all, if you just think of the ocean itself, it is disturbed by all sorts of things that are going on. If you think of underneath the surface, the ocean depths, it is very quiet down there, and it isn’t disturbed by all the things that are happening on top, so I think they ought to change it to the ocean depths, instead of just the ocean. Or maybe they left out some words. I don’t know.

Ken: But that’s something you could relate to, you could imagine having a depth of attention, or a depth of presence, so the other stuff, like the waves going on, but deep down…

Chuck: Underneath it all it doesn’t matter.

Ken: All of that stuff just comes and goes.

Chuck: Right.

Ken: That’s probably what they meant here. I don’t think that they meant that the ocean was this calm all right, but things come and go in the ocean, but it does not change. Anybody else? Joe, how about you?

Section 6

Joe: I tried to approach these four at a time, but after the first three, like Randye said, and maybe even with those, I had a reaction of confusion because it seemed so massive. I got into this thing about taxonomy. This is that, and that’s that, and this is that. And then the constructions of the metaphors were so… I was okay if I said bodhichittais like this, but it was all confused with the perfection of this, and the perfection of that and the accompaniment of that. So finally I had to re-remember that the descriptions are descriptive instead of prescriptive.

Ken: That’s a very important point. Yes.

Joe: I get lost in thinking that I should do this to achieve that, so as a result of remembering that, I tried to recognize where these thing were true in my own experience. And that seemed to offer some sort of door into…

Ken: This is very good, Joe, because Joe’s describing how you approach these texts.

Section 7

We will be getting into a lot of—when we go through of the vow of awakening mind, we get into the four black dharmas, and the four white dharmas—all kinds of do’s and don’ts. And when one reads these things particularly coming from the background that we do, it’s very easy to interpret these as a list of should, and what we are meant to be like. But Joe’s point, that these are not prescriptive, they’re not telling you what you “should” be doing, they’re descriptive; they’re telling you what it’s like. And, in general, Buddhist morality is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

So when we read accounts of these lists of dos and don’ts, one way to read these is, this is how a person who is awake behaves. And it is actually quite problematic to try to behave that way when you don’t have either, well any of, or lacking some of, the willingness, the know-how or the capacity.

If we try to do something, and this goes back to what you were referring to last time, Joe, when you said you “aspire to aspire.” That’s a very healthy attitude. Because if we don’t have the capacity, then we aspire to have the capacity, we don’t try to do the thing itself because we don’t have the capacity. So there is a kind of assumption, or an understanding of, you know where you are, and you work with where you are all through this.

Also, when you read this, you get this idea that it’s a nice smooth progression, and you go through all of this, and you become wiser and deeper and more compassionate. It really doesn’t work that way, because as we all know the personality, everybody’s personality, has many, many different bumps and wrinkles to it.

And there are areas of our life where these intentions, these sentiments, these attitudes; they operate, and they operate very powerfully. And then there are other areas of your life, or other situations, when we become a five year old or a reactive this, or what have you.

This is why we have all of that training to do because it is through that training that we come to see where we aren’t awake. And then we bring attention to that and we work on that, so that we can be awake there as well. So there is a constant work here. The idea that there’s one experience of awakening and that takes care of everything—that’s a lovely myth. But it’s a myth.

One of the things I’ve come to observe, in having the very good fortune in another stage of my life, to meet some extraordinarily deeply-trained people—Kalu Rinpoche and the previous Karmapa and so forth—is all of these people have their idiosyncrasies.

Rinpoche hated answering letters. His translator would come in with a stack of letters from all over the world and Rinpoche would say, “Can we just burn them?” And his translator would say “No.” And they’d just go through and he’d write answers to all of them.

Karmapa was quite diabetic and he loved food, particularly sweet food, not exactly the best food for diabetics. So they all have idiosyncrasies. We need to read this with an understanding that these, as I’ve been saying all through this, these are poetic descriptions.

So, seeing where you can connect with them, where you had experiences which, “Oh yes, I can connect with that.” This is a good way to read it, because this way you’re finding those qualities within yourself and now we train in order to be able to expand the areas of our life in which those qualities can manifest.

Okay? So let’s turn to…unless there’s anything anybody else would like to…yes, Randye.

Section 8

Randye: I think it’s the sixth one, and the question is, is this intended to be a sequence? Because as I kind of went through them, there was sort of nothing there, and then I reached the one, which was on ethics and manners, which made no sense to me until I read the footnote, which said, the inspection of what constitutes our physical existence, or emotional and intellectual life, and that which we call the whole of reality. And that sounds a whole lot like the separation of thoughts, feelings and body sensations of experience. Which is something I both practice and teach on a regular basis. Calling it ethics and manners didn’t resonate in any way. But the footnote did.

Ken: What’s the footnote number?

Randye: Number fifteen—in Guenther. Physical, emotional and intellectual life, in that which we call the whole of reality. Page 138.

Ken: Okay. You’re bringing up a very complicated topic here. Let’s go back to…you had trouble with the jewel mine, I think number six. Right?

Randye: [Unclear]

Ken: Okay, in which, When by the perfection of ethics, it is like a jewel mine, forming a solid basis for precious virtues. Page 113.

Now what this is referring to: when your relationship with awakening mind is sufficiently strong that you observe the ethics associated with awakening mind, it’s not just an idea, it becomes how you live, then it’s described as being like a jewel mine, because, from awakening mind, you can only do good. Awakening mind will never lead you to do something harmful or evil. And so, it’s like a jewel mine: you’re just going to get good things out of it. That’s what it’s saying. Okay?

Now, the footnote that you refer to on page 138, footnote 15, you see these are the 37 topics. Usually these are referred to as The Thirty-Seven Factors of Awakening, and before this is the five…later on we’ll come to the five paths; we’ll go into this in more detail.

But this is material which is common to all traditions of Buddhism: the Theravadan, the Mahayana. There are slightly different interpretations of this in the Mahayana and the Theravadan, but they’re basically the same.

And again, going back to Joe’s point, when you read this or encounter this for the first time, you think, “Oh, well, first I got to get this, and then I got to get this and then I got to get that,” but in practice it doesn’t work like that. One builds the ability but at various stages certain ones come out. And they are really very straightforward things, even though people make a big deal out of them.

Now the first four are the first foundations of mindfulness, which is mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of emotional states and mindfulness of experience. Now when you are fully mindful of all aspects of your experience, you’re not doing too badly. So it’s not that you master that and then move onto the next one.

The next one is the four right efforts. And this is just really fundamental common sense—I like to say profound common sense. The first right effort is to reduce the number of things that you are doing that makes things worse. The second one is to stop doing those things which make things worse. The third one is to start doing things which makes things better. And the fourth one is to strengthen those things which make things better.

Well, this isn’t rocket science, but even so, if you actually live, and think, “Okay, this situation isn’t working for me, what am I doing to make things worse, what can I do about that? How can I stop them?” You start thinking in these terms, then you increase the agency you have in your life, internally and externally. And this is what it really means to be awake: that you are able to see things as they are, and work with them as appropriate. So again, you look at these as tools, not as qualities. “Now I’m always doing the right thing.” No, they are ways of approaching life. Does this help? Okay. Good.

Section 9

Okay. The classification, again, we have: accompanied by interest, strong intention, maturation and removal of the two veils, or two distortions. And these are made to correspond with the range of experience from the very beginning stages of spiritual practice, right up to full awakening.

Without worrying too much about all of those stages, let’s just take a look at the four steps that they’re describing here: interest, strong intention, maturation, and removal of the two veils—we can say some kind of awakening.

And think of any area of your life, where you start. You’re interested in something. I mean it could be learning a skill; you start off with an interest in it. You enrolled in cooking school. You start off with an interest in it. I think actually that’s a good example to use here. As that interest gathers momentum, then it becomes a strong intention. And so you start doing things out of that interest. You start taking classes, you start cooking on your own and experimenting with different things, and so forth. Through this process your ability to cook matures. You learn lots of things.

And then, at some point or other, you become a master cook. You really know how it is or maybe it’s just a particular area of cooking, but this is the case whether it’s computer programming, massage therapy, being a doctor; everything goes through those four stages.

We begin with an interest, it becomes an intention, then we go through a process which is usually covered by a lot of training and assimilation. We understand what’s involved, and we are developing the abilities—and there’s usually a lot of effort in that—and finally it becomes just a part of the way that we relate to the world. It becomes part of our repertoire.

That’s what being talked about here, with respect to this quality of awakening mind we hear about. And we go, “Oh, that’s interesting, yeah,” and it resonates with our own spiritual questions, our own spiritual intention. And then we learn more about it, and then we begin to become…not just interested. We think, “I want to live this way.” That’s where it becomes an intention. And as we engage that intention, then we see, “oh, that means I have to learn this, this means I have to have that capability, I need to be able to do this,” and so now we really work at it, and eventually it just becomes part of the way that we relate to the world. That’s what’s being talked about here. Okay?

Now, the next section is why I bought our little flip chart here. Because there is…yes?

Joe: [Unclear]

Ken: Sorry Joe; Please…

Section 10

Joe: I just wanted to ask…Gyaltsen Rinpoche has, on page 149, has for the second one, which I think he translates as intention. He says, cultivation of bodhichitta with altruistic thought. Is that a valid translation? I guess my question is, in that second stage, is there movement towards—there is a facet to what I am interested in, which extends beyond myself.

Ken: I didn’t check the Tibetan on this, so I’d have to go back. But I’m going to make a guess as to the word which is strong intention, and I think it may be the word for seeking, which involves an act of pursuit. Now don’t forget, bodhichitta or awakening mind is the intention to wake up in order to help others. So it has a built-in altruistic quality to it. So, Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation may be a little bit of a gloss. Okay?

Section 11

Now, this next bit: the classification by primary characteristics. This is really quite important, and also is the basis for a lot of confusion for people.

The first division basically reflects compassion and emptiness. Now, the usual translation here is relative awakening mind and ultimate awakening mind. And this appeals to a distinction made all through Mahayana teachings, and again you will see the translations as relatively real or relatively true, and ultimately real or ultimately true. The choice of relative has been extremely unfortunate; I no longer use this. And I also don’t use the word true, or truths. Rather, I do use the word truth. I don’t use the word real any more.

First let’s talk about this notion of truth.

One of the ways that we slip into difficulties, often without noticing it, is that we take an adjective such as true, and we form an abstract quality from it, which is a noun, such as truth, and we actually think we’re talk about something that exists. Kant, to my knowledge, was the first one to cotton onto the problems here.

Something happens. Say we see a car accident, or there’s some kind of interaction that takes place at a party, which everybody talks about the next day. Okay? And one person says, “This is what happened,” and another person says, “This is what happened,” etc., etc. It’s the old Rashomon problem.

And what we’ll say is, “Who was telling the truth?” Okay? And the problem that arises here, is that we very easily think that there is some quality called truth, which people either have or don’t have. But how do you tell whether somebody is telling the truth or not about what happened at the party? There’s only one way.

Section 12

Cara, you’re going to say give them a lie detector test?

Cara: No.

Ken: No. What are you going to…

Cara: I’m going to be a smart aleck and go with the all-knowing intuition.

Ken: That’s right, that’s smart-alecky! Thank you, that’s why I call on you!

Cara: Just here to keep everybody awake.

Ken: Okay. How do you tell if somebody is telling the truth?

Cara: Okay, but really on that?

Ken: Yes.

Cara: I would say that part of why I would say the intuition thing is that when you are able to take your own ego out of the equation, and you can truly see people for their perspectives and appreciate their perspectives then I think you’re better at assessing who’s telling the truth.

Ken: Yes, but that’s still going to be a conclusion or a hypothesis that’s based on my impression.

Section 13

How do you actually tell whether they are telling the truth? Lynea?

Lynea: You don’t.

Ken: Oh yes you do!

Lynea: You do?

Ken: Oh, I left out one little thing. There’s a security camera which records everything. How do you tell whether somebody is telling the truth?

You compare what they say, to what actually happened, if you happened to have a record of what happened. It’s the only way to see whether they are telling the truth.

What does this mean? It means that truth is always defined by the situation, what is true. The truth of a situation is always defined by the situation itself. There isn’t any abstract quality, truth. So you can only refer to it.

So as much as possible in my translations, when they talk about the two truths, I won’t use that term, because it encourages that way that there’s this abstract quality. So the way that I like to handle these two terms—and you may think I’m making mountains out of molehills (but I do that)—is, I say, what is true rather than the truth, with a hope, possibly futile, that this will encourage people to come back to their experience, and say, what is true, here, in what I experience? Not out there, as some universal abstract that you’re aspiring to.

Then the second problem is the two terms, relative and ultimate. The term relative translates to completely deceptive; this is what the literal Tibetan is, kunzo. Completely deceptive. So how can you say what is completely deceptively true? Mmmm. This doesn’t make much sense in English does it?

Well we need to dig a little bit deeper.

Section 14

Right now the world appears to us as full of objects, of which I am the perceiving subject. Anybody else experience the world that way? Okay. That’s how most of us experience the world. I am a perceiving subject, and everything is out there. That’s perceived objects. Okay? That is what is completely deceptive. That’s not how things actually are. That is how things appear to us. Okay? So this is why I use the term, apparently true.

And then, in contrast to that, there is what would be ultimately true. Now I don’t particularly like the word, ultimately. I’ve been toying with the idea of using something like mystically true. But that raises a whole…yes exactly, belly dancers and all kinds of things. So again, this is about a $20 word. So, if anybody has a word, I’ll pay you $20 for this. I have $5 words and $20 words. I have a couple $100 words. You could earn a lot of money if you are good at this.

What it refers to is, what is this experience. Now all of you know that when we examine this experience…if I say, there’s a cushion that I see, and there’s subject/object. But no, I don’t actually see a cushion. That’s a projection; it’s something that arises in my mind, as a way of interpreting my experience.

What is my experience? That becomes very, very difficult to say. And that’s why we have all of this business about emptiness, because it’s impossible to say what this actually is.

So, that’s what the word ultimate is referring to: what is experience in itself. And the answer is, no thing. It’s something that’s indescribable. That’s why we have it in the Heart Sutra: it is not defined, it is not born or destroyed, pure or impure, not incomplete or complete. There’s nothing we can actually say about it. That is what is meant by ultimately true.

So with respect to this awakening mind, there is awakening to what is apparently true and awakening to what is ultimately true. And that’s what this section is talking about.

What does it mean to awaken to what is apparently true? It means to recognize that everything that arises in our experience, arises in our mind, and we have to interact with it. We can’t ignore it, we can’t reject it, there is no point in getting depressed about it. It’s up. We have to interact with it, and the only way to interact with it is something that is in our experience, which basically means that we’re not going to fight it or be aggressive towards it.

We’re going to seek to understand it and be present with it, so it moves naturally into the whole ethics of compassion, if you see what I mean. That’s awakening to what is apparently true, and it leads to compassion.

Awakening to what is ultimately true means there’s this experience of awakening mind, of wanting to help others and so forth. What is this? Nothing I can say. And rather than try to pin it down and define it, we open to that ineffable, open quality, which is like having no ground whatsoever, and learn how to be in that openness, or emptiness. That’s awakening to what is ultimately true.

Now, how much of this is gobbledygook? Am I making any sense whatsoever? Steve.

Section 15

Steve: Could you just connect what you just said, with the video of what happened at the party?

Ken: I have to add another wrinkle there. Okay? Three people come to you, and they describe an incident at a party, and you’re very disturbed by what they say. Maybe a friend of yours involved, and you go, “That’s very strange!”

So you’re concerned, you want to find out what is true. Alright? So, you’re told that there’s a video of this incident and you go and check it out, and now you can see what each of those people said, corresponding to the video, which one of them is saying what is true, which is the more accurate description?

So you think you’ve got it all sorted out and you still have to deal with your friend. But then you find out that all these three people watched the same video, they thought it was a video of an actual party, and there wasn’t anything going on there in the first place.

They’re reporting their experience of watching a video which they thought was something that was actually happening. It’s a bit of a stretch. The point is, what is ultimately true, we can’t express in words, we can only experience. You with me there?

So in terms of awakening mind, who experiences awakening mind? Who gives rise to awakening mind? Steve?

Steve: Who?

Ken: There’s an owl in here! Who gives rise to awakening mind?

Steve: [Unclear]

Ken: Have you given rise to awakening mind?

Steve: I doubt it.

Ken: Well, you are here to give rise to awakening mind, and yet you say, “No one gives rise to awakening mind.” That is right. And knowing that is awakening to what is ultimately true.

In the sutras, it says the bodhisattvaswork to help all sentient beings. You read the Diamond Sutra and some of the other sutras, particularly the Perfection of Wisdom sutras; they also say that if a bodhisattva has any conception of a sentient being, he’s not a bodhisattva. So, by definition a bodhisattva can’t save any beings.

This is talking about what is ultimately true, what it’s like. There’s just a response, without any conceptualization, without drawing any conclusion.

All of us experience that kind of immediate response, which doesn’t involve any intellect. We’ve experienced that at some point in our lives, usually with some interaction or other…with just being totally awake and present, knowing what to do but without any conception of I and other.

Steve: If in “what is absolutely true,” it means “what is relatively true” or whatever…

Ken: Well, absolutely and ultimately are used synonymously here.

Steve: Oh, so what is…

Ken: Relative and apparent?

Steve: …apparently true? Let’s say it’s the naming of the thing. And ultimately true is the experience. When you are of awakening mind, aren’t they both happening? You don’t forget that your name is Ken.

Ken: Oh, absolutely they’re both happening! In fact, one experiences them as not being separate. That’s one of the big insights of the Mahayana, what is apparently true is not different from what is ultimately true. But it’s broken down this way for explanatory purposes.

Steve: So in awakening mind, I can be having this experience, I also am aware that I’ve named the…

Ken: But you don’t regard the name as defining the experience, it’s just a way of talking about it. And that’s what we do, we cling to the reality of words, and that’s where the confusion arises. Cara.

Section 16

Cara: Is that like, all ducks are birds, but not all birds are ducks? Like…

Ken: No, that’s something else.

Cara: No, I mean, like, all that is apparently true is ultimately true, but not all that is… wait… yeah. [laughs].

Ken: Mmm…No, it’s not like all ducks are birds, and all birds are ducks. You’re trying to include one in the other. It is… [long pause]

Cara: I don’t have a good syllogism to sort of…[unclear] my question.

Ken: Yeah. There are various metaphors that are used; they are likened to wings of a bird. So you need both wisdom and compassion in order to be able to fly.

Cara: Okay. Thank you.

Ken: Randye?

Section 17

Randye: The relative as a constructivist world and experience that’s from within the subjective I-ness and the absolute is somehow moving away from that constructiveness I-ness, and just leaving experience sitting there.

Ken: I think it’s a little different from that. Awakening to what is apparently true is being able to interact with the world that has been constructed, skillfully. It isn’t to construct the world; it is being able to relate to the constructed world skillfully.

Randye: Just even recognizing that it is a construction. It’s more than that.

Ken: It’s part of that, yeah. Awakening to what is ultimately true, is to know it is a constructed world, and to know that all constructions are empty. Experientially—not conceptually—which is a little different. Does that help? Okay.

Now, since I brought this, I need to use it. [sets up flip chart].

Section 18

So at this point, we have awakening mind, and two aspects of this has been pointed out.


So, everybody with me up to this point? Okay. Now, the next distinction that’s been made concerns the awakening to what is apparently true. We find this on page 115 in Guenther. And the terms that he uses are aspiration and perseverance. These are early translations. This is about a $10 word…I’m looking for a better word than aspiration. And the word I use for perseverance is engagement. And what follows is a discussion of two different interpretations of this distinction.

The one I favor, and the one most commonly used, is the one from Shantideva.

I’d like to go to a concert. That’s aspiration. Going out and buying the tickets, getting in my car, going to the concert itself, that’s engagement. And if you look at, again, activities that we do, we always have these two aspects. There is wanting to do something and then going about doing it. And that’s the distinction that’s being made here.

It is one thing to want to wake up in order to help all beings, it’s a very different thing, where we actually go about the work of waking up—you know, dismantling reactive patterns, developing a stability of attention, and so forth.

The second grows out of the first, but it needs to grow out of the first. It is not enough simply to want to do something; you actually have to start doing it, at some point.

I am part of a coaching organization, and they asked me to lead a mentoring group on meditation. So I’m meeting with about a dozen people, once a month, about meditation. And we had our first meeting last Wednesday, and I just said to everybody, flatly, “There’s almost no point in you’re being in this group, unless you meditate half an hour every day for the next four months because we’re going to have four meetings.”

And they all sort of went, “What? We have to do something?!” For some reason in our culture, we often think that learning about something is the same as learning to do something. They really, really aren’t.

To the ancient Greeks, to know something meant that you are actually able to do it. But because of the way that learning has developed…I can understand how a violin makes music. But that—from the Greek point of view— that’s not real knowledge, because I can’t play a violin (at least none of you here want me to!) I mean, Jack Benny looks really good compared to me!

And so, it is one thing to aspire to these things, but to make it actually happen, to make it really part of our experience, would let me do it.

Now, part of the reason I wanted to put this up, so it’s clear: these apply to what is apparently true. That is, how we relate to the world. This is how we relate to the world we experience. This is knowing what our experience actually is.

So the apparently true is skill in relating to our experience. This is knowing what our experience actually is, so we aren’t confused by it. And of course the two interact very profoundly, because when we know what our experience is, and aren’t confused by it, that enhances our skill in relating to it. And if we become very skillful in it, we will come to an understanding to what it actually is.

Section 19

Now, another thing that some of you have heard me talk about is attention, intention, and will.

These are three levels that we find…and they are all of a family.

Attention, one could say, is the ability to direct energy. When we are practicing meditation, we are cultivation attention, and one of the things that we’re doing is not letting energy be consumed by thoughts and emotions, etc. When those thoughts and emotions arise, we just let them come and go, and the energy is transformed into attention. So, attention, in one way, you can look at it, is the ability to organize, or direct energy.

Intention we can regard as the ability to direct attention. So it’s at a higher level, and that means that, “Okay, so I can stay focused on this, what do I want to do with that? Well, maybe I want to build something, maybe I want to develop a certain quality.” That’s an intention.

Maybe I want to be a certain way in a situation. That’s an intention. And so we start being able to direct our attention in that direction. And now things start to happen because we can do that.

One area where this becomes very, very important…well a couple of areas, just on a practical level.

One is, say you have a project—at work or in your personal life—something you want to be able to do. Many years ago, for instance, a woman was working with me, and she leads a very, very busy work life. But she wanted a partner. And I said, “Well, if you want to have a partner, you’re going to have to create time for it. You can’t have your work consume all your time, because otherwise it’s just not going to happen. Relationships take time. It’s just very simple.”

And so she gradually started to form the intention to do that which meant making changes in her life so that that possibility could arise. And that was directing her attention, so that she could move forward with her intention.

Will can be regarded as the ability to direct intention. So it’s still a deeper level of focusing or directing energy. When you are able to develop something at the level of will, you no longer encounter any obstacles because whatever arises, you’re going to use to accomplish your intention.

Again, in my consulting work, I was working with a group, and I would say, “Well, why don’t you do X?” And they would say, “Well, we can’t do that, because of A, B, and C.” You know, things that operated in that particular context.

And I would say, “Wrong way to interpret that. A, B and C just describe the landscape in which you are going to be doing X. You got to take A, B and C into account, but you don’t have to regard them as obstacles, they’re just factors that you have to take into consideration.”

Do you see the distinction I’m making? So, rather than saying, “This person won’t allow us to do that; that’s presenting it as an obstacle,” you say, “Okay, currently this person is not of that opinion and will stop us, so I have to figure out a way to change that person’s mind, or make his efforts to stop me ineffectual, or whatever.” It’s just something that you consider.

So the reason I am going into this is that aspiration, as far as I can understand, corresponds to developing the intention to wake up in order to help others.

Engagement indicates that it has moved to the level of will. So you’re just going to use whatever arises in your life, to wake up. That’s what awakening mind means at the level of engagement. There are no obstacles. Whatever arises: you get sick, your arm is shot off…you know, your world falls apart; you’re just going to use those circumstances to wake up. This is what, those of you who studied taking and sending, and the mind training teachings, this is what it talks about, over and over again.

Whatever adversity arises, you make use of it to wake up.


Section 20

Lynea: I feel like you are describing these capacities, I guess, with specific scenarios, but also in a general way. And I can’t tell if you are saying that a person cultivates attention and then that sort of matures into intention, and then to will, regardless of how it’s being applied.

Ken: It can do that, but one has to be prepared to operate at those levels. That maturation process has to be accompanied by a cultivation, actually an intentional cultivation. Because when you get to the level of will, you know, nothing’s going to stop you. And by that I don’t mean that you’re able to bulldoze your way through situations, that’s not what I mean at all.

It means that, whatever arises, you’re going to figure out some way to make use of it, for your intention. Do you follow?

Lynea: I do.

Ken: Now, I’m talking about these in the context of awakening mind or bodhichitta. But what I am also trying to show, is that these are not abstract concepts which only apply in this rather restricted realm; these are ways of actually looking at how we interact with life.

For instance, you’ve made some changes in your life, and I’m sure you can recognize these. Because some of those changes you’ve been working on have not exactly been easy, and you’ve had to make adjustments. But that’s operating at the level of will. Because when this obstacle arose, you went, “Oh well, okay, I can work it this way.” And you just kept going, so I imagine you can connect with some of this.

Lynea: Yes, I think I’m still wondering if there’s a tipping point? There’s a certain point where there’s will that is engagement by choice, and then there’s will which is engagement because you no longer have any way of relating to it. Do you see what I mean?

Ken: Yes, you have no other way of relating to it. Yeah. I think you will find that that’s covered…they’re very thorough, these guys, they were just so thorough! If you skip over to page 116, at the top of page 117 in Guenther, you will see, The formation of an enlightened attitude, (that’s awakening mind), as hinted at by others, is said to be frail or firm.

When it’s just an idea in our heads it’s just like at the level of aspiration and it’s an idea, that’s when it’s said to be frail. When it actually takes root in us and now it’s how we relate to the world, that’s when it’s said to be firm. And I think that’s what you’re talking about, say, “Okay, this is where I’m going.”

I’ll give you an example from my own experience.

For a long time I aspired (to use our vocabulary here) to write a book. And then, the aspiration grew stronger, and it became an intention. But intention isn’t enough to write a book; at least not for me, anyway. Maybe some people can. Because when I actually started to write it, I ran into all kinds of difficulties, you know, one thing after another.

Gradually I learned how to use those difficulties, so now the book just kept being written. And when I encountered a new problem, I recognized it as part of the process. I didn’t regard it as an obstacle any more. Sometimes it helped me out for quite a while but I recognized increasingly, this was a part of the process.

So this movement from intention to will, also is an increasing depth or breadth, either one, of perspectives, so you begin to see things differently. And you can describe intention, as will moving up to that larger perspective. That help? Okay. Steve.

Section 21

Steve: The word will, to me, implies some choice but sometimes engagement happens, you are thrown into engagement.

Ken: Yes.

Steve: So, I’m wondering how that plays into this progression.

Ken: You’re thrown into engagement. Can you give me an example?

Steve: I think I want to maybe buy a new car. And my car is smashed by someone, and I can’t get to work now without buying a new car. I didn’t, I never…that’s a poor example…

Ken: No, I think that’s a very good example. Or you could stop going to work.

Student: Take a bus.

Ken: Yeah, there’s all kinds of other possibilities. You could stop going to work, you could take a bus, you could ride a bicycle, you could carpool, all kinds of things.

Steve: So there’s still choice, is what you’re saying, even if circumstances propel you into it, engagement.

Ken: But you raise a very important point. Quite frequently when people find themselves developing an intention for something that other parts of them are not comfortable with, then there’s a tendency to present themselves as being a victim of circumstance. And it’s really an abdication of personal responsibility.

You know, there’s always a choice. The only difference is the price one has to pay to exercise it. And it’s very, very helpful to remember that. When people say “I can’t do this,” they aren’t actually saying what they can or can’t do, they’re really saying, “I’m not willing to pay the price for not doing this.” That’s very different. Sometimes the price may be one’s life, but that’s how it is. Okay?

That may be a really hard-assed attitude, but that’s how I look at it.

Section 22

Well, we didn’t get very far today. Has this discussion been helpful? Okay. Randye. And then I want to move into our meditation.

Section 23

Randye: Seems like there’s something missing in the sequence, okay. The attention is the ability to organize or direct the energy. So I can pull it together, I can stick it into a battery and have it do something.

Ken: Not exactly like that.

Randye: And then I can stick the battery into a flash light and point it somewhere and that’s the intention of aiming the attention.

Ken: Okay.

Randye: And then the will, though, is doing something with it, taking the action, moving toward.

Ken: Exploring a cave?

Randye: But what’s in-between is the goal. I mean, where does the clarity of where you’re going to aim at…?

Ken: Ahhhhhh.

Randye: …of defining the goal towards which you’re going to direct your will. That’s what seems to be missing.

Ken: Yes. I think that’s a very good point. And you remind me again, just by asking that question, how self-referential the whole Tibetan tradition is because that question doesn’t even arise. The goal, which is full awakening, is just assumed.

And so everything is interpreted in that context. And that’s why you feel there’s a step missing because that’s never named as the goal, it’s just assumed. Do you follow?

Randye: But there’s different ways of action to get there. How does one choose and clarify and say, “Okay, this is my path”?

Ken: Well, then you get into another thing. As you can see, Gampopa’s laying out a path, and there is a tendency to say, “This is the path.” Again, it’s just assumed.

Now, what I have described here in the terms of attention, intention and will, could be applied in any context. And the context in which you are applying it, will determine what the goal is. And that’s going to be up to you.

So this isn’t talking about how to define objectives or how to define direction. This is saying how you move in a direction. How you define the direction, that’s whole other matter. Yeah. Good point.

Last comment. Cara.

Cara: I just want to say for those of you playing at home, that I’m going to take a picture of the chart and put it on Facebook.

Ken: Okay. Thank you.

I thought we would get a little further tonight, but I’d rather have these quite detailed discussions, as long as you’re finding them helpful. Okay.

Section 24

In terms of meditation…I think we’ll make this somewhat practical. And you can tell me your experience. It goes something like this.

Pick something about your life that needs to change, and that you yourself would like to change. You don’t have to make it particularly lofty. It could be improving your golf swing, as someone has asked me about not too long ago.

It could be developing a stable meditation practice. It could be making a career change. It could be completing a home repair or something. So as I say, it could be practical, it doesn’t have to be particularly lofty. It can be in the spiritual domain, work, family, career, whatever you want.

And so just think of that aspect of your life that you want to change and bring attention to it. And you’ll experience certain reactions arising.

Probably what arises immediately are some stories. But I’d like you to just let go of those stories and experience what reactions arise in your body. When you think of this thing and think of bringing attention to it, what reactions arise in your body? What are the physical sensations associated with that?

Then, what are the emotional sensations? Whereas in the body, there might be butterflies in the stomach or a tightening in the throat, with emotional sensations there might be anger; there might be frustration; there might be eagerness, excitement.

And when you can stay in the physical sensations and the emotional sensations, then you can include the cognitive sensations; those are the stories. So you just sit in that experience for a few moments. Not that you regard the stories as real, just, they’re stories.

Now let that go, and consider this change you want to make in your life and this time, bring intention into it. That is, “I’m going to do this.”

And again, what physical sensations arise when you say, “I’m going to do this”? What emotional sensations arise, and what stories start to fly around? And again just sit in that whole experience.

And then let that go. And then come back a third time to this change that you want to make in your life.

And this time approach it from the level of will. “I’m going to find a way to do this, no matter what.” And again, what does that feel like physically? What do you experience emotionally? What happens with the stories?

Okay, does this give you something to work with? Susan? Okay. Is this clear? Any questions?

This is somewhat demanding. It sounds very simple, but it can take you fairly deeply into certain areas of your lives. We’ve gone through it very quickly. I just wanted to give you the basic sequence.

You may find when you start, it could start at a level of attention, but particularly when you start moving into the levels of intention, or will, deeper emotional material may arise, and so don’t try to push through that material; just rest in the experience of it, however much of it you can experience.

So this isn’t about breaking through anything, this is about seeing what’s operating in you, and from there one can figure out the right way to approach these things. I generally find that the operative word in breakthrough is break. It’s not through and so that’s not something I encourage. We bring attention to the stuff that operates in us and if we can bring a sufficient level of attention, then it will open and resolve itself.

And that’s a much sounder, more reliable way of working, because then things actually change in us, rather than the temporary shifts that we can if we just push it.

Okay, I think that’s everything for tonight. I will see you next week. Lynea can you close, please?

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.