Then and Now, Class 25

Section 1

April 9th, today? Okay, April 8th, class 25. I got the number right. Then and Now.

Last time we looked at the ceremony for the bodhisattva vow connected to Shantideva, and tonight we’ll be looking at the one associated with Dharmakirti. Both of these were great Buddhist teachers who lived around the beginning of the Common Era. I think Shantideva is third century, maybe a bit later.

But the reflection I wanted you to spend some time with over the week was succumbing to despair and rejecting a sentient being. Now the reason I chose these two is that in some versions of the bodhisattva vow ceremony, these are regarded as the key principles to avoid in connection with the vow of aspiration.

So what was your experience with this? Despair and rejecting. Anybody?

Nobody ever forms an attitude, “oh, that person, I’m never going to help them again.” Nothing like that ever arises, right Joe?

Section 2

Joe: Well that—actually—every time I get angry that arises.

Ken: Exactly.

Joe: In the course of examining this—meditating on it—I realized that whenever I approach a meditation subject, 80% of the time it’s my stomach that reacts first. And the other 20%, it’s the chest area. I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of my emotional life is based on gas. [laughter] And it’s very sad, which bears out the fact that every time I thought I was having a heart attack in my life, it always turned out to be gas as well.

But it makes me realize—that’s what happens on the physical level. On the emotional level, it’s a seesaw between fear and anger and the stories surrounding those are in the fear I will be found inadequate by investigating this. And the anger part is—you know, what does this mean? Why have you told us? What does this mean, these words that you have given to us? And in this case, despair is such a rich and evocative term. [feedback on microphone] Is that better?

Ken: Yeah. Okay.

Joe: And I’ve come into contact with it in a religious background in the Catholic tradition and a little bit in psychology and although I don’t know that much about philosophy, I’ve come across it there too. And I start wondering, ’what did they mean by despair?’, and I know in class you said it’s…well in all the situations I know it in, it’s always a lack of hope.

Ken: Yeah, hopelessness.

Joe: You won’t get something you want.

Ken: What’s the point?

Joe: For me?

Ken: No, that’s the attitude of despair.

Joe: …of despair.

Ken: What’s the point? It’s: “I’m not doing any good.”

Joe: And the other side of that is: “I want to do good…and I’m not?”

Ken: Well, the point here and the reason I chose these two is as I said, the essence of the bodhisattva vow, particularly the bodhisattva vow of aspiration is: I’m going to wake up in order to be able to help others become free of suffering. So despair is abandoning that intention. “There’s no point.” So it contradicts. And rejecting a single being contradicts that intention, because the vow is to…the aspiration is to help all beings. That’s why these two principles are regarded as embodying the essence.

Joe: Is there an emotional content to this use of despair as there is in, say, its psychological use or its religious use?

Ken: I’m not sure what you’re referring to in terms of its psychological or religious use.

Joe: Well, despair in the sense that I know it from the Catholic background is loss of faith, that loss of connection to God. And that connection to God means salvation, means being saved.

Ken: Interesting point. So if you despair then you are negating your own chance of being saved?

Joe: You are by believing that you will not be, yes.

Ken: Yeah. Well, there may be a parallel in there, but I want to emphasize it’s a parallel—in the sense that despair distances you from God and despair distances you from your intention. But as you well know, there isn’t any…in Buddhism and in this context, one’s not looking outside. And in another sense one’s not looking inside either, to be saved, or for something which is going to save. It is rather, this is one’s intention for oneself. And one is, by rejecting another, compromising one’s own intention for oneself. Do you follow?

Joe: Yes.

Ken: Or by succumbing to despair. Interesting. Okay. So do you ever find yourself succumbing to these? What actually happens when you feel despair?

Joe: In the sense that we are talking about it now?

Ken: Yeah.

Joe: I’m not sure that I’ve sufficiently felt the desire to…

Ken: …to work for the welfare of others in order to be able to feel despair.

Joe: Yes.

Ken: Well, have you ever despaired about the possibility of your ever being awake?

Joe: Again, I have entertained the possibility, the thought about it. Despair is something that’s—if it is just—Yes, I have entertained the possibility of…

Ken: It doesn’t matter how much I practice, I’m never going to—this is never going to happen.

Joe: Well…[laughter]. Well, you know, being a householder, having kids I came to the realization that in the terms I had described it to myself at the beginning of my practice—that was never going to happen.

Ken: Ah!

Joe: But, at the same time, I recognized that at any given moment, however short that moment may be, I can experience and entertain buddha nature. Although I’m not going to be living in this, you know, sublime and other-worldly place. Coming to terms with the fact of everyday existence is not something that I would describe “settling for that.” I think it’s where it really exists.

Ken: I see. Okay. Thank you. Other people’s experiences with this. Chuck?

Section 3

Chuck: Well, I think I sort of combine the two.

It was sort of like if you’re trying to help somebody and they’re an alcoholic, something like that. Where you try and they say “Yes, I’m never going to take another drink again.” And the next thing you know they’re out on the town and having a good time. And so eventually you become weary of it all and say, “I’m never going to be able to help this person, and they’re never going to be able to help themselves.”

Ken: Yeah, that’s how you know it. Okay. What happens in you when you run into that? What’s that like?

Chuck: Sort of a draining, drained feeling.

Ken: All the energy goes out.

Chuck: Yeah, right.

Ken: Okay.

Chuck: Like a balloon popping, or just sort of “Fsssss…”

Ken: Like the air going out of a balloon. We’re back to Joe’s gas now.

Chuck: Right. [Laughter.] That was a good analogy.

Ken: Okay, anybody else?

Section 4

Pat: I always feet despair about the same thing, which is when I feel separate from people.

It doesn’t matter how, it doesn’t matter whether there’s success or failure. It doesn’t matter if there’s a cause or no cause. When I feel separate, I feel incredible despair. And that feeling is sort of, “What’s the point?” and just incredibly physically drained.

But what I realized when you were talking about it is that it isn’t so much about believing that I can—and you know, I guess I’ve always had it backwards like a lot of liberals—in that there’s a part of me that believes that what will wake me up is being of service. Not that I will wake up and then be of service. And so there’s that striving to kind of wake up by being of service, rather than waking up first.

So the despair comes from when I feel that if I’m not connected then I’m really not…then I’m not getting anywhere.

Ken: Yes, that would follow. And that would be very deep.

Pat: What?

Ken: That follows from what you’re saying, yes, very definitely.

Pat: Because, then—I’m not even doing that.

Ken: If I’m not connected, I can’t be of service, and now there’s no hope whatsoever.

Pat: Then there’s no hope.

Ken: Yeah. Okay.

Pat: And I find that it doesn’t matter how, it doesn’t matter what the intention is. It doesn’t matter how good the effort. If that connection is broken or lost over anger, or miscommunication or whatever it is that human beings do—the despair that I feel there is really great.

Ken: Yeah. You see, if we look at this…

Pat: That make sense?

Section 5

Ken: Yes, thank you. The way that the vow is worded, and we’ve touched on this in some of our previous discussions; it’s feeling despair about the prospect of ever really being able to wake up, and rejecting sentient beings. But as we’ve looked at this—when we talk about all sentient beings—in a certain sense it’s a way of talking about the totality of our own experience. So if we reject a sentient being, we’re rejecting some aspect of our own experience. You follow? And when we succumb to despair in this interpretation then we are losing confidence or losing faith in our own awakened nature. Which goes right back to the very first chapter that we have the seed of awakening in us. You follow?

And so these actually cut very, very deeply when we think about it. And I want to emphasize that this isn’t any kind of pollyanna or everything is going to work out okay. This is about having a very, very deep confidence or trust in what it means to be human. Because, from the Buddhist context, what it means to be human is to be aware. That’s the only thing we actually know. And then the other side of it is that we have the willingness to embrace the totality of our experience, and not edit, or limit or control it in any way. So this is a very, very far reaching intention. This make sense to everybody? Okay.

Student: [unintelligible]

Ken: Yeah.

Section 6

Randye: Along those lines, because I was editing all your teachings in the book about reactive patterns and dismantling, in that same vein with despair, what really struck me in thinking about despair and then listening to so much of that chapter in the book was that the way…the insidious way of setting up habitual patterns that take you to that despair.

Ken: Yeah.

Randye: And to that, to the things that one does to prevent that awakening from happening that just are like, you know, brushing your teeth.

Ken: Yes.

Randye: I speak for myself, I shouldn’t say one.

Ken: Well, yes, and this, what you’re talking about there is the need for consistent practice, because those are things that need to change. Okay.

Section 7

So let’s turn to the ceremony for Dharmakirti. I’m going to go through this fairly quickly.

On page 130 in Guenther’s translation, you’ll see that in the preparatory stage there are three further sections: one, making the request, accumulating the necessary prerequisites, and a special type of taking refuge. These are comparable to the preparatory phase or part of the Shantideva ceremony. And they’re very straightforward.

Then the actual vow is on page 131. Now, the difference between these two traditions is Dharmakirti’s emphasizes action. And you see this in the wording of the vow. If you go down to the bottom of page 131. You’ll see, in the middle of that paragraph: From now on until I become the very quintessence of enlightenment, which is rather silly English, but it means “from now until I come to the heart of awakening.”

I will develop an attitude directed towards unsurpassable perfect great enlightenment so that the beings who have not yet crossed over may do so, who have not yet been delivered (or released) may do so, who have not yet found their breath may find it and who have not yet passed into Nirvana may do so.

Again, we have various translation problems here. But the very first time I read these I found them oddly moving. Yes, and in Konchog Gyaltsen’s translation which is page 166 towards the bottom, you find the same phrases:

Those beings who have not crossed, to release those who are not released, to help those who have not yet found the breath to expel it, and to help those who have not yet achieved the full nirvana to achieve it.

First, both these people have chosen to use the word translate, to translate the word go to the other side by the word, the phrase cross over.

This is coded language. This specifically refers to the difference between reaction and response. When they’re talking about this, they’re saying when we are subject to samsara, that is being subject to reaction, and the six realms of samsara are the worlds projected by emotional reactions. And so you’re going to the other side, you’re crossing over.

Now what are you crossing to? That’s rather difficult to define. You have this notion of going to the other side. In other words, you’re finding another way of life. And that life is based on the ability to respond to situations as they are, not to react to them based on past associations. That’s a huge difference, and all of you know something of that from your meditation practice, what that’s like. So that’s the first thing that you’re going to help beings do. You’re going to help them find ways to respond to situations rather than react.

Then the next one it says on the top of page 167 in Konchog Gyaltsen:

Released, means establishing them in the definite goodness by releasing them from the afflicting emotions and achieving the state of liberation.

This is taking another step, as it were. That is they’re released from—how to say it?—concern about themselves. When we’re…one way of looking at Mahayana Buddhist practice is that it is a movement from being organized around a sense of self, to being…our life being organized around a sense of self to a life being organized around awareness.

The sense of self around which our life is usually organized is a misperception. We posit something is there that actually isn’t. What we posit a lasting, independent self, an unchanging, independent self. And we interpret all experience in terms of that. And once we become free of that, then it becomes possible to respond to situations just as they are, just as they are arising in our own awareness. We don’t have to organize our world, and organize our reactions in order to defend that sense of self or maintain it. And there is huge freedom in that. Okay?

Then the third one is—and I’m not sure why they—both them made this, what I think is a mistake. There’s this phrase o yung wa which literally means to expel breath but it actually has the meaning of encourage. You know when you’re feeling kind of down or something like that and somebody gives you words of encouragement, it lifts you up. So this is referring to people whose notion of spiritual freedom is limited to—and we speak in mythic terms—to just taking care of themselves.

If we speak and interpret that in terms of actual experience, you find a place to hang out where you’re free from the reactive emotions, or the afflictive emotions as Konchog Gyaltsen says, but you’re not actually doing anything. You follow? It’s a resting place. And this is—you remember back in the first chapter they talked about the solitary practitioners, and the solitary buddhas and the listeners who felt “okay, well, this is freedom,” and they needed that encouragement from the principle of awakening to the totality of experience. And that’s what’s being talked about here. So there’s a level of encouragement that comes here and what one’s vowing in this is that when you come across people who have reached a certain point and don’t have the heart or the impetus to go the next step and become completely free, you’re going to provide them with that encouragement. Making sense?

Section 8

And then the last one: Those who have not achieved the full nirvana achieve the full nirvana. This is wonderful because one of the differences between the Theravadin and the Mahayana is that in the Mahayana nirvana is a noun and in the Theravada nirvana is a verb or an adjective. And so when you read this you notice they used the phrase non-abiding or non-residing nirvana. It refers to the not abiding in samsara and not abiding in the constructed nirvana which we’re just been talking about with respect to the solitary practitioners.

In other words you’re going to show them the way to be totally present in their experience, without any notion of being saved or being protected by something inside or outside.

Now, when you can very easily discern from this how extraordinarily large the intention is that’s being formulated here. That you’re going to not only lead all sentient beings out of suffering, you’re going to lead them to being fully awake as buddhas. In other words, you know, whatever you’ve come to, you’re going to make sure every sentient being comes to at least what you’ve come to yourself. So this is a very, very deep intention. And that’s one of the reasons why this is called the Tradition of Broad Action. Because it’s going to cover absolutely everything.

Section 9

Now, you’ll see also that there is the vow for action or engagement bodhicitta. And If you go to the 168 you’ll see that the vow here is:

The basis of the training of all the bodhisattvas of the past and those moral ethics, the basis of the training of all the bodhisattvas of the future and those moral ethics. The basis of the training of all the bodhisattvas abiding in the ten directions and those moral ethics.

You go down,

Do you want to accept these moral ethics from me?

Now again I have a little problem with the translation. The term that’s being translated there is tsultrim. That’s the Tibetan (sila in Sanskrit). And it certainly means moral ethics, but here I think it has more the sense of discipline. That there is a whole way of training here and are you prepared to embark on this whole way of training just as the buddhas of the past, present and future have done, are doing and will do.

So you’re really saying that I’m going to do whatever it takes to wake up. And we’ve discussed about this aspect of the bodhisattva vow can be regarded as the movement from intention to will. That you’re just going to do…you’re going to do whatever it takes. Whatever arises, you’re going to work and come to this kind of awakening. So it takes the vow another step deeper.

Section 10

Now from there it moves into the beneficial effects. And there are a couple of things I wanted to point out. Most of this is very straightforward. And you have the list on the bottom of page 168:

Entering into the Mahayana, it becomes the basis for all the bodhisattva training, all evil deeds will be uprooted, unsurpassable enlightenment becomes rooted, one will obtain limitless merits, all the buddhas will be pleased, one becomes useful to all sentient beings and one quickly attains perfect enlightenment.

You remember that we talked about karma as the process of evolution, of how actions that we do, initiate a process in us that evolves into a way of experiencing things. And the actions are the genesis of those future experiences. And what I was putting emphasis on was that it isn’t the cause and effect we’re used to in the west, where this action causes that result. It’s that this action initiates a process which grows into this experience.

What’s being described here in these benefits is the process of evolution which the bodhisattva vow sets in motion. So when it talks about entering the Mahayana, if you go back right to the very beginning, it means…of this book in which it talks about the five types. There’s the cut-off type, and the uncertain type and then the Mahayana type and so forth. By giving rise to this intention, and really taking it to heart you change the genesis of all of your life, really, of where your life is coming from. So, it’s a very, very significant thing. That’s what it means to enter the Mahayana. You’ve become the Mahayana type, as it were, and so the whole basis of your life is changed. And then it becomes the basis for all the bodhisattva training.

Now I want you to think here of something which is growing. So first the seed has been planted, that’s changing the type. And now it starts to grow into various forms of discipline—would be meditation, and the practice of generosity, and the six perfections, which we’ll be getting to in the next few weeks. And you notice what has been, as they say, uprooted. In this environment, where can negative action grow? Well there’s no basis for it. So even negative thoughts can’t take root in this intention to help others.

Now interestingly enough, I found that to be the case.

Several years ago, a long time ago, there’s a situation arose for me, which I won’t go into details, but it very, very definitely involved a choice between something that was very, very appealing to me and yet something which in some way I knew wasn’t right. But it was…but it wasn’t…something sensed me that it wasn’t right but I didn’t…it was hard to construct a really hard argument why it wasn’t right. And I kept mulling over this over a period of about a month.

And then one day it just dawned on me that what the bodhisattva vow is saying is, you don’t indulge your own confusion. And then the situation just evaporated because I could see what was preventing me from seeing what was actually wrong about this was an aspect of my own confusion. But I found it a very interesting experience because it’s exactly what is being described in point c here: all evil deeds will be uprooted.

Because the bodhisattva vow has always meant a great deal to me it’s what I keep coming back to and there was no way my own confusion could actually take root and start growing into something in that context, if you see what I mean. So it’s a place to come back to and find clarity in your life. And that’s how it uproots evil deeds. It’s a place to come back to and find clarity.

Naturally unsurpassable enlightenment becomes rooted. Well, you know, when you plant a seed in a suitable environment it starts to put down roots and it starts to grow. So it’s appealing very, very directly to this metaphor of evolution and one will obtain limitless merit. It’s like a tree growing and it puts forth flowers and all kinds of good fruit.

All the buddhas will be pleased which one could read metaphorically as those parts of you that want to be awakened are probably heaving a sigh of relief: “Oh, finally, he’s got on board.” Because there are parts of us that want to be awaken and present; you can interpret those as buddhas.

One becomes useful to all sentient beings. Definitely. And one quickly attains perfect enlightenment. I’m not sure about the quickly part there, but we’ll let that stand.

Section 11

And then if you go over to page 170.

You see the beneficial effects of cultivating action bodhichitta, or this…When bodhichitta—or this awakening mind—moves to the level of will, then your practice has acquired a certain momentum. And now it starts just to run. That’s what’s being referred to as one’s own benefit arises continuously.

Because when your life is about waking up in order to help others then everything you do is working towards that. So you eat in order to nourish your body so that you can deepen your practice and be available to help others. You sleep in order to be able to rest your body and your mind so that you are able to practice and are available to help others. So absolutely everything you do, even the most ordinary aspects of life now become expressions of that intention. That’s what makes this so very, very strong. Any questions about any of this?

Art, You’re looking a little…Okay, you’re just taking it in? Okay.

Section 12

And benefit for others arises in various ways. If you drop down to the bottom of the page, this is from Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara. You naturally find ways or see ways to help others in the course of living and interacting with them. Ram Dass wrote a little book many years ago. I think it was called How Can I Help?. And it’s a nice exploration of what is actual help. And we have the old saying in English, you know, you give a man a fish and you give him a meal, you teach a man to fish and you give him a way; you give him a life.

Through our practice we begin to see that what is truly of benefit, helpful to people, and what is of temporary benefit to people. And more and more we…our interactions with others are aimed at eliciting and nurturing what is truly beneficial to people. And in one sense it looks like we do less and less, but in another sense we do more and more because that work is much subtler.

And it comes very, very much out of our own understanding of what it means to be free. So, one may actually let a person struggle with their practice a bit more rather than trying to make them feel good, because one sees that through struggling with practice they’re going to learn things at a level that simply making them feel good wouldn’t instill in them, if you see what I mean.

And that…I mean, if you’re in a teaching role, that actually becomes a very interesting source of tension. When do I step in? And when do I let them work it out for themselves? Too much working out for themselves and if you depend on that too much then often people just get stuck but if you’re always doing things for them they never really…they don’t learn at the same level of depth.

Section 13

Then we move to the next section which is [about] the disadvantages of losing it.

These can easily be read in terms of a kind of fire and brimstone, you know. The result of weakening bodhichitta, you go to the lower realms. You stop helping others and you’ll never get to the bodhisattva stages and so forth. But again I’d like you look at these lines in terms of what happens to the evolutionary process that has been initiated or instigated by this development of bodhichitta.

Well, if you lose that attitude, then that whole thing stops growing and developing in your experience and you become increasingly subject to the reactive emotions. Actually it’s even worse, because now you have a higher level of energy in your system, so you’re probably going to…as that energy decays it powers the emotional reactions more powerfully than before. And then the other two things follow by themselves. Because one’s more caught up in reactive emotions, one doesn’t have the same acuity and responsiveness and is not as helpful to others.

And there’s another point to notice even though he’s not making it explicitly, is that when you form an intention and let it go by neglect or carelessness or by whatever, it is usually more difficult to form it again. You actually have to reach much deeper into yourself and…to develop the same kind…It’s more difficult the second time.

So, this is one of the reasons why there’s so much encouragement to develop this attitude and maintain it. Because, I mean, again if you look at it in terms of evolution like a tree growing, if the tree is partially grown and then is cut or badly damaged it’s actually more difficult for the tree to grow fully than it was the first time where it just keeps growing. Do you see what I mean?

Yes, Julia?

Section 14

Julia: I sense that part of that is that you become to yourself someone that can’t be trusted to follow through in some way; that is you lose confidence in your own capacity to follow through.

Ken: I think that’s true. I’ve certainly found that—this probably applies to other areas—but within the spiritual arena I’ve found that when anybody fails to complete a certain intention it is really quite problematic.

In the Tibetan tradition we have ngöndro, which you’ve probably heard about. It’s a set of preparatory practices for certain forms of meditation and that’s what it was originally developed for. It’s a very wonderful, very powerful set of practices.

But it has become a kind of hoop which people have to jump through in order to get a certain level of teaching, frequently, you know. And I know people who’ve said, “okay, I’ll start on this set of practice,” and then fail to complete it for whatever reason and it weighs on them terribly. It becomes very, very problematic and represents a significant disruption actually in their process…their spiritual practice.

And for the same reason, if you plan to go into a week retreat then it’s really good to do the whole week so that you get used to this idea of intending to do something and then actually doing it, translating that intention into an action.

One person came to me actually right on this point many years ago. And he’d seen me a few times and then he wanted to do a sesshin with Suzuki Roshi at Mt. Baldy, and sesshins there are quite intense; they’re a week long. And so we talked at some length and I couldn’t get quite why he was uncertain about going to the retreat so finally I asked point blank what’s the problem here.

He said, “I don’t know that I’ll be able to complete it and I don’t want to fail.” So, I said, “oh, well, then that’s very straightforward. You leave on the sixth day.” And he said, “what do you mean?” I said, “well, you can leave on the first day, you can leave on the second, you can leave on the third, etc., but you absolutely have to leave on the sixth day.” “But then I won’t finish.” I said, “Exactly. You will fail, so that takes your concern off the table. You know going into the sesshin you’re going to fail to complete it because you’re going to leave one day early.” “Oh,” he said. A few days after the sesshin I got a phone call, “I didn’t succeed in failing.”


Section 15

Now we look at what actually causes you to lose it. Now again, I don’t like the use of the word cause here. I want to go back to the word that I prefer to use to translate this is genesis. And looking at things in terms of the genesis—what generates them, and the fact that [there are] various conditions which are needed for them to grow. Here the word is…the factors which will prevent it from growing and set in motion processes which undermine and negate this intention. You see, it says the first one consists of:

…forsaking sentient beings, adopting four unwholesome deeds and generating the opposite mind which is disharmonious with virtue.

Forsaking sentient beings is what I was asking you to reflect on which is rejecting others or rejecting another. The four unwholesome deeds we’ll go into in more detail in the next chapter: they are lying to your guru causing remorse in others about their virtuous actions, slandering a bodhisattva, and behaving deceitfully toward sentient beings. You’ll find these on page 176.

Section 16

And then the last one: generating the opposite mind. This is the despair that I was asking you to reflect on. Now, the fact is that—just as Joe was pointing out—whenever we are angry, we reject. And the bodhisattva vow is about intention. So, the point here isn’t that we never have such thoughts, because they come up. And again I want to appeal to this notion of evolution. The point is whether they take root. They’re regarded as taking root if you harbor that attitude for two hours or more. It’s long enough for something to really settle in.

The great teacher Atisha, who came to Tibet in the eleventh century—and he was like…his title in India was the Holder of the Seat of Bodhgaya, which is probably somewhat comparable to the Pope. So this is a very great teacher who came to Tibet. And he was once asked how he did with his ordination. He said of his ordination of individual freedom—which is the monastic vows—he said he never broke them. But the bodhisattva vow he said, “once or twice an hour.” That is he would find either a feeling like “oh, what’s the point, I’m never going to be able to help this person” or some sense of futility or despair arising. But they never took root. And that’s the important thing.

Now if they take root, that is something has happened in your life and someone has hurt you very, very deeply—let’s say—and you can’t find it in your heart to want them to be happy let alone awake. I think that this has happened for most of us at some time or another. Then if something like that takes root, we actually need to renew the vow. That’s why we have this last section which is called repairing it.

And so—and this is something that each person is really going is to decide for themselves—whether such an attitude has taken root or not. If it hasn’t deeply taken root then you go through the bodhisattva vow ceremony yourself. And you can follow the outline here or there are shorter versions. I think I may have one up on the website. And so what you’re doing here is intentionally acknowledging that this attitude you have towards this person or this attitude you have about the futility of practice and so forth is a contrary attitude to what you want to live by and you are renewing your connection with the principles that you really want to live by. So that counteracts that negativity.

Now, it’s not so good to look at this in terms of one fighting the other. I don’t think that’s a very helpful way. It’s more that you realize this thing has taken you over and now you are resetting so that that process of growth can continue. If you really feel that you screwed up, then it’s probably good to go to a teacher and say, “you know, this is what’s going on. I want to renew the whole bodhisattva vow.”

And ask them, make suitable offerings so that go through the bodhisattva vow ceremony with them. Because as we discussed in connection with the vow of refuge, when you do this in front of another person it instills things that much more deeply in you. So that’s a very powerful way of renewing it. One of the great aspects of the bodhisattva vow is that it’s always restorable and that’s the case because it is vow of intention.

So, covered a fair amount of ground here. Any questions about anything? Art?

Section 17

Art: It seems when you were…when we’ve been talking about no longer having the desire to help a sentient being that we’ve been talking about that perhaps coming from a place of anger.

Is that the only emotion that will trigger that or is there other sources for that?

Ken: Well, it could come from a sense of futility but that’s the despair side. Conceivably it could come from pride, but, I mean, that would be really such a negation of bodhichitta, you know. For some reason I’m thinking of [song lyrics] “I’m too sexy for my shirt” or whatever. You know, it’s just like I’m so good I don’t need to help others. And that’s certainly a rejection, but it’s really quite stupid. But then that nature of pride is based on stupidity.

Yes, Peter.

But in response I think it is primarily anger because that’s where we push away and that’s what that rejecting is—it’s pushing away.

Section 18

Peter: I’m wondering is contempt simply a form of anger?

Ken: Yeah. Contempt is definitely a form of anger.

Peter: Okay.

Ken: Yeah. It’s a mixture of pride and anger. But when you hold somebody in contempt, you are angry with them.

Student: [unintelligible]

Ken: Oh, it definitely feels. You feel superior to them. That’s why I say its a mixture of pride and anger. But you’re also angry with them, you know, for being so low.

Section 19

Student: Disdain also?

Ken: Disdain is along the same lines. Exactly. Yep. Yep. And I think both of you are bringing up a good point which I haven’t brought out here.

When you give rise to bodhichitta, it means that at some level you respect all other beings—you can’t—because just for the reasons you were offering. You can’t lapse into contempt or disdain, you know you have to accept them as they are, and respect them just as they are. So it’s a great leveler that way.

Joe, you had a question.

Section 20

Joe: It seems as though with the bodhisattva vow we are vowing…there seems to be a distinction between vowing to attain enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings. But we are not vowing to help all sentient beings. It’s a differentiation. It’s a differentiation in terms of the suggestion that when one is awake, one will know what to do.

Ken: I think you are right here. And this actually is interesting in light of Pat’s comment earlier—that through service I will awaken.

In the Chinese system it’s often interpreted that I will work for the welfare of all sentient beings and I won’t attain enlightenment until they are all enlightened. But that’s a little distortion of another aspect of bodhichitta which I’ll go into in a moment.

But I think the point you raise is very important. The way its worded here, very definitely, and the way I’ve come to understand it myself—it’s the vow to wake up in order to help beings. Now, the effect of that is that it means that when you wake up, you will help beings and as you just pointed out, you’ll also know what to do because you’re awake and you’re present in the situation—you’re not dealing with the situations on the basis of your own projections.

There are several subtle points in here. One of them is that what happens when deep experience arises. How that is actually lived depends as far as I can tell very, very much on the context in which the practice takes place. So you could have two people who have arguably very similar experiences but they may have arisen in two very different contexts and so they will do two very different things with them and the expression of those experiences may look very different.

So one of the questions that is thrown around in spiritual circles quite frequently is: isn’t all spiritual attainment the same in the end? And for this reason, the expression depends so much on context that I think no, we don’t know they’re the same and I don’t think we should assume that because the context influences how it is.

This came home to me when I was reading a small book on Catholic contemplation which described experiences of clarity and emptiness as “gifts from God.” And it just struck me because in Buddhism, we don’t regard those as gifts from God; we regard them as knowing what we are, as glimpses or understandings of what we actually are. So those are two different ways of defining it and they will lead to very, very different forms of action. So I think what one’s doing here is embedding awakening in the context of helping others.

Section 21

Now a couple of points which aren’t in here which I want to touch on.

One is this business of postponing enlightenment until all sentient beings are awake. This comes in Indian sources from what are known as the three kinds of bodhichitta.

There’s king-like bodhichitta, and shepherd-like bodhichitta and ferryman-like bodhicitta. And I got into a horrible situation in Santa Fe translating for Rinpoche because in his dialect, ferryman and crazy, he pronounces them exactly the same, and I wasn’t used to…I didn’t know the word for ferryman so I went through a whole talk translating this as crazy bodhicitta which was very popular, but quite wrong.

Some time later…it wasn’t as bad as the Kalachakra where I was translating in front of sixteen hundred people and I realized half-way through that I had been using the wrong term and there were five translators sitting in front of me just waiting to see how I was going to handle it at that point. I figure I did an okay job.

Anyway so, king-like bodhichitta is: you’re going to lead all sentient…your motivation is I’m going to wake up and lead all sentient beings to awakening. Ferryman-like is a ferryman gets a bunch of people in a boat and takes them across the river—they all cross the river together. And shepherd-like is: what the shepherd does is he makes sure that all the sheep are safe, and then he takes care of himself.

So these are three different ways that one can form the attitude like I’m going to really work for the welfare of others and then take care of myself, or I’m going to lead others to it. But they’re all expressions of the same thing, the intention to wake up and help others.

Section 22

Then the other thing which isn’t covered in here at all but I think it’s actually important. What bodhichitta is if we look at it from a larger context is a very, very profound ethic of compassion and it also has the emptiness aspect.

Now, that ethic of compassion comes into Buddhism at exactly the same time as the ethic compassion comes into Judaism. In Judaism the introduction of that ethic of compassion gave rise to a new religion, namely Christianity.

In Buddhism it gave—it didn’t give rise to a new religion. It did give rise to a different form of Buddhism—what we now know as the Mahayana. Interesting enough there are a couple of other things that came in at the same time. The appearance of Amitabha as a sun god, embodying compassion comes in Buddhism at this time. And the ethic of compassion comes in the form of Avalokiteshvara. And also there is associated with Amitabha a universal vow of redemption. That is, anybody who calls on my name or who says my mantra will be born in my paradise. And you find exactly the same things coming into Christianity. The universal vow of redemption takes the form there of Christ dying to save the world from its sins and thus saving the world. It was a more literal and less Gnostic or mystic interpretation. And I have my own interpretation of what is actually going on there which is a little different from that.

So this suggests very strongly that these developments come from other sources and one of the candidates for this is one of the Persian religions where there was a sun god who had an ethic of compassion with a universal vow of redemption.

So in historically speaking we’re looking at how Buddhism—as it expanded out of India—absorbed elements from the cultures. Because it expanded through Afghanistan into what is now Persia long before Islam arose there and incorporated the elements of those cultures and made something extraordinarily powerful, as we have this whole subject of bodhichitta.

And this is a very vivid example of something Toynebee said about Buddhism, to the effect that when historians look back on the twentieth century the struggles between communism and capitalism which dominated much of our lives will be regarded as minor developments. What will be regarded as the major development of the twentieth century will be the entry of Buddhism into western culture because Buddhism has always changed the cultures that it has entered and has been changed by the cultures that it has entered. And we are right in the middle of that historical process. So it’s kind of an interesting time to be alive.

But I just wanted to give you that broader context for this: that something happened about five hundred years after Buddha lived about the same time Christ was alive where this ethic of compassion became really, really important in a number of the world’s great religions. And the way that it has taken form in Buddhism is all of this whole tradition and teaching of bodhichitta which is very is powerful and very, very effective.

Any questions? Any points of discussion? Julia?

Section 23

Julia: I’ve been reflecting on this issue of respect…

Ken: Yes.

Julia: …and forsaking or rejecting others. And it strikes me that all five poisons really represent some form of that. For instance, if you desire somebody rather than appreciating them, you’re rejecting them as they are in their entirety in favor of the part of them that’s going to serve your own interests.

Ken: Yes.

Julia: Same if you’re ignoring somebody or if you envy them in contrast to celebrating them.

Ken: Yes. Yeah, I think that’s very good. Yep. It’s a different way of looking at the five or six poisons. Yep. Okay.

Section 24

Pat: I actually took the vow with several thousand other people in the sports arena with His Holiness after a six day teaching and it was so bizarre to get down on your knees in the sports arena.

And so the whole time I’ve been listening to you, I completely forgot how uncomfortable I was until this teaching…doing it because I felt like we were taking this really serious vow in the middle of a hot dog stand. [laughter] And it’s just this sort of east meets west like, and I just didn’t feel prepared.

And yet I felt that he was trying to give us our marching orders in a way, in the best way that he could given where Buddhism had come to be, which was in this sports arena.

So my question is, if you don’t want to have to be repairing and you want to take it seriously…what I felt when we all took those vows was that I wasn’t prepared in the teaching even though we had spent six days. I just felt like, “I’m not prepared for this and I’m not worthy of this and I can’t keep this.” So in terms of practice every day what do you feel is the most helpful practice if one is to take the vow itself seriously?

Ken: Okay. Well, I’d like you to look at this in terms of evolution: that metaphor I’ve been encouraging you to think of.

You go to this event with the Dalai Lama; you have all of this teaching on it. It means something to you because you end up feeling in the sports arena, which, you know, is a little bizarre, but I get the picture, and something is planted in that process.

And now through your own practice and through the discussion that we’ve been having here, you see “oh, I didn’t..I didn’t…I wasn’t prepared for this at all, I’m not able…I wasn’t relating to anything like it’s depth.” But you wouldn’t have been able to have that insight without that prior experience. So there’s a process of development here.

From here there are many things you could do. One possible course is to go through this or go through other descriptions of the bodhisattva vow, study it, come to appreciate it very deeply. Do meditation on compassion or taking and sending—some of these practices so you feel that some very definite compassion.

You form a connection with that. It’s not just an intellectual idea but you form an emotional relationship with compassion. And then seek out a teacher from whom you can take the vow now that you have a much deeper appreciation and do it at that level. And you see now something is just growing out of that initial experience. And one of the aspects of the bodhisattva vow is that one takes it and retakes it for exactly this reason.

When I first heard about the bodhisattva vow I’d actually sort of taken it because I sat in the temple when Rinpoche was giving it once. But when I really learned about it then I asked for it very explicitly and made some offerings, etc. I then took it and then I took it several other times because each time it meant more to me.

And then when Rinpoche asked me to come to Los Angeles, I came for about a month just to get the lay of the land so to speak but then I was teaching a retreat up in Vancouver and I made a point of going to Dezhung Rinpoche—who was one of my teachers who was still living in Seattle at that time—and asked him for the bodhisattva vow because I wanted that as a basis for moving into the teaching role that I was going to assume here in Los Angeles.

I wanted that really, really explicitly, so that was another occasion. I took it to deepen my connection. So this is something one can do over and over again. You don’t have to wait till you screw it up in order to do it. I mean, taking the bodhisattva vow on a daily basis in one’s own practice and formally with a teacher or various teachers is a practice in and of itself.

Okay. Molly.

Section 25

Molly: I just wanted to know if you’re going to offer the bodhisattva vow?

Ken: If I’m going to offer it? Ahh.

Molly: For this class?

Ken: Pardon?

Molly: For this class.

Ken: Oh.

Pat: In a bowling alley. [laughter]

Ken: You want to make sure they’re always in somewhat unusual locations.

Pat: Where they’re scoring.

Ken: Where they’re score…Was that a request, Molly?

Molly: Yes.

Ken: Okay, then we can consider it. I probably won’t do it in this class but we can set up a time where it can be done for those who are interested. But, see, it’s not a case of it being offered. It’s a case of it being requested.

Molly: Well that was my request.

Ken: Yes. That’s why I asked. Okay.

Student: Ken?

Ken: Yes.

Student: Was the last time you gave the bodhisattva vow, by any chance at a retreat in either Colorado or in Big Bear or Santa Fe?

Ken: I gave the bodhisattva vow in Santa Fe.

Student: At Upaya?

Ken: Yes.

Student: Okay. That’s—

Ken: You were there? That wasn’t the last time I’ve done it. Where was the most recent one?

Student: Oh, we did a group, right?

Ken: Here, yeah, I think that was the most recent one. I remember. But I’ve given it several times. I don’t give it often. I wait until people bug me enough. Some people have to just…they’ve had to get sending me almost daily emails or phone calls saying, “when are you giving the bodhisattva vow?” Okay.

Section 26

In terms of meditation. What I’d like you to do. Can you remember if the bodhisattva vow is up on the website? The very short one. Yeah. I can probably get it up there. Franca’s not around. You have a copy of it, don’t you? From the bodhisattva ceremonies we’ve done? The short one…the daily…

Julia: The short one?

Ken: Yeah.

Julia: The short one is also in the prayer book.

Ken: Yeah. Does everybody have a copy of that? [Student reciting prayer]. Yep. Yep. Yep. You got it. It’s not in those prayer books. It’s in the…

Pat: It’s in the old prayer books.

Ken: Yeah. I’m going to check and if not I’ll get it up on the website, too, so that people listening this… What I’d like you to do is to read it over on a daily basis.

And just to summarize there are, in this very short daily practice version, there are really three sections.

One is that the preparatory phase which is basically taking refuge and imagining the buddhas and bodhisattvas in front of you.

The second is taking the vow, which is repeating just as the sugatas of former times etc. And the wording is in here and I’ll put that up.

And then the third section is rejoicing in that. This day my life is fruitful. Today I’ve been born in the family of the buddhas. And rejoicing in that and also one’s rejoicing in the good that will come for others from it. These two aspects of rejoicing, and then there’s the aspiration and dedication.

And what I’d like you to do is to do this every day over the next week and tell me your experience of this. What is it like to do this and form that intention? What happens in your body? What happens emotionally? What happens to the various stories that are running around in your head, so. And it’s not a long practice. You can do this in five to ten minutes, actually. It is very short. But I’d just like you to actually do it, and you can do it at the beginning of each period of meditation and see what your experience is with it. Okay?

Daily Bodhisattva Vow Ceremony


Until I reach the heart of awakening,
I take refuge in all buddhas
And likewise in the Dharma
And the host of bodhisattvas.
(Repeat three times)

Seven Section Prayer

With complete faith I bow
To Buddha Shakyamuni and
All the victorious ones and their followers
Who abide in the ten directions and three times.

I offer flowers, incense, light,
Perfume, food, music, and many other things,
Both in substance and in my imagination.
I ask this noble gathering to accept them.

I confess all evil actions I have done
While gripped by reactive emotions,
From time without beginning until now:
The five that ripen immediately, the ten non-virtuous acts, and others.

I rejoice in the goodness of all the virtue
Listeners, independent buddhas,
Bodhisattvas and ordinary people
Gather throughout the three times.

I pray for the wheel of the Dharma to be turned,
The teachings of the universal and individual paths,
In ways suitable for the different aptitudes
And motivations present in sentient beings.

I ask buddhas not to pass into nirvana,
But, with great compassion and until samsara is completely empty,
To look after all sentient beings
Who are drowning in this ocean of suffering.

May whatever goodness I have generated
Become a seed for the awakening of all beings.
Without delay, may I become
A wonderful leader for sentient beings.

Bodhisattva Vow

Just as the sugatas of former times aroused awakening mind
And followed the training of an awakening being step by step,
I, too, for the benefit of beings, arouse awakening mind
And step by step follow that training.
(Repeat three times)


This day my life is fruitful.
I have claimed my human heritage.
Today I am born into the family of the awakened.
Now I am a child of buddha.
From now on I will do only what befits this family.
I will do nothing to disgrace this noble and faultless family.

Today, witnessed by all the protectors
I invite all beings to the happiness
Of awakening and the approach to it.
Gods and titans rejoice!

Awakening mind is precious.
May it arise where it has not arisen.
May it not fade where it has arisen.
May it ever grow and flourish.


Through this goodness, may I come to complete knowing.
May the enemy, wrong action, be overcome.
From the stormy waves of birth, old age, illness, and death,
This ocean of existence, may all beings be freed.